Hannibal Buress Called Cosby a Rapist but He's No Feminist Hero

by Francesca Lewis

 Image Via  Wikimedia Commons

I am a fan of standup comedy. I am also a feminist. I have followed the "rape jokes" debate over the last few years with a mixture of ambivalence and exhaustion. I enjoy edgy, dark humor and am definitely not for censorship. I am all about nuance and context. But as a person who values nuanced and contextual analysis of any text, I also know that there is a way of being edgy that explores, examines, and exposes the dark corners of the human condition, and a way that reinforces those corners with steel girders, decorates them with fairy lights and then throws a big, "LOL, I offended you" party under there like it's a super-fun party gazebo.

An example of the latter is Hannibal Buress' "5 a.m. In The Morning" bit, which I recently heard when I decided to check out his stuff, inspired by his recent notoriety. Buress is the comic who called out Bill Cosby for his open secret history of drugging and raping women.

"Bill Cosby has the fucking smuggest old black man public persona that I hate. Pull your pants up, black people, I was on TV in the ’80s. I can talk down to you because I had a successful sitcom. Yeah, but you raped women, Bill Cosby. So, brings you down a couple notches. That shit is upsetting. If you didn’t know about it, trust me. You leave here and google 'Bill Cosby rape.' It’s not funny. That shit has more results than 'Hannibal Buress.'"

The entire internet commended Buress for speaking out, especially because it started a conversation that finally led to many of the women coming forward and pressing charges against Cosby, which he is currently facing in court. Perhaps it was somewhat naïve to assume that because Buress used his knowledge of Cosby's crimes to bring him down a couple of notches, that would mean he would have a deep and progressive understanding of rape culture. Still, it's an assumption I made. I expected that if the subject ever did come up in his comedy, it would be handled well and fairly. Which is why I found the "5 a.m. In The Morning" bit so incredibly disappointing. An anecdotal slice-of-life bit, as is Buress' schtick, it tells the tale of his attempt to hook up with a woman whom he characterizes as a "crazy feminist." It is packed with male entitlement and a massive lack of understanding of feminism and rape culture.

Read more: Why We Need to Stop Giving Men All the Damn Cookies

Buress begins by telling us about meeting and talking to a woman in a bar in Edinburgh. It is 5 a.m. He asks her to come home with him and is confounded by her reply.

"Most women would say [passive girly voice], 'Yeah, that sounds cool,' or 'Naw, I’m alright,' but what she said was [crazy voice], 'What type of food we talkin’ about? And what type of drinks we talkin’ about?'"

So right out of the gate, Buress believes women should say "yes" or "no" very clearly and sweetly when he propositions them. Women should be polite when they reject him. Asking questions or having preferences about food or drinks he only offered as a pretext to sex is crazy. The message is, "Lady, just tell me if I can fuck you or not. I don’t care what you wanna eat."

The next question the woman asks is met with similar shock and irritation.

“'And do you expect me to have sex with you if I come back to your place?' Well, if you come back to my place at 5 in the morning, and eat all my food, and drink all my drinks, and you don’t wanna have sex, then I don’t want you in my life at all. What type of person would do something like that? That sounds like something a sociopath would do. Come to your place, eat your food, drink your drinks, leave at 6:30 without fucking like it’s cool? That’s a passive burglary!"

If a woman does go home with him, Buress believes that she is obligated to fuck him. If she openly asks if this is the case though, she is crazy. And if she was to leave without fucking him, she'd be a sociopath — which is a person who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience — and though this is both hyperbole and a call-back to another bit he does, combined with the overall message, it is a pointed choice. He thinks it would be morally wrong to refuse to fuck him after she accepted his hospitality, as it was only offered in exchange for sex. She didn't pay for the things he gave her — with the sex he expected — so she is a burglar. This is a prime example of male entitlement.

As is assuming a woman wants sex, just because it's 5 a.m. and you're horny.

"[tries to kiss her] 'What — you think you can just kiss me?! Western men and men in general think they’re entitled to whatever they want from women. You objectify us...' She started going on this weird feminist rant. Hey, it’s fine if you wanna be a feminist, but I think 5 in the morning after the bar closes is a weird time to jump on your soapbox. 'Men just wanna fuck!' It’s five in the morning, everybody wants to. That’s why they stayed out 'til 5, cos it didn’t happen at 2."

There's nothing inherently wrong with misjudging things and being rejected for a kiss, but he has already indicated that his entire reason for assuming she is DTF is she is in a bar at 5 a.m. and she is speaking to him. When she offers an alternative interpretation — events from her POV, in which he is taking liberties — he characterizes her as a shrill, crazy feminist. Her "feminist rant" is simply exasperation at once again being turned into an object to be won, or purchased with food and drinks, by yet another entitled man, when perhaps she simply thought they were two people getting along. Maybe she was enjoying socializing with him and wanted to continue, but didn't want to get into a situation where she was unsafe, or where she wouldn't have the power to give — or not give — consent. This is what women have to consider all the time.

But to Buress, there is a time and a place for feminism and apparently 5 a.m. when "everybody" just wants a meaningless hookup, is not it. He assumes that his perspective is the default perspective — everybody wants to fuck, because he wants to — and that feminism is a weird subject, because it has no relevance to him.

Read more: I'm Too Old to Get Catcalled

For women, though, feminism is not just some theory to bring up in class or at a dinner party; it's an essential perspective on the very real inequalities we face daily. One such inequality being the fact that a man can move through the world not thinking about their sexual safety, while for women this is something we must consider at all times. Rape culture makes this a world in which women are charged with "avoiding rape." And until men learn and fully take on board the rules of consent and reject their supposed entitlement to sex, this means we have to be cautious about who we trust and be careful about where we go. Our self-preservation isn't crazy. It's unfair, and a perfect example of why we need feminism. But it's also common sense for us — an everyday reality.

Buress thinks that this woman taking her safety seriously is super weird. After her "crazy" behavior — refusing to kiss him, asking direct questions about his intentions and showing anger at his objectification (OMG, so crazy) — he wonders why he even keeps talking to her. He does keep talking to her though, and it seems she may well go back to his place after all. However, when she takes a perfectly sensible safety precaution and he questions it so she explains, he shuts things down.

"I say, 'What’s wrong?' She says, 'I have to be safe — three out of 10 women who get raped don’t report it.' I said, 'One outta one dudes is walking away from this conversation.' And she said, 'What’s wrong?' And I said, 'You a crazy person, that’s what’s wrong, and right now it sounds kinda risky to hang out with you. And I didn’t know this about myself until today but I don’t wanna hang out with anyone that quotes rape statistics. There’s nobody in my life that does that. It’s such a weird trait to have. I’m a black man in Scotland on a work visa. You talking about rape, they’re gonna believe any bullshit you say. I gotta go.'”

Now sure, that last part — the only part of the bit that rings true — contains a valid point about racial profiling. But rather than using his own status as a person with less privilege to discuss his empathy and common ground with the woman, he uses it to suggest that she would falsely accuse him of rape. He doesn't want to fuck someone who knows what rape is or is conscious of the risk of it every time she goes out. Is the implication here that if she knows what rape is, she's one of those crazy false accusers (not a thing), or is it that she will know when she has been raped? He doesn't want to associate with anyone who quotes rape statistics — even when she only did this because he asked her why she was texting his address to herself — which I would argue is a weird trait for him to have. No one in his life does this — clearly, or he'd know more about rape culture and not write this offensive bit.

After he goes away, she follows him, attempting to explain herself. Perhaps not the wisest course of action, and clearly a waste of time here, but I get her compulsion to do this. He assumes she's pursuing him because he rejected her, and "drunk women can't handle rejection." But could it not be the case that she just needs him to understand because if only men got it, life might be safer for her and other women. In a final, ridiculously tone deaf blow, he compares her to a rapist.

"Hey, lady, you’re acting like a rapist right now! [...] You raping my eardrums. I feel real threatened. No means no!"

He feels threatened. Though totally unaware of how threatening the idea of going home with a strange man — not to mention a strange famous American — at 5 a.m. might be for her.

He closes the bit with this gem.

"I feel like her statistic was weird though: Three outta 10 women who get raped don’t report it — then how you finding that out? Are the rapists calling and say, 'Hey, hello? Yeah, I raped this girl. I don’t think she’s gonna tell, but I know y’all do stats and stuff, so I want those stats to be accurate cos I know sometimes crazy women like to have stuff to say at 5 in the morning.'”

If you don't know Buress' comic style, let me be clear: This is not delivered with a devilish irreverence as if to say, "Imagine if I actually believed this." Buress does slice-of-life material, anecdotes from life that we are meant to relate to — y'know, "It;s funny cos it's true” stuff. When I heard the "5 a.m. In The Morning" bit, I was struck by the sad dissonance of the guy who yelled "The Emperor has no clothes/your fave is a rapist tho" speaking in such a tone deaf manner about rape. It exposes the fact that to most men, rape is what Cosby did — it's rare and scary and involves nefarious tactics like drugging drinks. To them, there's a tiny minority of men who are Rapists and those should be called out. But that's untrue. To a woman, any man is a potential rapist, because it is so very easy for him to violate her body and so very difficult for her to resist. He might coerce her, trick her, make her feel she has no choice. He might — as the routine suggests — make her feel obligated because he gave her food and drinks, or because she entered his home late at night. She might feel it's not safe to refuse, because he could physically overpower her. Men have sex with women without getting informed consent all the time — and that's rape. The idea of the Rapist Boogeyman is a comforting one for men. It lets them believe as long as they're not attacking you in an alleyway or spiking your mimosa, they're all good.

They are not.
 

Francesca Lewis is a feminist writer from Yorkshire, England. You can find her opinion pieces on Medium.