Jay Leno On Bill Cosby: ‘Hannibal Buress Started It’

Jay Leno, Bill Cosby, and Hannibal Buress are three stand-up comedians who couldn’t be more different from one another on style and tone. Another huge variance between the three are the years they had, respectively, in 2014.

Leno, who hosted his last Tonight Show in February just before the Winter Olympics and Jimmy Fallon’s subsequent taking over of the show, continued, as he always has, to maintain a rigorous stand-up comedy touring schedule and tinkering with his car collection. He came out of his den long enough to see off fellow comedian Craig Ferguson off as the sun set on his own late night talk show.

Buress, meanwhile, has enjoyed an elevation of stature grinding away at his stand-up while enjoying supporting roles on Comedy Central’s successful Broad City as well as Adult Swim’s Eric Andre Show. All this, plus the release of his one hour stand-up special Live From Chicago was enough for Paste Magazine to name Buress the top comedian of 2014. But all of his work and appearances pales in comparison to the most notable occurrence of 2014 for Buress: the complete leveling of a comedy icon, Bill Cosby.

During an October stand-up comedy performance in Cosby’s home town of Philadelphia, Buress took aim at Cosby for being a “sanctimonious hypocrite” for his repeated finger wagging toward black comedians and hip hop culture.

“Bill Cosby is a rapist. Google it.”

When video of the comments went viral, upwards of 30 women came out of the woodwork to accuse Cosby of drugging their drink and then sexually assaulting them while unconscious. Cosby’s ill-timed attempt at subjecting himself to an internet meme paired with the legend’s silence amidst mounting accusations led to a public relations nightmare that saw NBC drop a project that was in production that would have brought the former Dr. Huxtable back to the network. Some stations dropped reruns of The Cosby Show, and several theaters cancelled Cosby’s scheduled live performances. Civil lawsuits have been filed by several of the alleged victims, and it is likely that Cosby’s career has all but ended.

Leno, who is being given the Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Award at this week’s NAPTE/Content First Conference, spoke about the scandal and the nature of social media in an interview this week, says Alex Ben Block of the Hollywood Reporter.

“Now comedy cuts through all the bulls**t. That’s the cool thing about the age we live in. Rodney King was the first time we got the news unfiltered. 10 years earlier the Rodney King story would have come to a news editor and he would have said, ‘This is too explosive to put on the air. Let’s just put on what the police say.’ But this went on TV raw.’

“I think this whole Cosby thing, Hannibal Buress started it. He’s a stand-up comedian and he made a flat-out statement that reverberated around the world. If that had been on television, it would have been edited. But because somebody would put the news out raw and unfiltered — which I think is fantastic — it was a great thing.”

Leno endured his own controversy several years ago when he first left as host of The Tonight Show and was succeeded by Conan O’Brien. Conan’s reign only lasted six months, before NBC decided to reinstate Leno, who had been given a 10 p.m. interview show. As a result, Leno would host five more years before acquiescing to Fallon, while Conan would move over to TBS.