Bill Cosby is best remembered for The Cosby Show, Fat Albert and Jell-O pudding pops — not sexual assault. But comedian Hannibal Buress jogged our collective memory late last week with a routine that candidly addressed Cosby's history as an accused rapist.
Cosby, now 77, is but one of several male celebrities who have been accused of sexual abuse and gone on to have long and generally unaffected careers. Like his unenviable cohorts, Cosby has enjoyed a lengthy career, even after more than a dozen women came forward with rape allegations over the years. He even won the Marian Anderson Award in 2011, which is reserved for "critically acclaimed artists who have impacted society in a positive way, either through their work or their support for an important cause."
The contradiction between Cosby's mainstream reputation as a fairly sought-out, if not uncontroversial, voice on issues that affect the black community and his multiple sexual allegations is what Buress homed in on during his set Thursday at the Trocadero Theatre in Philadelphia.
"And it's even worse because Bill Cosby has the fucking smuggest old black man public persona that I hate," Buress said. "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 raped women, Bill Cosby. So, brings you down a couple of notches. ... I've done this bit onstage, and people don't believe. People think I'm making it up. ...That shit is upsetting. If you didn't know about it, trust me. You leave here and google 'Bill Cosby rape.' It's not funny. That shit has more results than Hannibal Buress."
Buress is correct: The myriad allegations leveled against Cosby over the years are no joke. In 2004, Andrea Constand brought a civil lawsuit against Cosby that grew to include 13 other women, all of whom reported being drugged and raped by one of America's most beloved entertainers. Cosby settled under undisclosed terms in 2006.
Notably, two other women — who presumably had nothing to gain financially, as the statute of limitations had run out on their cases — also shared their stories with major media outlets. Their accounts included similar details: Cosby took them under his wing and, on multiple occasions, fed them alcohol laced with drugs and assaulted them.
And yet, despite the multiple victims and reports of a decades-long streak of rape, America seems to have chosen to forgive and forget. Completing the circle of denial, Cosby's new biography conspicuously omits his sexual assault allegations, as if they never happened.
But with Buress' act reigniting media coverage of Cosby's sordid past, it seems like maybe people are willing to admit that Dr. Huxtable — America's dad — isn't that lovable television character who visited family living rooms week after week.
Why do celebrities seem to get away with sexual assault? Cosby isn't the first, and won't be the last, mainstream celebrity to be accused of sexual abuse. This past February, Dylan Farrow accused Woody Allen of sexually assaulting her. Then there's CeeLo Green, Tupac Shakur, Michael Jackson, Mike Tyson, R. Kelly — the list goes on and on. And yet, these men's careers rebounded and their accomplishments somehow overshadowed any wrongdoings.
As one of Cosby's victims, Barbara Bowman, explains, "The media creates this idealized image of celebrities: that they are untouchable, that they're not one of us. ... I don't think people want to believe it; to believe would shatter the illusion." Specifically in the case of Cosby, Gawker nailed it: "Basically nobody wanted to live in a world where Bill Cosby was a sexual predator."
Bravo, Buress. Instead of revering the men who take advantage of their celebrity status to sexually assault unassuming victims, we should hold them accountable in the court of public opinion, if not an actual court of law.
Correction: July 7, 2015
An earlier version of this article stated in the headline that 13 women had brought accusations of rape against Bill Cosby. Thirteen women had joined Andrea Constand in a civil suit, for a total of 14 women accusing him at the time.