Fall to Earth
When Your Comic Hero Is an Alleged Rapist
When I was a kid, Bill Cosby’s comedy records were my ‘White Album.’ To me, he was a magician. Why he must address the multiple rape accusations against him honestly—and immediately.
“Don’t let the turtle heads git you!”
“I’ll make another one that looks just like you!”
These were punch lines, all heard a thousand times in glorious mono above the surface scratches of my brother’s portable record player in the bedroom we shared. We laughed hard, harder even than those nameless, faceless laughers in whatever mysterious locale Bill Cosby was performing.
I was 10. Jeff was 11. We didn’t know from nightclubs. But we knew funny, and Bill Cosby was hysterical.
200 MPH, Why Is There Air? and To Russell, My Brother, Whom I Slept With spent years spinning on the turntable until I knew every syllable, every laugh, every pause. I played Cosby’s comedy albums the way other kids played Highway 61 Revisited or The White Album.
The Cosby of my childhood wasn’t a TV dad in silly sweaters or a huckster for Jell-O. He was a magician, an invisible teller of tales with the power to make my sides ache without telling a single joke.
He wasn’t like those other comedians, the Jackies and the Sheckies.
He was a black man who spoke directly to a very white boy in suburbia at a time when whites moved to suburbia to get away from black men.
I loved Bill Cosby.
Years later I had the thrill of meeting him on a number of occasions; he was an infrequent guest on my radio show and once I was his guest at the Hollywood Bowl during the Playboy Jazz Festival, an event Cosby hosted for 30 years. Now this.
I knew about a love child fathered some years back. Cosby is hardly the first star to step outside the bounds of marriage. You don’t have to be famous to cheat. But the “R” word isn’t cheating. It’s, well, raping. That’s something else altogether.
“Drugged and raped” is the accusation made by Barbara Bowman, who claims to have met Cosby as a young actress in the 1980s.
There are others.
Joan Tarshis tells a similar tale of sexual assault dating all the way back to 1969, right around the time my brother and I were rolling in laughter on our bedroom floor.
Cosby’s attorney, John P. Schmitt, denies it all, dismissing a recent Washington Post op-ed piece by Bowman as a rehash of “decade-old, discredited allegations against Mr. Cosby.”
In case you missed it, these long-dormant allegations erupted after a standup comedian named Hannibal Buress decided Cosby was ready for a takedown. Buress said he hates Cosby’s “smug old black man attitude.”
“‘Pull your pants up, black people,’” said Buress, mocking Cosby from the stage. “‘I was on TV in the ’80s. I can talk down to you because I had a successful sitcom.’”
As everyone who has ever dared comment on politics or social mores eventually learns, if you tell other people how they should live, your life is fair game.
Bob Hope was the most beloved, honored, and richly rewarded comedian of all time. He was No. 1 in everything, including the hearts of his countrymen. Then he threw in with the hawks during Vietnam. Suddenly, Hope had haters. He became as polarizing a figure as the war itself, court jester to Nixon and corporate shill to boot.
Fortunately for Bob, he outlived the storm or simply lived so long that Americans forgot why they were mad at him in the first place.
Anti-gay evangelical Christian politicians are forever getting caught with their pants down, and occasionally with some other boy’s pants down, too. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel for the left.
Former Vice President Al Gore, the high priest of anthropomorphic climate change, is fair game for the right, who delight in documenting every trip he takes on a private jet and every light left on at Casa Gore, his 27,000-square-foot mansion in Tennessee.
But I never really could understand what was objectionable about Cosby’s message of “stay in school,” “speak proper English,” and “pull your pants up” Are these white values or simple common sense?
But hey, if you want to take on Cosby for telling you to stay in school, knock yourself out.
Buress did that and more, and may have knocked Cosby out.
“You raped women, Bill Cosby. So [that] brings you down a couple notches. ‘I don’t curse on stage.’ Well, yeah, you’re a rapist.”
The audience laughed. But Buress wasn’t joking.
“If you didn’t know about it, trust me. You leave here and Google ‘Bill Cosby rape.’ It’s not funny. That shit has more results than ‘Hannibal Buress.’”
Now when you Google “Bill Cosby,” you also come across Hannibal Buress, Barbara Bowman, Joan Tarshis, and maybe others. Buress and Cosby’s accusers are forever a part of the Cosby story. America’s Dad will forever be America’s Sexual Predator in the digital universe. Cosby’s own IT squad proved the point by challenging his “fans” to create a Cosby meme. Did they ever.
For the record, I have no idea if the allegations against Cosby are true or false. As a fan, I want them to be false, but as a cynical adult I suspect they’re true.
It sickens me. I hate this story.
I guess I am shocked to discover there’s gambling in Casablanca.
Cosby canceled a scheduled appearance with David Letterman, but did appear with Scott Simon, host of NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday. When asked about the rape allegation, Cosby—undoubtedly upon the advice of counsel—said nothing. Literally nothing.
It’s amazing how loud nothing is on the radio.
Attorney Schmitt claims, “There will be no further statement from Mr. Cosby or any of his representatives.”
I doubt that.
If Cosby’s historic career is to continue, he will have to address these charges honestly, publicly, and immediately.
If the allegations are false, Cosby has been grievously wronged with his reputation forever tainted. You can’t unring a bell.
If the allegations are true, the women assaulted by Cosby have suffered something even worse. Raped and dismissed, they will have joined the endless list of the powerless trampled by the powerful.