by Keyonna Jones-Lindsay
Over the month of November, 77-year old comedian Bill Cosby’s image has transformed from a sweater-wearing, Jell-O-loving family man into something unrecognizable. Hannibal Buress had no idea his rant about Cosby to a small Philadelphia crowd would go viral and eventually create an avalanche of allegations and controversy.
During an October 16 show in Philadelphia, former “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock” writer, Hannibal Buress identified the star of The Cosby Show as the “smuggest old black man public persona that I hate”. Buress cracked on Cosby in disagreement with his frequently made comments scolding African American youth for poor language and manners. He made fun of the squeaky-clean, no profanity image Cosby tried to portray over the decades. “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,” Buress jeered. “Yeah, but you raped women, Bill Cosby, so turn the crazy down a couple notches.” Buress continued with his joke, urging the audience to fact check his material. “You leave here and Google ‘Bill Cosby rape.’ It’s not funny.” If anyone took the comic’s advice, they would come across an easily searchable story about Andrea Constand who in 2005, filed a sexual assault lawsuit against Cosby that included 13 other women who were wiling to testify about their alleged similar experiences. Constand attended Temple University, Cosby’s alma matter, and claimed the entertainer drugged and assaulted her in 2004. In 2006, her lawyers reached an out-of-court settlement.
In an interview on The Howard Stern Show, which has been his only public comments, Hannibal Buress said he’s performed the Cosby riff on and off for the past six months. “This was unexpected,” he said. “I didn’t want to [make headlines].” But that’s exactly what happened after a phone video of Buress’ performance went viral and was then followed by a trail of allegations of sexual assault against Cosby.
A day after appearing on CNN Tonight, Barbara Bowman, one of the 13 women prepared to testify in the 2005 Constand case publishes her alleged story in the Washington Post. Her article “Bill Cosby Raped Me, Why Did It Take 30 Years for People To Believe My Story,” gets 2 million views. In the Post Op-ed, Bowman writes about meeting Cosby in 1985 and him “winning her trust” when she was a 17 year-old aspiring actress. Cosby “brainwashed me into viewing him as a father figure, and then he assumed me multiple times” she wrote. “I tried to convince myself I had imagined it. I even tried to rationalize it: Bill Cosby was going to make me a star and this was part of the deal.” Bowman says she never stayed completely quiet. She has been publicly telling her story for nearly 10 years. She says Constand’s case in 2005 gave her the confidence to speak about her alleged encounter.
Buress’ viral skit and Bowman’s article have created a firestorm that has completely engulfed the legendary entertainer’s career. Cosby has had several interviews inquiring about the allegations and controversy. During an interview with the Associated Press, the entertainer repeatedly says he has nothing to say and there’s no comment. In an NPR interview regarding his recent donation of African American Art to the Smithsonian Museum, he was asked again about the claims against him and kept completely silent. In addition to awkward interviews, Cosby has had several show cancelations. TV Land will no longer be showing “The Cosby Show” re-runs and NBC pulled the plug on an in-the-works sitcom staring the comedian. Some of his scheduled appearances have also been canceled including “The Show with David Letterman,” and “The Queen Latifah Show”. Netflix has also postponed the launch of his new stand up special, “Bill Cosby 77,” which was set to debut the day after Thanksgiving.
Despite the growing discussion and continued inquiry of the validity of all the allegations, Cosby has chosen not to respond to any of them. Earlier this month, his attorney issued a statement providing a blanket denial to all claims. “Over the last several weeks, decade-old, discredited allegations against Mr. Cosby have surfaced. The fact that they are being repeated does not make them true,” the statement read. “Mr. Cosby does not intend to dignify these allegations with any comment.” And he hasn’t, even though at least 16 other women have come forward, all with very similar stories of being allegedly sexually assaulted by the sitcom star. Former supermodel Janice Dickson was the sixth woman who has decided to step forward after decades. She says Cosby raped her 32 years ago. “The last thing I remember was Bill Cosby in a patch robe, dropping his robe and getting on top of me,” she said. Dickson claims she was drugged, sexually assaulted and when she wanted to include her account in her 2002 autobiography, she was pressured by Cosby’s attorneys to leave it out.
It seems like almost every week, someone new is surfacing with an account of alleged assault or attempted assault. Cosby has maintained his poker-face and tight lip and in spite of the postponed appearances and canceled shows, the legendary comedian is still selling out venues. In an November 21 performance in central Florida he received a standing ovation from more than 2,000 people. “I know people are tired of me not say anything,” he told a local television reporter. “…but a guy doesn’t have to answer to innuendoes”.
Hannibal Buress had no idea that the joke he’s been doing on and off for months would get as much as attention as it did. He’s not the first comic to take a crack at the famed entertainer. In Eddie Murphy’s 1987 concert film, “Raw,” he recounted how insulted he was when Cosby called and chastised him using foul language in his act. Howard Stern asked Buress if he was remorseful about the rant that has almost dethroned the acclaimed comedian. “I said it and I gotta stand on it,” he replied. “But it’s an interesting situation.