Bill Cosby went to a club in Philadelphia on Monday night to perform a comedy show that his publicist insisted had nothing at all to do with rehabilitating his image in advance of his upcoming retrial for sexual assault charges.
Reporters were skeptical. The Associated Press mentioned that this was Cosby’s first show since 2015, when dozens of women accused him of drugging and molesting them and his career fell into disgrace. The Philadelphia Inquirer noticed that the 80-year-old comedian showed up to LaRose Jazz Club on Monday wearing the same cheery sweatshirt he had worn the previous day for an amiable video series shared on his Twitter account.
But no, Cosby assured the Inquirer, there was nothing strategic about his appearance Monday.
“I just go,” he said. “When I feel like it, I go.”
“This is his life,” his spokesman affirmed.
An NPR reporter at the club tried to ask Cosby about his retrial in three months and whether he was worried about the new #MeToo movement. Last year, a jury could not reach a unanimous consensus on whether Cosby drugged and assaulted a woman, and the judge declared a mistrial. Since then, a wave of accusations against other celebrities have inspired a new culture of zero-tolerance for sexual misconduct.
“I don’t know!” Cosby told the reporter, and made a funny face.
Quite a lot of his routine Monday was about his poor health.
Cosby performed from a stool at the front of the stage, with a cane in his hand and a jar of peaches beside him.
The Inquirer couldn’t figure out why the peaches were there. But before long, Cosby nearly dropped the jar, the AP wrote, and used the opportunity to talk about being legally blind.
“You laugh when blind people walk into things,” Cosby said. “Guess what? Blind people laugh when sighted people fall down.”
“Ha, ha, ha,” he said.
“Ha, ha, ha,” the crowd laughed. Reporters noted that quite a few of his friends were in the audience.
A lot of people didn’t realize Cosby had serious health problems until his first court appearance in 2015, when he stumbled over a cane in front of reporters, and his lawyers had to help him hold a pen.
Some, including Robin Givhan in The Washington Post, suspected he was playing up his ailments for sympathy, but now Cosby says he’s totally blind.
His act went over quite well, by most accounts. Lots of people took selfies with him, and his old friend in the audience told NPR he was quite sure the jury would acquit Cosby in April.
NPR quoted one woman in the audience who was suspicious of Cosby. “I do believe the women,” she said. Andrea Constand, the accuser in Cosby’s sexual assault trial, later thanked her for saying so.
Cosby’s stand-up act had been announced only a couple hours before it began. Nevertheless, the AP reported, a protester managed to get there and stood outside the club while he performed, playing the song “I Am Woman” on a loop. Sixty women have accused Cosby of sexual assault since the scandal broke in late 2014, The Washington Post’sreported.
Inside, the Inquirer wrote, Cosby joked: “All my life, I worried what the world would do without . . . ‘my drumming.’ ” Then he joined a band on the stage, drumming and singing.
“Be-dee-bum. Ba-de-do-wee. We-bum. Ve-Vo. Dee,” Cosby sang, according to NPR.
“Perseverance to all survivors,” the protester chanted outside.
Cosby got a big laugh after the music, when he asked an 11-year-old boy on the stage, “What do I do?”
“You used to be a comedian?” the boy said.
Cosby made a face and pretended to scold the boy, the Inquirer wrote. “I used to be a comedian? You can sit down now.”
Ha, ha, ha, laughed the audience.
NPR asked a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh what he thought about the show. The professor said he thought Cosby was probably trying to charm potential jurors — so they’d be less likely to convict him on charges of drugging, incapacitating and molesting Constand in 2004. The massive publicity about the allegations against Cosby made selecting the jury extremely difficult, The Post’s reported.
Cosby has denied doing that, and on Monday he denied that his standup was any sort of PR effort.
“I came here tonight to enjoy being with my friends and the musicians and the people who came,” he told the AP.
And he did seem to enjoy it. He even worked in a joke about how women who care about him have been trying to keep him from hurting himself, now that he’s blind:
“I have a daughter, a very intelligent young lady, and she says, ‘Watch it, watch it, watch it!’ ” Cosby said. “My wife, who loves me and would not want me to walk into anything, says, ‘Ah, ah, ah, ah! ‘ ”
“I can understand that if I was a baby, but I’m a grown up,” he said, “I understand, ‘Stop.’ ”