Hannibal Buress is one of the comedians who debuted in the late-2000s after the 1990s Black comedy explosion on TV and film. He also had a significant role in the downfall of comedy legend Bill Cosby.
It started with a joke Buress has done for years prior. Perhaps it’s the time we’re in now or the planets were aligned on that night but a performance in 2014 caught on after reporter Dan McQuade (formerly of Philadelphia Magazine) captured the moment on his cell.
The subject of the routine is that Hannibal Buress simply comments on Cosby’s history of rape allegations. He doesn’t even go into any detail, he just tells the audience to “Google ‘Bill Cosby rape'” and it took off from there.
In the years prior to Buress’ debut, the allegations were largely swept under the rug and either ignored or not reported on. Cosby still had a ton of sway and influence on a number of comedians and actors.
Either out of respect for the tarnished legend or fear that their career could be knocked off the rails, Cosby’s rape allegations received the same treatment in entertainment circles as it did in the press. It wasn’t that no one knew of the allegations. It was that people didn’t want to believe it, respected Cosby, or just didn’t want to get involved. The fact is that what Cosby did has been discussed to some degree prior but weren’t going to get that much traction decades ago.
Even after the allegations started to receive more traction years ago, there were some who continued to support Cosby and refused to believe he was capable of what he did—despite the numbers and the high likelihood that something occurred in some of the instances that arose.
Looking at the point when the allegations returned to the public and Cosby’s conviction, one could split the two sides by generation or even the wave they entered comedy. Cosby had been extremely critical of Black youth in this and the previous decade.
A number of fresh comedic faces came of age or entered the industry at that time such as Hannibal Buress, Elon James White (#TheEmptyChair), and others. In that wave of talent, some were likely inspired by Cosby’s routine and success in entertainment.
While few have probably have met Bill Cosby personally or passed on the chance when they became older and aware, Cosby stands as an example of the saying “Never meet your heroes.”
As for Hannibal Buress, he focused on his comedy career during the storm of allegations and legal proceedings. After all, he didn’t take the stage with the sole intent of taking out Cosby. He has appeared in several films such as Spider-Man: Homecoming, video games, and TV shows such as Broad City.