“You rape women, Bill Cosby, so turn the crazy down a couple notches.” – Hannibal Buress, 2014.
On a day of justice for Bill Cosby’s victims, on a day when we stand in admiration of the bravery of all the women who stepped forward in the last few years to say of Cosby, “Me too,” it’s a sobering question but one we have to ask:
If a male comedian hadn’t made that comment about Cosby, and if the clip of that comment hadn’t gone viral, thus reigniting the decades-old whispers about Cosby’s alleged pattern of abuses dating back to the 1960s, would we ever have LISTENED, really and truly listened?
One hopes so. One hopes Andrea Constand, who first reported Cosby’s assault in 2004, still would have had her day in court. One hopes the more than a dozen women who made accusations against Cosby in the 2000s would have been heard. One hopes the 35 women that bravely told their stories in a stunning New York Magazine story, and the 60 — SIXTY — women cited in a USA Today story after Cosby was sentenced to three to 10 years in a state prison after being found guilty on three counts of aggravated indecent assault …
One hopes the world and the courts would have listened to the chorus of accusations even if Hannibal Buress’ routine hadn’t gone viral and sparked renewed interest in the stories about Cosby’s actions.
“Bill Cosby has the f—ing smuggest old-black-man public persona that I hate,” said Buress in his routine. “He gets on TV [and says,] ‘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.”
Buress made those remarks on a stage in Philadelphia.
Bill Cosby’s Philadelphia. The city where he was born, the home of the childhood he later immortalized in stand-up routines and a popular cartoon and feature film. Home of his beloved Temple University.
Cosby’s home in suburban Philadelphia was the site of his assault on Andrea Constand in 2004.
Norristown, Pennsylvania, is about 20 miles from Philadelphia. It was in a Montgomery County courtroom where on Tuesday, Judge Steven O’Neill classified the comedian as a “sexually violent predator,” handed down his sentence and said, “It is time for justice, Mr. Cosby. This has all circled back to you. The time has come.”
The 81-year-old Cosby was handcuffed and led away to prison, his career and reputation and legacy and life in ruins.
It was a jarring site — but infinitely more stunning were the stories we’ve heard from so many women who put their trust in supposedly one of the most trustworthy and admirable men in America, and were betrayed in the most monstrous, hideous fashion.
These women thought they were going to get career advice, thought they were being groomed for a TV show or a movie or some other project, thought they were being welcomed by a mentor, a friend, a beloved icon and family man.
So many of them must have wondered if the world was ever really and truly going to hear them out. So many of them must be feeling so many things today.
They are survivors. They are warriors. They are heroes.
• • •
It’s almost impossible to overstate what a giant Bill Cosby was in the entertainment field, from his early and legendary stand-up routines through his groundbreaking role in the TV show “I Spy” through the “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” phenomenon to the enormously popular NBC sitcom “The Cosby Show,” which was the No. 1 show in America for much of the 1980s and was lauded for its positive depiction of an upper-middle-class African-American family.
Like so many of my generation (and generations before and after me), I was a big fan of Cosby the comedian, Cosby the TV star, Cosby the crusader for education and equal rights. I bought some of his comedy albums and marveled at his storytelling genius. I loved an early sitcom of his, “The Bill Cosby Show” (1969-1971), a dryly funny, smart show in which he played the physical education teacher Chet Kincaid.
When I had the chance to interview him a couple of times many years ago for radio shows, I thought that was pretty cool.
As recently as 2014, Cosby had deals with Netflix and NBC — projects that were shelved only after a number of women stepped forward to accuse Cosby of sexual assault. In typical self-pitying fashion, Cosby filed a lawsuit against seven women, saying they cost him those deals.
On Tuesday, the downfall of Bill Cosby was complete.
But as Cosby shuffled off, looking old and broken and defeated, I can’t imagine anyone outside his wife and some of his family members and his publicists feeling outraged on his behalf or sad about his fate.