Legendary standup comic Bill Cosby has been fighting a rear-guard action against dozens of rape allegations that came to roost last year, and while he's still in the clear legally (save a confidential legal settlement in 2006), Cosby may have finally brought the curtain down on the public relations front. While he has declined to discuss the subject in interviews, relying on presumption of innocence and his accumulated goodwill to sustain what's left of his career, Cosby has been performing shows to those fans who still give him the benefit of the doubt. At a Thursday night show in London, Ontario, fans were threatened, ahead of time, with possible legal action for any disruptions, according to Canadian National Post reporter Richard Warnica:
That didn't stop one man from heckling Cosby during the show, screaming "“You are a rapist. I’m being ejected because you are a rapist.”
According to Warnica, the crowd was booing the man, until, as you can see, Cosby quieted them, then continued his act to their applause.
Hecklers and protesters figure to be a fact of life on Cosby tours, at least for the foreseeable future, so incidents like these don't figure to move the needle much. Anyone who came to the show already walked through a crowd of people handing out details of the allegations against Cosby. No, what might actually hurt Bill Cosby is the way he worked those allegations into his act:
The strangest moment of the night came midway through, when a woman in the front row rose and started walking out. Mr. Cosby asked her something. She appeared to reply that she was getting a drink and asked Mr. Cosby if he wanted one. He declined and then said with a smile “you have to be careful about drinking around me.” The audience expelled a collective “ooooo” at the joke then laughed and cheered and the show went on.
It was a remarkable thing for Mr. Cosby to say, a seemingly clear reference to the dozens of women who have accused him of doping their drinks and then raping them.
According to Warnica's Twitter feed, the gag came about half an hour before the heckler who got thrown out, and since Warnica also reports that Cosby got a standing ovation at the end of the set, the bit seems to have been right for the room, as they say. Crowd patter can be dull, I guess, but there's got to be some middle ground between "So, where you from?" and "Careful I don't rape you!"
After the show, Cosby acknowledged the heckling incident, but showed no sign of slowing his roll:
In a statement released through his publicist after the show, Cosby acknowledged the “one outburst” that had taken place but called his fans “loyal, patient and courageous.”
“I thank you, the theatre staff (Budweiser Gardens), the event organizers and the London, ON Community for your continued honour and support,” he said.
“I’m Far From Finished.”
Cosby should quit this tour right now, because no matter how you feel about the allegations against Bill Cosby, whether you believe them (I do) or not, making jokes about them is not going to play. Conversely, in those rooms, the last safe place for Bill Cosby, the energy in those rooms will tell him to do this, to use his gift to get some get back. It already has, and if media accounts of the quip aren't enough to ruin what little remains of the Cosby illusion, then there's sure to be video, or video of the next time. Whatever you think of the accusations against Bill Cosby, his innocence or guilt, this is not what a good guy does.