How “Shocking” Was Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s Cosby Joke?

Considering the allegations, the Golden Globes hosts played it pretty safe.

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As promised, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler addressed the Bill Cosby rape allegations during Sunday night’s Golden Globes ceremony.

During their opening monologue — which is traditionally when the award ceremony’s hosts poke exceedingly gentle fun at their rich and famous audience – they went after Cosby with what was a very good joke. A solid, well-played, network TV-friendly topical joke.

But judging from the audience’s reaction and Monday’s headlines, you would have thought it was a truly outrageous joke. Here it is, word for word:

Poehler: “In ‘Into The Woods,’ Cinderella runs from her prince, Rapunzel is thrown from a tower by her prince, and Sleeping Beauty just thought she was getting coffee with Bill Cosby.”

Fey: “Actually, I don’t know if you guys saw this on the news today, but Bill Cosby finally has spoken out abut the allegations against him. Cosby admitted to a reporter, [cue a pretty good Cosby imitation] ‘I put the pills in the people. The people did not want the pills in them.’”

Poehler: “Tina, hey, that’s not right. It’s more like, [cue a really good Cosby imitation] ‘I put the pills in the bathrobe and I put them in the people.’”

Fey: “You’re right. It’s gotta be like, ‘I put the pills in the hoagie.’”

Poehler and Fey: [Sass face central]

That’s the joke that elicited gasps, jaw-drops and mostly nervous laughter at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Sunday night. That’s the joke that spurred headlines such as “Tina Fey & Amy Poehler Burn the Fuck Outta Bill Cosby” and “The Golden Globes Joke That Shocked The Room.”

It’s not that the joke isn’t good — it is. But shocking? What’s shocking is that Bill Cosby has been racking up sexual abuse allegations for decades with little to no damage to his career until recently. The fact that more than two dozen women have accused Bill Cosby of abuse while we still hold out hope that he’s still “America’s Dad”? Pretty shocking.

But this joke? If you’re familiar with Fey and Poehler’s work, you know that this is actually a very restrained, very tame take-down. These women are scary funny and just as smart, and they’re not afraid to push uncomfortable boundaries, as evidenced by Sunday night’s long-running gag in which the equally hilarious Margaret Cho appeared as a North Korean general who very much resembled Kim Jong-un.

To be fair, Cho is getting her share of backlash from critics accusing the Korean-American comedian of racism. But this is the Internet, where everyone is offended by something that in no way involved them. In the real world, we’re by all accounts pretty comfortable with Cho’s over-the-top character, which she originally created for Fey’s 30 Rock and earned an Emmy nod for in 2012. On Sunday night, she was on camera so frequently — complete with a thick accent and goose-step march — that it wasn’t always clear who was hosting the show, Cho or Fey and Poehler.

I’ve never written for the Golden Globes (my, uh, spam filter ate their offer letter), but this show aired on NBC. You better believe that each joke was reviewed by a room full of nervous suits before making it to rehearsal, let alone on air. Cho’s depiction was deemed safe enough from the start, and then signed off enthusiastically by everyone from Meryl Streep (who agreed to take a picture with the Hollywood-obsessed general) to Benedict Cumberbatch (who provided the photobomb).

Compare this to the nervous laughter and cold stares after a quick, PG-rated Cosby joke that I suspect took five years off some poor NBC producer’s life.

Cho’s Kim Jong-un impression, of course, meant something different Sunday night than it did in 2012. After North Korea’s condemnation of The Interview — in which Seth Rogen and James Franco plot to assassinate the Great Leader while singing Katy Perry songs (why yes, it is great) — and possible part in the Sony hack, it’s even easier to go all ‘MERICA! on North Korea. Not only do they routinely and horrifically violate their own people’s human rights, but now they’re messing with our stoner comedies. This wasn’t just about a silly Kim Jong-un impression, it was about free speech, which we’re happy to take risks for.

But the Bill Cosby scandal isn’t just about Bill Cosby, either. It’s about how, with a little money and influence, you can silence women for decades. It’s about how we would prefer to question the motives of some 24 women as opposed to the integrity of our own anointed icons, whether they be sitcom stars or football players. We’re decidedly less happy to take risks for these women, and when we do, it’s deemed shocking and newsworthy.

As Sunday night proved, it’s easy for us to laugh at an indoctrinated country who blindly worships a mad man — as long as it’s not our own.

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