If the secret of comedy is timing, then the events of Wednesday had a certain grisly flair. In Los Angeles, at a press conference arranged by the attorney Gloria Allred, three more women accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault, bringing the number who have made allegations against the American comedian to nearly 30.
Meanwhile, in Ontario, Cosby appeared at Kitchener’s Centre on the Square and performed his first stand-up set in six weeks. It was his first comic turn since the allegations against him began to gather a terrible, un-ignorable momentum. Strange, perhaps, to think of telling jokes at such a time, but what else is a professional comedian to do? After a couple of hours of hilarious stories and consummate anecdotes about his childhood, his family and his nagging wife, he walked off stage. Where his most recent trio of accusers left their press conference in tears, Cosby exited to a standing ovation from a 1500-strong crowd. That, I suppose, is showbusiness.
Bill Cosby has not been charged and has denied the previous claims against him, dismissing them as “utter nonsense”, through his lawyer. In the middle of his three-night Canadian mini-tour, he has not, at the time of writing, issued any public response to the claims of the three women who came forward this week. They were Linda Kirkpatrick, who alleges she was drugged and assaulted in a dressing room in 1981, aged 25, after playing in a tennis competition with Cosby. And Lynn Neal, who said claims that Cosby raped her after she went to see one of his shows in the 80s, when she was in her twenties. And Kacey (no last name given), who was working as an assistant to one of Cosby’s agents in the early nineties when, she alleges, the comedian invited her to lunch in his hotel suite. She claims that he gave her a large white pill, and that she woke some time later to find him naked in bed beside her.
These accusations follow a flurry that gathered pace last November when the comedian Hannibal Buress made a reference to Cosby during a stand-up set. The floodgates opened – middle-aged former waitresses, supermodels and budding actresses came forward with allegations from their twenties, of little pills and dressing rooms, hands down trousers and of the sickeningly fuzzy feeling of memories lost.
Bill Cosby: Career in pictures
Bill Cosby: Career in pictures
1/20 Bill Cosby
Winner of his first Emmy for 'I Spy' is Bill Cosby being congratulated by his wife Camille held at Americana Hotel, 1966
2/20 Bill Cosby
Bill Cosby in 'I Spy', 1960s
3/20 Bill Cosby
Bill Cosby in July 1973 in Perth
4/20 Bill Cosby
Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor in 'California Suite', 1978
5/20 Bill Cosby
Bill Cosby and Elmo in Sesame Street, 1989
6/20 Bill Cosby
Bill Cosby poses for a picture with Florence Griffith-Joyner in June 1989
7/20 Bill Cosby
Comedian Bill Cosby back in 1992
8/20 Bill Cosby
A scene from a 1992 episode of 'The Cosby Show'
9/20 Bill Cosby
US Monica Seles breaks into laughter as she jokes with comedian Bill Cosby during a celebrity match in the stadium at the US Open for the Arthur Ashe AIDS Challenge on 27 August 1995
10/20 Bill Cosby
Bill Cosby meets Toronto Blue Jays' All-Star Joe Carter after the Stars played the Stripes in the Celebrity All-Star game which preceded workouts for the 67th All-Star Game at Veterans Stadium on 8 July 1996 in Philadephia
11/20 Bill Cosby
Co-hosts Oprah Winfrey and Bill Cosby joke with each other during the opening of the 2000 Essence Awards 14 April 2000 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City
12/20 Bill Cosby
Bill Cosby jokes with baseball great Hank Aaron after they both received the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award from U.S. President George W. Bush during a ceremony on 9 July 2002 at the White House in Washington
13/20 Bill Cosby
Bill Cosby poses backstage after winning the 'Bob Hope Humanitarian Award' during the 55th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at the Shrine Auditorium on 21 September 2003 in Los Angeles
14/20 Bill Cosby
'Tonight Show' host Jay Leno and comedian Bill Cosby laugh during a surprise visit by Cosby to sign a Harley-Davidson motorcycle that Leno is using to raise money for the victims of Hurricane Katrina at NBC studios on 9 September 2005 in Burbank, California
15/20 Bill Cosby
Bill Cosby speaks during a taping of 'Meet the Press' at the NBC studios on 14 October 2007 in Washington
16/20 Bill Cosby
Bill Cosby at the 12th annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at the John F. Kennedy Center on 26 October 2009 in Washington
17/20 Bill Cosby
Bill Cosby speaks at the National Action Network's 20th annual Keepers of the Dream Awards gala in New York on 6 April 2011
18/20 Bill Cosby
Bill Cosby during the 100th anniversary celebration of the Beverly Hills Hotel & Bungalows supporting the Motion Picture & Television Fund and the American Comedy Fund, 2012
19/20 Bill Cosby
Bill Cosby speaks onstage at the Thurgood Marshall College Fund 25th Awards Gala on 11 November 2013 in Washington
20/20 Bill Cosby
Bill Cosby performs at the Treasure Island Hotel & Casino on 26 September 2014 in Las Vegas
There have already been serious consequences for Cosby – cancelled tour dates, a sitcom pulled, re-runs wiped off the schedules, honours stripped, a Walk of Fame paving slab defaced. His career, in a mainstream television sense, looks likely to be over. He has said very little, telling the one reporter who managed to put a direct question to him about the allegations, “We don’t speak about this”, before asking him to “scuttle” the tapes. But the comic impulse is strong and so, on the second night of his Canadian “comeback” tour, on Thursday night, he spotted a woman leaving the auditorium and asked her where she was going. To get a drink, she told him. “You have to be careful about drinking around me,” he quipped, to loud applause. Later he put out a statement through his publicist declaring he was “far from finished.”
Other than that, a strange silent limbo has set in. The allegations are apparently all subject to the statute of limitations, which forbids prosecutors from charging someone with a crime allegedly committed more than a certain number of years ago.
For now, it is the court of public opinion which tries Cosby. To judge by this week’s performances – picketed outside by a few protesters, lionised inside by loyal fans – it is split. When it comes to individuals who stand out their fields – whether film directors, footballers or America’s funniest father – there is a disinclination to believe that dark deeds can come from shining talent. Conversely, those who accuse the famous and talented are suspected of having financial motives, though there are surely far easier and less painful ways to make money .
For now, then, a horrible suspicion hangs over both Cosby and his accusers. But only one of them is telling jokes about it, and taking comfort from the applause of a laughing crowd.Reuse content