Bill Cosby Makes Surprise Stand-Up Appearance Ahead Of Retrial
Bill Cosby performed publicly for the first time since 2015 on Monday night, doing an impromptu act at a jazz club in Philadelphia. The famed entertainer has mostly avoided the spotlight the past few years, after numerous accusations of sexual misconduct began to build against him.
Taking the stage at the LaRose Jazz Club in Philadelphia's Germantown neighborhood to a mostly African-American crowd of about 50 people, Cosby wore a grey hoodie with the words "hello friend" written in colorful letters. The freewheeling performance had him scat-singing with upright bass accompaniment. He played the drums in a jam session with the jazz band. And he did storytelling while sitting on a wooden stool and wearing a headset microphone.
He spun tales about his quiet Uncle William who loved to drink and the birth of his younger brother when he was a kid growing up in public housing. And the 80-year-old riffed on the themes of aging and his struggle with blindness.
"You laugh when blind people walk into things. And guess what? Blind people laugh when sighted people fall down," Cosby said. "Ha ha ha ha."
Cosby's representatives invited the media to the performance just two hours before it started.
"Be-dee-bum. Ba-de-do-wee. We-bum. Ve-Vo. Dee," Cosby scatted. "That's it," said Cosby, as the bass line mimicked his direction. "Just round it out. Round it out. Not too many notes. Just keep it there."
The room lit up with laughter after an exchange with Mekhi Boone, an 11-year-old drummer who relieved Cosby from his drumming duties.
"Who am I?" Cosby asked the boy.
"Bill Cosby," Boone replied.
"And what do I do?" he said
"A comedian," Boone said.
"I used to be a comedian?"
"Used to" is the operative phrase. Cosby's comedy career was shaken after dozens of women accused him of sexual abuse stretching back decades. His comedy tours were canceled. Networks yanked The Cosby Showoff the air. Prestigious universities stripped honorary degrees.
Then there was his two-week criminal trial last year outside of Philadelphia that ended in a hung jury. The panel could not reach a consensus on Cosby's fate after 52 hours of deliberations.
Cosby's second trial is set to start in April on the same charges: three counts of aggravated indecent assault stemming from the claim that in 2004, he drugged and molested a woman at his suburban Philadelphia mansion.
Prosecutors have asked the judge presiding over the case to allow them to call 19 additional women who say Cosby drugged and molested them, hoping to illustrate to the jury an alleged pattern of behavior.
Yet Cosby's avuncular spirit at the club betrayed this dark cloud. Not one word about his accusers or his new trial made it into his routine.
"He's reintroducing himself as that old comedian, that funny guy. He is that hometown person who we all knew and loved, and that's how he wants to be thought of now," said David Harris, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh.
Before Cosby's first trial, he kept a low profile. But this time around, Cosby is leaning into the limelight. He had dinner at an Italian restaurant and brought along reporters. He has made publicized stops at barbershops and bakeries.
The climate during his next trial will be different, and Harris said the charm campaign Cosby is waging is likely an attempt to remind the public of the old Bill Cosby to win the hearts and minds of jurors.
"What with the #MeToo movement very strong out there, he needs all the help he can get in terms of public sympathy from any person who might sit on the jury," Harris said.
Back at the jazz club in Philadelphia, where most gave Cosby a warm and welcome reception, views on Cosby's retrial varied.
Craig McIver, 58, a longtime friend of Cosby's and jazz drummer, said he thinks a jury will acquit Cosby. McIver said he does not believe the accusations.
"I've been around a lot of famous people as a professional drummer, and I can tell you, people throw themselves at these people. They really do," McIver said.
Sitting not far from McIver was Julia Conway. Her position on Cosby was less favorable.
"I do believe the women. I really do," said Conway, 85. "I feel as though it's too many women for them to make up similar stories. If there were a few, I think it would be different."
Conway said she is glad prosecutors in Pennsylvania decided to refile charges against Cosby for the message it sends.
"A lot of people in show business feel as though they can get away with anything they want," Conway said.
Before Cosby was escorted out of the club by his publicists, I approached him and asked whether he was ready for his second trial. He didn't respond, just stared at me blankly. I then asked how he thinks the #MeToo movement might affect jurors. He shrugged, replying, "I don't know."
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