“What do you think about the Bill Cosby allegations?”
It was then that I realized I have been trying like hell to avoid my feelings about this whole Bill Cosby mess.
I literally grew up with Bill Cosby. While I have never met him or even seen him perform live, he was a constant presence for any kid growing up during the 1970s. From ISpy,to Jello commercials, to Fat Albert.
As early as 1972, I started watching The Tonight Showwith Johnny Carson, on which Cosby performed many times and also guest hosted. Cosby had a short lived variety show during the early 1970s, in which he rode out to center stage in a giant sneaker, and performed his monologue. My father once remarked that he knew my brother and I were watching Bill Cosby because he could hear us laughing so hard, from his bedroom.
Then, as I reached adulthood, and began my own standup comedy career, I took on a whole new respect for Cosby, who, particularly since the passing of Richard Pryor and George Carlin, has been regarded as the greatest living standup comedian in the English language. Anyone who has seen Cosby’s HBO specials knows that he is a master of his craft.
And beyond all of this, there was always sort of a sense that Cosby was an all around good guy. A fundamentally descent man. Sometimes he ruffled feathers in the black community, with criticisms about the culture, but he was never ugly, never uncivil. Cosby was someone kids trusted and their parents admired. And now everything we thought we knew about him is called into question.
It makes us rethink our own ability to judge character. If all these allegations of drugging women and raping them are true — hell, if any of them are true — then Bill Cosby fooled us. He made us believe that he was a smiling, genial, brilliant, smart, funny man. Not a predator. All of which points to a way more complicated world anyone could possibly want.
Now, I have a major problem with the timing and the veracity of a number of these “victims.” Nobody went to the police when the assaults actually happened, no criminal charges have ever been brought, several victims reported repeated assaults, which boggles the mind.
One woman even claims to have had an ongoing affair with Cosby, after he drugged and raped her. And, the fact that many of the women have received or asked for money, is disquieting, to say the least. But, bottom line, the odds are, from all available evidence, Bill Cosby was predatory with women. At the height of his fame and power, Cosby, apparently abused his power and abused women. And that ain’t cool, any way you slice it.
So, where does that leave things? How do we process a national icon, a man who has made us laugh, hard, for decades, turning out to be hiding a dark, scary, mean side to himself? And if you really think about it, and I admit, I have been trying hard not to, but having sex with a drugged, passed out woman is a pretty awful and disgusting act. Here was a man who could have had sex with willing participants, but preferred a crude, violent, one sided encounter. If so, something went seriously wrong in Bill Cosby’s childhood.
So, were we wrong to laugh? Should we stop laughing when Cosby says something funny? Should we speak no more of him, like O.J.? I don’t know. This is a call we will all have to make for ourselves. Cosby is not the first entertainer who has forced us to do mental gymnastics; Mel Gibson and Michael Jackson come to mind.
The way I plan to play this is to look back fondly on all the laughs that Bill Cosby gave us. No need changing that. Also, if Cosby did these things, he needs to be held accountable, in every possible way. And for the victims of these assaults and all victims of similar abuse, we need to have love and compassion. And justice.
Beyond that, the only message I see is that people are ridiculously complicated. We are all a whole bunch of people; good, bad and in between, wrapped up in one. And if we all knew the worst traits of one another, nobody would ever leave the house.
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