In a stand-up set in Philadelphia last Thursday, Hannibal Buress went straight for Bill Cosby's jugular, calling out the jocular icon on his myriad alleged sexual assaults.
"It’s even worse because Bill Cosby has the f—ing smuggest old black man public persona that I hate,” Buress ranted. “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. ‘I don’t curse onstage.’ Well, yeah, you’re rapist, so I’ll take you saying lots of motherf—ers."
Buress is referring to allegations that came to light back in 2006 when Andrea Constand, a 32-year-old former Temple University employee, claimed that Cosby had drugged and sexually assaulted her in his Philadelphia mansion in 2004. In a civil lawsuit, Constand detailed how Cosby presented her with three pills, which he said were herbal medications that would help alleviate her stress. He insisted that she take all three pills and, once she began to feel drowsy and inert, led her to a sofa because she "could not walk on her own." Then the assault began.
If the image of this disgusting and premeditated crime being perpetrated by one of America's most beloved (not to mention family friendly) comedians wasn't revolting enough, what happened next was sure to trigger a nation's gag reflex. No fewer than thirteen witnesses came forward saying that they had also been drugged and/or sexually assaulted by Cosby, and were willing to testify if the case went to trial.
On November 8, 2006, Cosby settled the case with Constand—the terms of the settlement remain undisclosed, but we know that the plaintiff agreed not to discuss the incident any further; however, the other thirteen witnesses were bound by no such agreement. Many of their stories, along with their names, were published in reputable news sources like People and Philadelphia Magazine.
Even more shocking than these public allegations is how little they affected Cosby in the long run, and how the star was somehow able to preserve his reputation and legacy due to an indefatigably adoring public.
"When you leave here, Google ‘Bill Cosby rape.’ It’s not funny. That shit has more results than ‘Hannibal Buress.'"
As Buress explained in his set, "I don’t know what I’m doing by telling you. I guess I want to just at least make it weird for you to watch Cosby Show reruns. Dude’s image, for the most part, it’s f–king public Teflon image. I’ve done this bit on stage and people think I’m making it up….That shit is upsetting. If you didn’t know about it trust me. When you leave here, Google ‘Bill Cosby rape.’ It’s not funny. That shit has more results than ‘Hannibal Buress.’”
Like all good comedy, Buress's bit combines the unexpected with the shockingly true. We don't expect to hear the beloved Bill Cosby called a rapist in a public forum, but we have to consider the whitewashing work that we as fast-forgetting fans have done in order to make that statement so shocking.
Consider Mark Whitaker's recent Cosby biography, Cosby: His Life and Times. The 468-page tome purports to be a definitive account of the comedian's life and career. It also fails to mention the 2006 sexual assault lawsuit. Nowhere in this epic biography does Whitaker mention that Cosby is an alleged rapist—nor does it shed light on the stories of the women who say that the comedian drugged them and sexually assaulted them without their consent.
As Gawker recently wrote, the allegations quickly became "something walled off from our collective understanding of Bill Cosby." In 2010, Cosby was honored with the Marian Anderson Award for "critically acclaimed artists who have impacted society in a positive way, either through their work or their support for an important cause." Anyone, be they a fan, a journalist, or an award-giver, who fails to view Cosby in light of these sexual assault allegations is deliberately deceiving themselves.