Will There Be an Audience in the New Year for the Disgraced Comedian’s Storytelling?
12/31/22 – – Good news for pessimists dreading the stroke of midnight: Bill Cosby — unrepentant, nearly blind, but out of jail — will be taking his standup act on the road across America in 2023. Can’t you already hear the laughter?
Unfortunately, this is not a joke. Earlier this week, the 85-year-old disgraced comedian told radio talk show host Scott Spears that he intends to return to the stage in the new year. His motivation: “There’s so much fun to be had in this storytelling that I do.”
To date, more than 60 women have told their own stories, many in court under oath, of Cosby’s predatory behavior. He spent three years in a Pennsylvania prison, but was released in 2021 when the state’s Supreme Court overturned his conviction. Just this month in New York, five women filed lawsuits against Cosby and NBC alleging sexual assault dating as far back as 1969 and in the 1980s and ‘90s during the height of “The Cosby Show’s” popularity.
Andrew Wyatt, Cosby’s representative (described in news articles as his agent, publicist, spokesperson and crisis counselor) claims there are plenty of booking agents eager to fill entertainment venues with the fallen performer’s still-enthusiastic fan base. Dismissing the claims against his client as “frivolous,” Wyatt praises Cosby as, “one of the most prolific people in the history of this country and possibly, quite possibly, the world.” Interestingly, he doesn’t make clear what he’s referring to when he says “prolific,” a word defined as, “producing a great number or amount of something.”
Will you be logging on to Ticketmaster as soon as the tour dates are announced?
Probably not. So, what’s this all about?
Individuals faced with career-ending reputational crises long to return to and perform on the platforms denied to them after their fall. And crisis counselors know that without another chance to get on stage, get back on the field or get a new job, their clients’ chances for redemption are slim to none.
Like all celebrities trying to regain public acceptance, Bill Cosby will have to reach the four milestones I describe in Chapter 21 of The Crisis Preparedness Quotient. Let’s take a look at the progress he’s made on the path to redemption:
Defined as, “voluntary self-punishment inflicted as an outward expression of repentance for having done wrong,” meaningful penance is required as the first step toward forgiveness. Displaying no remorse, Cosby denies he’s done anything wrong and has attacked the honesty and motives of his accusers.
Whenever a crisis involves shame (Cosby may not feel any shame, but his victims and the public sure do) the element of time becomes an important issue. Before the public can forgive an individual, suffering for some period of time is expected. That’s human nature. But, how long does the sinner have to suffer public humiliation in the stocks?
The duration of exile depends on the specifics of the crisis: the nature of the offense; the pre-crisis reputation of the offender; and the adequacy of the offender’s response.
In Cosby’s favor is his “pre-crisis reputation.” That’s very helpful, but even his considerable personal and professional accomplishments cannot erase the horror of his offenses and the inadequacy of his response. He’s not been away long enough. Not even close.
One of the toughest challenges for an individual trying to recover from disgrace or failure is regaining a platform on which to stage a comeback.
If you’re a fallen TV news personality like Matt Lauer or Bill O’Reilly, you need someone to put you back on the air. Cancelled politicians like Anthony Weiner, Al Franken and Andrew Cuomo need to get back in office. Will Smith, after an adequate time in purgatory, will need to secure another major role in a motion picture before his return from shame can progress. Disney’s dismissed CEO Bob Chapek, after some time away from the Magic Kingdom, needs another job of similar stature to reboot a damaged career.
Maybe Cosby’s agent is telling the truth and there are venues willing to be part of his comeback tour. We’ll see. But how many theatre owners will risk the blowback from participation? What message will that send to women in their markets? Fellow comedian Louis C.K. has had success filling comedy clubs after a period of penance and purgatory for his gross, demeaning behavior toward women. But he was never thought of as “America’s Dad,” and his offenses were not comparable to Cosby’s violent assaults.
The final milestone on the road to redemption is performance. Regaining a platform is not enough. You never fully win back your acceptance and standing until you’ve proven you can still perform; at least as well as you did before the storm. For a former super star like Cosby, that’s a tall order.
We never really welcomed Tiger Woods back into public life until he miraculously — a decade after his marriage and career fell apart around Thanksgiving 2008 — won the PGA Tour Championship in September 2018 and the Masters title at Augusta National Golf Club in April 2019. And the world forgave swimmer Michael Phelps for repeated drunk driving incidents only after he won gold medals and set world records at multiple Olympic games.
Can today’s Bill Cosby be as funny as the brilliant, respected entertainer we knew before the revelations? Will audiences be able to look past the betrayal and see the humor in his storytelling? That’s going to be a very high hurdle for him to clear.
So, on my milestone test, Mr. Cosby fails miserably: 0 for 4. My advice: Stay home. Rather than longing for the limelight, be grateful you’re not in jail.
With prospects looking grim for a successful Cosby tour, we’re going to have to find something else to brighten our outlook for 2023. Here’s a suggestion: Tonight, as you and your loved ones join in a chorus of Auld Lang Syne, think positively. You’re not crypto-scammer Sam Bankman-Fried, child-trafficker Ghislaine Maxwell, serial-liar George Santos, or Ryan Green (chief commercial officer of Southwest Airlines). Chances are good your next 12 months are going to be much better than theirs!
Happy New Year and thanks for reading my stuff.