No topic seems to be off-limits in Dave Chappelle's latest comedy specials, which premiered on Netflix on March 21. The first special, The Age of Spin, included commentary on everything from Caitlyn Jenner to Care Bears, but what really stands out are Chappelle's comments on the sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby. The comedian both defends Cosby's groundbreaking accomplishments and painfully acknowledges the allegations, showing how he struggled to reconcile Cosby's image in the past and present.
As ABC News reported, almost 50 women accused Cosby of sexual assault, and Cosby denies the allegations. Though he has largely refused to talk about the accusations, Cosby's representatives have issued statements disputing the claims. In 2015, Cosby did tell ABC News when asked about the allegations, "I have been in this business 52 years and I've never seen anything like this. Reality is the situation and I can't speak." Currently, Cosby is awaiting a June 5 trial for the alleged sexual assault of Andrea Constand, to which he pleaded not guilty, as reported by the Associated Press.
In The Age of Spin, which was shot at the Hollywood Palladium in March 2016, Chappelle provides an interesting look at Cosby through the eyes of a comedian who looked up to the man for years and is now acknowledging the painful allegations against him. Early in his set, Chappelle tells a story about pitching superhero ideas to movie executives at the Oscars, including a hero who activates his powers by "touching a woman's vagina" and essentially ends up raping them. "That's the dilemma for the audience," Chappelle says from the stage. "Because he rapes, but he saves a lot of lives. And he saves way more than he rapes and he only rapes to save, but he does rape."
Later on, the comedian uses this line again in regards to Cosby, reacting to the allegations with shock and recalling a story in which a woman in the audience of another show heckled him for his Cosby commentary. "Does she think that maybe I don't have empathy for Cosby's alleged victims?" Chappelle asks the audience in Hollywood. "And I would be remiss if I didn't remind you that technically these are all still allegations. Although, I admit it looks very bad."
Chappelle goes on to talk about how Cosby was his hero to growing up and how hard it's been for him to come to terms with the allegations. "It's like if you heard that chocolate ice cream itself had raped 54 people," Chappelle remarks in the special. At the end of The Age of Spin, the 43-year-old comedian later recounts some of Cosby's accomplishments that have meant a lot to him: Cosby was the first black man to win an Emmy in TV, he made the first cartoon with black characters having accurate face proportions, and he made sure his highly rated Cosby Show represented positive images of African Americans.
Chappelle also mentions an unconfirmed rumor that Cosby may have paid for the PA system that Martin Luther King Jr. used during his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. That causes Chappelle to repeat his movie pitch summation in regards to the allegations against his own fallen hero: "He rapes, but he saves, and he saves more than he rapes, but he probably does rape."
It's important to take note of Chappelle's order of words here. Yes, he does point out that Cosby is an accomplished man who has helped many people, but Chappelle's "he rapes, but he saves" refrain begins and ends with the allegations that Cosby committed a horrible crime, allegations that should not be overlooked, whether the accused is a fictional superhero or an incredibly successful, groundbreaking comedian.