Remember when Bill Cosby was convicted of sex crimes in a court of law? That almost never happened. Bill Cosby’s near-Teflon coating was ostensibly scrubbed off by a young, mid-level comic named Hannibal Buress.
Probably best known for co-hosting The Eric Andre Show, Hannibal is also famous for being a comedian who is somewhat off-kilter. In 2014 an amateur video was uploaded to YouTube, in which Buress expresses his disgust for the iconic comedian Bill Cosby, describing Cosby as smug and condescending. Cosby is accused of having a sense of moral superiority. That sense of moral superiority was apparently ironic to Buress, being as Cosby, at the time, had been accused by a number of women claiming sexual misconduct and even rape.
In the video, Hannibal takes no caution as he confidently and directly responds to the notion of Cosby having a successful sitcom by iterating a particularly bold accusation.
“Yeah, but you rape women, Bill Cosby…”
This line became Cosby’s undoing, as later Bill Cosby was found guilty in a court of law on three counts of sexual assault.
Before the Buress clip, Bill Cosby’s accusations were rarely publicly acknowledged. Once the clip of Buress calling Cosby a rapist went viral, the media was relentless. Cosby would never live it down and the controversy would never pass. Cosby’s career died. Much to his dismay, retribution didn’t just affect his professional life, it also cost him his freedom.
Of course, Buress is not to blame for Bill Cosby’s incarceration, Cosby has himself to thank for the crimes he committed.
That said, Hannibal Buress may well be responsible for starting the conversation people should have been having decades ago. Why were we letting Hollywood icons get away with such heinous behavior? Where was the accountability? Hannibal Buress wasn’t afraid to challenge the status quo or defy convention. He knew what he said could potentially carry professional, and perhaps legal consequences, but he didn’t care.
Buress used his art to spark the conversation everyone else saw fit to avoid. It’s doubtful he knew the conversation would evolve as far as it has, but nevertheless, he opened a door which can’t be closed.
Hannibal Buress’ importance will be felt for years to come because the conversation in question doesn’t end with Cosby’s prison sentence. Unrelenting media coverage of Cosby’s crimes and renewed legal action against the iconic comedian inspired hope in victims across the country, encouraging them to speak up. Buress’ joke, however incidental, ultimately cracked Hollywood’s foundation and brought about the understanding that if Cosby can be held accountable for sexual assault, so too can Harvey Weinstein.