Culture

Hannibal Buress On How That One Bill Cosby Joke Changed His Life

CREDIT: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Hannibal Buress speaks at the Comedy Central Roast of Justin Bieber at Sony Pictures Studios on Saturday, March 14, 2015.

Hannibal Buress was on Jimmy Kimmel last night. Chances are most Americans know who Buress is not because he’s a Broad City regular or a longtime comic but because of his most infamous, viral stand-up set. His was the joke that inadvertently sparked thirty-plus rape allegations against Bill Cosby, some from women who’d spoken out before and many from women, including Beverly Johnson and Janice Dickinson, who had never accused Cosby publicly.

Naturally, Kimmel asked Buress, whose series Why? just got picked up for eight episodes by Comedy Central, about life in the aftermath of the stand-up show seen ’round the internet.

In bringing up the backlash to “this Bill Cosby thing,” Kimmel joked that Buress’ bit “really put a crimp in [Cosby’s] dating life.” Buress acknowledged that it’s “definitely a weird situation” and said that he gets “a lot of messages about it”:

The weirdest thing about getting a death threat from a male body builder-slash-stripper on Facebook is when you click on his profile and see that you have one mutual friend. And then having to hit your friend up and say, hey man, can you tell your buddy to stop saying he’s going to murder me? I didn’t really think he was going to kill me, I’d just rather not take that information into my head.

Casual death threats from randos on the internet: it’s all part of the package when you happen to tell the joke that ignites an onslaught of rape allegations against a once-universally-beloved icon.

As a seemingly unending number of women keep coming forward to accuse Cosby of sexual assault — and as Cosby continues to refuse to address these allegations in any meaningful way — the star’s reputation has done a total 180. The once untouchable Huxtable is now comedic shorthand for “likely serial rapist.”

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler started off this year’s Golden Globes with a Cosby zinger; Amy Schumer began her performance at Comedy Central’s Night of Too Many Stars with a Cosby dig: “I believe it was my mentor, the great Bill Cosby, who said…” she let her voice trail off as laughter filled the pause. “Well, I lost the band. If it gets up to 50 women, can they just, like, give him community service?” When Cosby’s PR team tried to make #CosbyMeme into a fun, viral Twitter phenomenon, people responded by turning the project into a platform to crack one-liners about the dozens of rape allegations made against him.

Apparently, even Bill Cosby used to make Bill Cosby rape jokes. Do with that information what you will.

The one comedian to publicly decline to mock Cosby? Eddie Murphy, who made a long-awaited return to Saturday Night Live for the show’s 40th anniversary special. Murphy reportedly opted out of a Cosby joke because, according to SNL veteran Norm MacDonald, “Eddie decides the laughs are not worth it. He will not kick a man when he is down.” Cosby released a statement to thank Murphy for this gesture — “I am very appreciative of Eddie and I applaud his actions” — even though SNL went ahead with a Cosby bit, anyway; Kenan Thompson played him in a blink-and-you’d-miss-it moment in a “Celebrity Jeopardy” sketch.

Though it may feel like Cosby’s stunning fall from America’s Favorite Dad to Guy You Wish You Hadn’t Started A Conversation With At A Party has been going on for ages, the Buress stand-up set that started it all happened exactly five months ago.

We were all so much younger then.