Sat | Dec 3, 2016

For one night on stage: Cosby his old self

Published:Sunday | November 23, 2014 | 12:00 AM

MELBOURNE, Florida (AP):The protesters didn't show, the would-be hecklers didn't take the bait, the weeks of headlines about sexual assaults disappeared and Bill Cosby, for 90 minutes at least, regained the revered status he long enjoyed.

The show last Friday night in Melbourne, Florida, might have seemed destined for disaster for the comedian, enveloped in growing accusations of rape and sexual assault that have derailed his career comeback and crumbled his tour schedule. What he got, though, was an adoring audience that laughed so hard they slapped their knees, shouted love at the stage and rose to their feet as he came and went.

"I think people went in there with him as Bill Cosby from the TV show," said Travis Weberling, 40, of Melbourne, "not the guy they heard about on the news."

The 2,000-seat theatre beefed up security and announcements before Cosby took the stage warned a disturbance was possible - radio hosts had even offered cash and prizes to anyone who made it happen. Reporters swarmed the venue. But, in the end, just one protester stood outside, holding a sign that read, "Rape is no joke."

What remained to be seen was whether the evening marked a turning point for a beloved television father, or simply a momentary reprieve. It did nothing to immediately change the fact that Cosby's projects have been nixed and stalled, performances have been cancelled across the country and women continue to come forward accusing him of serious crimes.

Cosby has never been charged in connection with any of the allegations.

"I know people are tired of me not saying anything, but a guy doesn't have to answer to innuendos," Cosby told the Florida Today newspaper before the show. "People should fact-check."

'ABSURD' ACCUSATIONS

Cosby's lawyer, Martin Singer, said the accusations had "escalated far past the point of absurdity", dismissing them as "fantastical", "unsubstantiated" and "uncorroborated".

"When will it end?" he asked. "It is long past time for this media vilification of Mr Cosby to stop."

And, throughout the audience, his fans agreed.

They talked of watching him on TV as a child, and of his albums becoming familiar friends when they moved to unfamiliar, faraway towns. They brushed off the accusations, howling at everything he uttered.

When he took the stage at the Maxwell C. King Center For The Performing Arts, they stood and hollered, and he returned a thumbs-up. Only a smattering of empty seats were seen. Cosby wore cargo pants and a shirt that said "Hello Friend" and never once ventured in the realm of controversy.

His 90-minute set wandered from a childhood fear of God to the loss of freedom in marriage to the rocket-speed Spanish of a pinata-store worker.