Rape’s Cause B
This may not be PC. Or literally, it may be. As in, calling Bill Cosby a “rapist” doesn’t make you a “racist.”
FIRST OF ALL, EVERYTHING’S TRUE
I know some people are waiting for Bill Cosby to be formally charged with rape. But to them, I have a question: Have widespread allegations against an individual in our society ever, ever turned out to be false? Bill Clinton absolutely committed adultery. Lance Armstrong absolutely doped. And Bill Cosby absolutely drugged and raped women. One person’s word against another is one thing. Many people’s words against one is another thing altogether. There is no reasonable way to believe that all of these women are simply making this up. To what end? How would they coordinate their stories? Why would they expose and potentially embarrass themselves and their families all these years later? It’s not only more likely than not that Cosby committed rape (the civil trial standard), but also it’s beyond a reasonable doubt (the criminal trial standard). Public opinion is the court here and Cosby has been indicted. Speaking of courts…
WE ARE THE COURT JESTERS
This is what’s so great about standup comedy: it’s ultimately about the truth. And it really is — not like the law pretends to be. It is the most personal and individual of the performance arts — and quite possibly of any profession. And ironically (or perhaps because of this), not one standup comic in history has been able to transcend it. Go as big as you want — Jerry Seinfeld (who actually practices transcendental meditation), George Carlin… even Richard Pryor, who’s universally regarded as the greatest ever to do it. Even if these comedians went on to gigantic careers in television and film, they’re not bigger than the concept of standup comedy.
That’s not true for other professions — Michael Jordan transcended basketball. He was larger than the sport itself. Barack Obama transcended politics. These two men became icons for something larger than the fields that proffered them their platforms.
And so it is with Bill Cosby. No matter how enormous…
he got, Cosby never outgrew standup and so he was able to be pulled back down by one of his own.
HANNIBAL THE CANNIBAL
I know Hannibal Buress. Not well. He may or may not vividly remember me. So my knowing him pretty much counts for nothing. (As comedian Jeff Jena told me as I ventured out to Hollywood eight years ago, “It’s not who you know — it’s who knows you.”)
But Azhar Usman and I did give him a spot on our Make Chai Not War show in Chicago. He crushed. I mean, absolutely destroyed a room primarily full of Indians, many of whom were Uncles and Aunties. He did his random brand of humor — stuff that normally would bomb in front of such a crowd — and he killed. So, I’m not surprised that he’d be the guy to commit character assassination — the justifiable, necessary kind. As in, it’s way past time the public persona of Bill Cosby as America’s Dad come crashing down. (Though given the number of countries America has raped over the years, perhaps Cosby is a fitting mascot for us.)
That Buress used his powers for good is a complicated story. It’s a three-layer cake:
1. He’s a male. It’s a sad reflection on our society that it took a man for us to take these allegations seriously. Women still make 78 cents for every dollar a man makes, but apparently the conversion rate is even worse when it comes to believability.
2. He’s a black male. In my nearly four decades on this planet, I’ve never seen a story so uncomfortable for White America. I mean, this totally changes its narrative of accepting an African-American as leading man in a family sitcom. It removes the self-congratulatory pat-on-the-back it’s been feeling since the mid-1980s. (For the record, I was always a much bigger fan of Family Ties — and not just because it was set in Ohio.)
3. He’s a black male standup comic. The obvious best thing would’ve been for the plethora of women to be believed. But barring that, I’ll take this. Ultimately, when a person who shares multiple traits with somebody outs that somebody, it has an air of credibility. And Hannibal Buress was one of only a few people in this position — a comic who isn’t yet part of the establishment. (Arguably one of the others is Jerrod Carmichael — my favorite young comic.)
So, to some extent, though I’m sure Hannibal could never have imagined the ensuing firestorm, he probably felt some sort of responsibility to speak up. And good for him.
As Nikki Giovanni (who recently railed against Cosby) wrote in “This Is Not for John Lennon (And This Is Not a Poem),” “Those who ride the night winds must learn to love the stars.”
So, my message to comics is: keep doing your thing. Ours is truly an amazing profession. Standup comedy is perhaps the last bastion of free speech in society and we owe it to ourselves, each other, and the world to keep preachin’ it. Despite the struggles that comics may individually face, our field stands out uniquely as the defender of truth.
As Martin Luther King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” We are part of that fight. We are the court jesters. And we just brought down a King.
Oh, and I’ve got a message for Mr. Cosby:
As the old joke goes, “Those who live in glass houses should dress in the cellar.”
It’s not who you know. It’s who knows you. And now, we know you.
Rajiv Satyal is a comedian. He resides in Los Angeles.
Originally published at www.rajivsatyal.com on November 26, 2014.