Friday, November 21, 2014

This is when it all started to take a bad turn

Like Bill Cosby, I also started out as a child. And Bill Cosby was my idol.

When I was 13, I could recite my Bill Cosby albums. I had more Bill Cosby albums than I ever had Rolling Stone, Eric Clapton, or Led Zeppelin albums.

When I told my seventh grade drama teacher, the lovely and wonderful Mrs. Mary McMahon, I could recite Cosby’s entire albums, she teased me it was not possible. Then I rattled off three straight routines, “Noah”, “Chicken Heart”, “Tonsils”. Mrs McMahon was shocked that, A, anyone could do that, and mostly, B, that I was the person who did it.

Those early Cosby albums were brilliant and hilarious. How a black man from the projects of Philadelphia with a falling-down-drunk, abusive father, could weave these hilarious stories that would have white kids in Winnetka, Illinois, nearly peeing their pants with laughter – one time not so nearly -  is hard to imagine. And he did it without jokes. Just stories. Clean stories. 

Not to acknowleldge the countless hours of pure joy Bill Cosby's albums gave me as a youth would be ungrateful. 

And I was a huge fan of his TV shows “I Spy” and “The Bill Cosby Show.” After his show was cancelled in 1971, Cosby went off the entertainment grid, much to my dismay, and made an absolute fortune making in-house instructional sales videos for IBM. Besides his cartoon shows, he didn’t re-emerge with “The Cosby Show” until 1984 after the corporate world had filled his coffers to the brim and beyond.

This is when things start to go south.

When I lived in New York in 1984, Bill Cosby was filming his "The Cosby Show" there. A friend of a friend of a friend worked on the show and the nasty in-house stories about Cosby’s ego began to leak. Nothing criminal, just lots and lots of;

“Do exactly what I say or you will never work in this business again.”

These stories broke my heart, and I did not want to believe them. But, as with Streisand, Brando and Miles Davis, geniuses are allowed to be insanely demanding.

But like 99% of comedians and actors, Bill Cosby was wildly insecure about his lack of education. He failed 10th grade and had to repeat it and dropped out of high school to join the Navy. But he earned a track scholarship to Temple University and attended for two years before dropping out of college to do comedy full time. No diploma.

So when Cosby made it big and got a largely honorary doctorate in education, it went straight to his head. (He produced an educational children’s show, the “Electric Company” and that applied as the credit for his degree) Somehow I knew there was a problem when he demanded people call him Doctor Cosby even though the degree was in education and mostly celebrity-driven and honorary.

(In my mind there is no clearer sign someone is a smug jerk than using the title Dr. if they can’t medically help someone who is ill)

But after a while, the stories of Dr. Cosby’s ugly behavior and rampant egomania began to leak more and more. Then accounts of all the assistant producers, TV execs and directors he had fired came out. 

And yes, allegations of sexual harassment.

A story has recently emerged of Bill Cosby brutally berating a Notre Dame football player for only having a 2.5 GPA. This, again, from a guy who flunked 10th grade, never graduated from high school, dropped out of Temple without graduating and was awarded a ceremonial doctorate for the sake of publicity for the university.

What a steaming pile of hypocrisy.

At the same time, the quality of “The Cosby Show” turned into a pompous joke about a joke about a smug joke. The ugly sweaters. Dancing. Singing. The corny, corny plots and morals. Hugging. Lots and lots of hugging. Eventually it was so not funny it started to get funny again by accident.

Comedic wise, “The Cosby Show” sort of ran back into itself. It had become a triple minstrel show of black people acting like white people acting like black people; 

"Why,  yes, I am an esteemed doctor and my wife is a partner in a famous law firm, my children are all honor students, but whazah, wheeza, sheeza, swasss, swasss, perflickity, hah, hah, hah."

And when it started to really lag, they came up with a very transparent formula: bring in another younger adorable child. 

(The mission statement of “Seinfeld” was to be the opposite of “The Cosby Show.” No ugly sweaters, no hugging and no sappy morals)

When a bunch of blood-thirsty network television executives are ecstatic to cancel a hit show as soon as the rating dipped, clearly there is something seriously wrong with the behavior of the star. When “The Cosby Show” was cancelled and the guy who had a once hugely popular show on NBC has to go to the rival network, CBS, for another show, “Cosby”?

That is a giant red flag.   

About this time, with much reservation, I saw Bill Cosby’s stand up act at the Radio City Music Hall. 

It was . . . amazing. 

Just Cosby, a chair and a microphone and he tore that place apart. No lie, my friend who went with me, who prior to the show was not a Cosby fan, and I were sore in our face and stomach for two days from laughing so hard. 

Remember when your dad tickled you so hard you kinda wanted him to stop because you couldn't breathe? Like that. 

At the time his TV show got so clunky, I was having my doubts about Cosby’s humor, but this live show changed that. No doubt, as far as comedy goes, the guy, Bill Cosby, was a full-blown genius.

It seems more and more these days that genius comes with a steep price.

And yet, still, during his sold-out show at Radio City Music Hall, I could easily perceive Dr. Cosby’s attitude of what an honor he was bestowing upon us to be graced with his holy presence. At $100 a ticket.

Then came the pompous, arrogant and flat out mean-spirited public put-downs of other African American comedians and actors who Cosby felt were not living up to his demanding standards. It was no secret Richard Pryor hated Bill Cosby and vice versa. Eddie Murphy put it into his routine.

In Murphy’s dead-on Richard Pryor voice, he reenacted his call to Pryor after Cosby – Murphy’s idol as well -  had came down on Eddie hard for being too dirty. Pryor consoled the deeply hurt young Eddie Murphy;

“Are you making people laugh? Are you getting paid a lot of money? Well, then tell Bill Cosby to have a Coke and a smile and shut-the-f**k up.”

It killed me to admit it, but the-ugly-sweater Bill Cosby had officially turned into a full-blown ass-wipe. Out-of-check egos are death to comedians. (See: Eddie Murphy and Chevy Chase) 

Cosby's appearances on “Letterman” and "Leno" started getting increasingly awkward. It was as if Bill Cosby was doing a long, slow, annoying Bill Cosby impression;

“Soooooooo I told my wife (voice raising) Cameeeeeeeeeeel . . .”

Wonder how Camille is feeling right about now?

The casting couch is an ugly and real fact of life in Hollywood. Apparently the good Doctor Cosby worked it pretty good. Now there is blood in the water. 

Before there were iPhones and digital video cameras and the Internet everywhere, powerful Hollywood  men could get away with almost anything. And did. 

Until now. 

When many, many women tell virtually the exact same story of being drugged and raped, that is a lot of smoke. A lot of smoke. Way, way too much smoke.

Is it possible a few of these women are lying? Maybe. Is it possible all of them are lying? No. 

Look, I get celebrities are targets of whack jobs. But 15?

With Charlie Sheen alone, the American public has proven we can put up with a lot of bad behavior and forgive. What we cannot forgive is a hypocrite and a sexual criminal. 

Bill Cosby, TV’s cuddly perfect dad and husband, is now in the running for the biggest hypocrite in history.

And where are all the fellow Cosby colleagues, dozens and dozens of which he made rich and famous, coming to his defense? Morgan Freeman from “The Electric Company” and the entire casts of “The Cosby Show” and “Cosby.”

Not one word of support. Not one. Telling. (To date the only tepid defense of Cosby comes from Kathy Lee Gifford and all she says is she never saw him do anything)

When famous, mean bullies fall, they fall hard: Richard Nixon, Martha Stewart, Lance Armstrong, Mel Gibson, Tiger Woods, and their many victims scurry to feast on their carcass.

Bill Cosby used to eviscerate black comedians, like Eddie Murphy, Wanda Sykes and Tracy Morgan, for what he arrogantly thought was living down to a negative stereotype of black people. This is what happens when irony takes an ugly turn into naked hypocrisy. 

Morgan and Sykes may use urban slang, but the last time I checked, they never raped anyone. In  fact, if a lot of young African Americans had a chance to talk to Bill Cosby now, they might say something like pull up your pants and act like a man. 

Will the great Bill Cosby go to prison? Probably not. It has been too long and he has too much money. But this scandal will cost him big. All told some estimates maybe $50 million in lost revenue and settlements. But the guy has $350 million at least. $50 million?That's just a dent.

One of the accusers who did report her attack to the police was essentially informed by the D.A., although he believed her, he could not prove it in court.

Where this sex scandal is going to hurt Bill Cosby is in his ruined, shattered and humiliated legacy. And that, given his other-worldly- sized ego, is where it will hurt him the most.

Bill Cosby started out as a child. He ended up a sick, twisted, disgusting old hypocrite. 

And, much worse, a serial rapist.