I’m not entirely sure I believe comedian Hannibal Buress when he says he didn’t think making an onstage joke about Bill Cosby’s (pictured) history of rape allegations would generate widespread reaction. We live in an age where anything can spark widespread reaction even if only for a millisecond. Certainly bringing up rape about one of the most-famous and beloved celebrities ever could do the trick.
In his now-infamous set at the Trocadero Theater in Philadelphia, Buress said this of Cosby, “He gets on TV, ‘Pull your pants up black people, I was on TV in the ’80s! I can talk down to you because I had a successful sitcom!’ Yeah, but you rape women, Bill Cosby, so turn the crazy down a couple notches.”
Responding to the viral story, Buress told Howard Stern in terms of the backlash and overall attention, “It was unexpected. It wasn’t my intention to make it part of a big discussion. It was just something I was doing at that venue, right there.”
No matter his sincerity. Intent often has very little to do with impact anyway. We’re here now, although frankly, there have been numerous stories trying to push us here for some time.
Earlier this year, Newsweek interviewed two of Cosby’s alleged victims: Barbara Bowman and Tamara Green. In her interview, Bowman claims, “I was assaulted a number of times from age 18 to 19. Cosby would warn me before out-of-town trips, ‘You aren’t going to fight me this time, are you?’” Green, a lawyer from California, accused Cosby of drugging and assaulting her in the 1970s.
That same month, Gawker took an extensive look at Cosby’s history of rape accusations. New York magazine’s pop culture vertical, Vulture, also provided a timeline. In September, a New Yorker profile of Cosby made note of the accusations too in the context of a new book chronicling the legendary comedian’s life glossing over the various accusations.
Accusations like those of Andrea Constand, director of operations for Temple University’s women’s basketball team, who alleged in a past civil lawsuit that Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted her in 2004. That case was settled in 2006, but included other women who said they have had similar experiences with Cosby.
At the time, People reported:
Constand’s lawyers Dolores Troiani and Bebe Kivitz ended up with 13 witnesses, most referred to in court documents as “Jane Does,” who came forward voluntarily with strikingly similar claims of drugging and or abuse by Cosby. Terms of the settlement, reached before any of the women could testify, were not disclosed. But PEOPLE reporters have interviewed five of the women and share three of their stories now.
Later in his set, Buress acknowledged, “I guess I want to just at least make it weird for you to watch ‘Cosby Show’ reruns. I’ve done this bit on stage and people think I’m making it up…. when you leave here, google ‘Bill Cosby rape.’ That shit has more results than ‘Hannibal Buress.’”
He is right, though why is this suddenly a noisier story thanks to a comedian’s acts when there’s been plenty of reporting going on as recent as this year. As my friend and colleague Jamilah Lemieux asked on Facebook:
“Why have we (me, you, damn near everyone) been silent/quiet on Bill Cosby?”
Although other accused sexual predators in entertainment have managed to continue with success in their field in spite of their accusations – R. Kelly and Woody Allen, for starters – there remains at least some nominal stains on their public personas. And in Allen’s Case, Dylan Farrow’s open letter accusing Allen of abuse at least compelled him to write a response in the New York Times.
Why has Cosby gotten away with not having to answer these accusations directly? Buress is right in that Cosby has his nerve chastising sects of the Black community – namely its poorest members – for their behavior, but refuses to discuss actions he’s long been accused of. However, even if Cosby held a pristine view of all Black people, the point remains that while he has never been formally charged with rape, he has been accused numerous times and has settled lawsuits centered on it.
He may be known as “America’s Dad,” but no title or no popular sitcom should bare him from culpability. And from the looks of it, it may now be time. Already, “The Queen Latifah Show” has cancelled Cosby’s appearance over the story. That’s a start, but it’s still time to get to talking.