The last time Hannibal Buress performed in Philadelphia, he inadvertently ignited intense public interest in the sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby with a viral bit filmed at the Trocadero in 2014. But this time around, Cosby barely got a mention.
Instead, Buress focused on more recent Philadelphia-oriented events in his set at the Merriam Theater on Saturday, like the protests against the Philadelphia Orchestra’s upcoming trip to Israel, or the recent arrests of two black men at a Center City Starbucks. About 60 protestors demonstrated against the Israel trip outside the Kimmel Center on Saturday night, right around the same time as Buress’ fans started showing up to the Merriam for his show.
As Buress told the audience on Saturday, he once had booked gigs in Israel, but doesn’t “condone what goes on there,” just like he doesn’t condone calling the police on black men in Starbucks because he came back to Philly. Though, for what it’s worth, he canceled his Israel dates because he booked a role in 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming.
From there, Buress moved on to topics including quitting drinking, buying property, and getting arrested in Miami for disorderly intoxication earlier this year. Buress explained the incident, supplementing it with bodycam footage of the arrest, and said he ended up in jail, where he roasted his arresting officer for about 20 minutes to the delight of other prisoners.
That story also included Buress’ lone Cosby reference of the night, which involved a cellmate recognizing him as the guy “who snitched on Cosby.” The only other Cosby reference came from opener Chris Cotton, a South Philly native, who wondered if it was “too early for a not-angry Cosby joke.”
In October 2014 at the Troc, Buress assailed the comedian, saying “you raped women, Bill Cosby.”
“Bill Cosby has the f— smuggest old black man persona that I hate,” Buress said in 2014. “He gets on TV, ‘Pull up your pants black people, I was on TV in the 80s! I can talk down to you because I had a successful sitcom!’ Yeah, but you rape women, Bill Cosby, so turn the crazy down a couple notches.”
The bit went viral thanks to reporter Dan McQuade, then at Philadelphia magazine, who filmed Buress’ Cosby comments on his cell phone. Shortly after the clip went online, the bit gained traction, and resulted in increased media coverage for both Buress and the assault allegations against Cosby. Dozens of women also began coming forward to accuse Cosby of sexual misconduct, with about 60 women in total making public accusations against the former Cosby Show star.
Following the bit going viral, Cosby faced consequences including comedy tour date cancelations and a lost TV show deal with NBC, as well as civil lawsuits from several accusers. Former Temple University employee Andrea Constand’s case ultimately would be the only criminal charges filed against Cosby, but the initial court proceedings ended in a mistrial last year.
Currently, Cosby potentially faces up to 30 years in prison after a jury found him guilty of three counts of aggravated indecent assault in the conclusion of his retrial last month. A sentencing hearing in his case is currently scheduled for September.
That Buress didn’t include a bit about Cosby in his set isn’t unexpected. Last month, the comedian declined to comment following Cosby’s guilty verdict. He has also been attempting to move away from the incident since at least 2015, when he told GQ in an interview that “people are going to put on you whatever they want to put on you.”
“It is conflicting because people think I’m like this amazing guy or something,” he said. “I’m a decent guy.”
In 2016, the comedian addressed the Cosby situation at a Netflix panel discussion, where he said he was surprised at the reaction to his 2014 bit.
“I was calling a bunch of other comedians rapists, and that was the only one people took seriously,” he said. “That’s just one joke people took and really ran with it.”
With his 2016 special Comedy Camisado, Buress addressed the reaction to his Cosby bit in his act, saying that the reaction to it “got out of hand.”
“I was just doing a joke at the show,” he said. “I didn’t like the media putting me at the forefront of it.”