Cosby jokes, "Be careful about drinking around me"

The comic earns cheers for making a reference to his assault allegations

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Published January 9, 2015 2:59PM (EST)

Bill Cosby                        (AP/Victoria Will)
Bill Cosby (AP/Victoria Will)

"You have to be careful about drinking around me." That's what Bill Cosby reportedly told a female audience member Thursday evening, after she got up from her seat during his performance in London, Ontario. He'd inquired where she was going, and she asked if he wanted a drink. See, his reply is a joke because multiple women say he drugged and raped them. Rimshot!

As the insistent allegations of decades of sexual abuse have swirled around him for the past few months, Bill Cosby has remained, for the most part, steadfastly silent on the subject. But when he alluded to them on Thursday night, it gave quite a window in the mindset of a man currently facing multiple accusations of rape, a man who in 2006 settled a lawsuit with a Temple University employee who said he drugged and assaulted her, a case in which a dozen other women said he'd done the same to them.

Many of the now two dozen women who've come forward in the past few months report strikingly similar stories. They were young and beautiful and admired a popular, witty star. They often say he offered them something – either a drink or pills, and that their memories get cloudy from there, until they recall coming to, usually disheveled and usually with the entertainer very nearby. Well, if that doesn't sound like a setup for a joke, what does?

Cosby has, since the allegations began snowballing this past fall, done few public events. He and his handlers clearly knew the Ontario event was potentially volatile -- protestors gathered outside the venue with signs reminding "Rape is no joke." On Twitter Thursday, National Post reporter Richard Warnica posted a photo of a warning handed out to ticket holders that "Patrons have a right to enjoy tonight's performance. Disruptive behavior will not be tolerated and will result in removal, possible legal action and/or banning from the venue." He said that when Cosby made the remark to the female audience member, "Loud gasps from the audience…. The gasps then changed to cheers and applause." Soon after, he says a man was pulled from the crowd by six officers after shouting "You're a rapist!" And he reports that Cosby got a standing ovation at the end of the show.

I get that if you're the sort of person who right now, in 2015, thinks, why yes I would love to pay money to Bill Cosby do his comedy routine, you are probably the sort of person who would give a standing ovation to him for performing it as well. But can you possibly grant that even if you think he is entirely innocent of every single claim against him, even the one he settled, that it's a blazingly insensitive and ugly thing for an accused rapist to toss off a har har har watch what you drink around me, lady joke? I'll say this though – whatever you choose to believe about Bill Cosby, his comment reveals a remarkable degree of entitlement. It says, I can goof around on the subject of drugging women – just like I goofed about it in my act 45 years ago. And revoltingly, after 45 years and multiple women saying he abused them, it says that Bill Cosby really can still do just that and get laughs, and applause, for it.

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Bill Cosby Rape Rape Culture Sexual Assault