Amid sexual assault allegations, the actor and comedian tells jokes at Philly club
BY JEREMY ROEBUCK
PHILADELPHIA – Bill Cosby joked about his blindness, scatted along with a jazz band, and even played the drums Monday in his first public performance since abuse allegations from dozens of women put his career on hold two years ago.
The one thing he didn’t mention? His upcoming sexual assault trial.
During the hour he spent on stage at La Rose Jazz Club in Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood, the 80-year-old entertainer appeared to have put his legal problems out of mind.
“This is a great moment for me,” he said.
“All my life, I worried what the world would do without …” he paused for a moment, then said, “my drumming.”
Cosby arrived to a packed house just after 6:30 p.m., wearing a gray sweatshirt embroidered in rainbow-colored letters with the phrase “Hello Friend” — the same one he appeared to have worn Sunday in a series of photos posted on his Twitter feed.
He drew laughs from the largely older crowd with tales of growing up poor in North Philadelphia’s Richard Allen housing project and jokes about the travails of life since losing much of his sight several years ago.
“When you see a blind person walking towards a pole or something, and you speak perfect English, there’s a word called ‘Stop!’ he said. “Not, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.’ … Why is it these grown people can’t talk?”
He did it all perched atop a bar stool, clutching his cane and seated inexplicably next to a jar of peaches.
“Do you know who I am?” he asked a 11-year-old boy he invited to the stage at one point. “And what do I do?”
The boy responded: “You used to be a comedian?”
Face frozen in mock exasperation, Cosby dismissed him. “I used to be a comedian? You can sit down now,” he joked.
Jokes amid scandal
Spectators — including several whom Cosby greeted as old friends — swarmed up to him afterward for selfies.
Few seemed concerned with the accusations that have dogged him since 2014 from dozens of women who allege he assaulted them in incidents dating back decades.
The scandal forced Cosby in 2014 to cancel tour dates as networks axed plans for TV specials and pulled reruns of “The Cosby Show” off their schedules. Dozens of schools across the country revoked honorary degrees they had granted him.
Retrial in April
Andrea Constand — the first of Cosby’s accusers to come forward, nearly 13 years ago — is the only accuser whose allegations have resulted in criminal charges.
In June, a jury failed to reach a verdict on her claims that he drugged and assaulted her in 2004 at his Cheltenham home, setting up the retrial scheduled to begin in April in Norristown.
Since then, Cosby has largely shunned the limelight aside from court appearances over the last year. But in recent days, he has shown signs of attempting to mount a comeback.
His performance Monday was the latest in a series of public appearances in and around his hometown this month, including a drop-in dinner Jan. 10 at La Veranda Ristorante in Penn’s Landing — a meal his publicity machine made sure to alert reporters about beforehand.
Over the weekend, he stopped off at a Lawndale barbershop and a bakery in Jenkintown, and tweeted videos of himself cheering on the Philadelphia Eagles and chatting with patrons at each location.
‘I just go’
Asked Monday whether his more active schedule was part of a public relations campaign in advance of his retrial in Montgomery County, Cosby scoffed.
“I have never really called upon media to show up someplace,” he said, hours after his publicist issued a news release about his performance Monday. “I just go. When I feel like it, I go.”
Back onstage in his native Philadelphia, Cosby seemed to draw energy from his fans and appeared livelier than he had in months.
His spokesman, Andrew Wyatt, offered an explanation: “This is his life.”