|Protestors at Bill Cosby's Kitchener show. Rosemwary Westwood/Metro|
The legend walked on stage, and the crowd erupted.
Bill Cosby: dressed in his standup uniform of sweatpants and a hooded sweatshirt boldly emblazoned with the words “Hello Friend.” Inside Kitchener’s Centre in the Square Wednesday night, the embattled icon had hundreds of friends.
“First of all,” he said, then paused: “thank you.”
Cheers and applause filled the theatre, where more than two-thirds of the approximately 2,000 seats were filled for a show that was reportedly 90 per cent sold.
“Secondly,” he said, “I live in Massachusetts. We are known to have cold weather.” Cosby launched into a slightly laborious, long-winded story about cold weather filled with one-liners and a fur hat.
That was it. The ‘thank you’ was the only nod to the fact that these fans were watching the celebrated comedian crack jokes in the midst of a spectacular fall.
That same day, the first night of a three-day tour of Ontario, three more women accused Cosby of drugging and raping them, bringing the number of women who have made sexual assault allegations against him to 27. Other shows in U.S. cities have been cancelled. Media has been full of stories denouncing Cosby, or defending him. Cosby himself has said nothing.
Outside, dozens of protesters braved weather cold enough to shut down an iPhone, holding signs that said “Rape is no joke” and “Kitchener supports survivors.”
“He shouldn’t be welcomed here,” said Karen Rosenburger, carrying a sign that read “Solidarity with survivors.
“He’s a rapist,” she said.
She was among only a handful of the expected 150 protestors who showed up.
“Hey hey, ho ho, Cosby’s got to go!” They shouted.
Seemingly unperturbed, ticket holders filed passed.
“Guilty until proven innocent,” one Cosby fan said, dismissing protesters. But “if (Cosby) is prosecuted and convinced, I’ll be devastated,” he added.
Another woman said she was torn about the allegations.
But that, again, did not stop her from coming to see this giant of black America, a comedian superstar turned activist, a man who in the 1980s set the precedent of the ideal American family — of any race.
Cosby’s routine, aside from that opening line, ran as smooth as any over the decades. For more than 90 minutes, he charmed audiences with his languid jokes and sharp impersonations delivered on his trademark spare stage — decorated this time with a Turkish rug, a chair, a side table, and water.
He spoke in that famous fatherly tone, acting out a classic childhood fight with his younger brother that involved kung fu, his facial expression and body language standing in for the punch line. Every inch the master story-teller, with perfect timing.
Despite fears of a disruption, no protestors interrupted the jokes.
There was an aura of believability inside the theatre, as if Cosby was again gracefully carrying on his illustrious career, funny as ever, still beloved. And to those who cackled and clapped and howled (as they did many, many times), perhaps he is.