Bill Cosby was rolling along with the audience on his side about an hour into his performance at Budweiser Gardens Thursday night. Considering the dire warnings of hundreds of protesters outside and angry hecklers inside, the evening had been a breeze for the 77-year-old comedian, who’s been accused of sexually assaulting about 30 women over the past four decades.
Probably because of the frigid, snowy weather, only about 50 people stood outside the venue on the King Street side carrying placards and vocally reminding concert goers of Cosby’s alleged crimes, while those comfortable in their seats – about half of them were filled – laughed at almost everything he said.
A woman near the front of the stage got up to leave. Her heels clacked on the floor, which caught Cosby’s attention. A lot of comedians have a go at anyone coming or going during their set and Cosby played along.
The woman said something back, and then asked Cosby if he wanted a drink.
“You have to be careful drinking around me,” Cosby said to the woman.
The audience didn’t laugh at that one. Some gasped, in fact, considering Cosby has been accused of drugging women’s drinks before assaulting them.
Soon after, a man was hustled out of the room for screaming, “You’re a rapist!” at Cosby.
The rebuke was sharp and, by that time of the show, unexpected, and while some in the audience shouted back, Cosby pleaded for calm. He waited quietly, arms outstretched to hush the audience, until all was peaceful.
He was applauded for that.
As the saying goes, the show did go on, and the crowd quickly fell back into its comfortable Cosby place and enjoyed the final half hour. The man once known as “America’s Dad” did his job, the crowd did their part and everyone filed happily out into the snow.
It wasn’t so congenial before the performance as a steady stream of people navigated its way past the protesters, including one woman who loudly asked them how they could support “an American rapist” when they were Canadian. Some argued, but most were happy to have run the gauntlet of anger, extra police presence and the weather.
London Abused Women’s Centre executive director Megan Walker said the demonstrators were there to raise awareness of sexual assault in a peaceful way.
“I don’t know if this will put pressure on Cosby, I don’t know if anything will deter him with his inflated ego,” she said. “But from our perspective, this is about raising awareness about men’s violence against women and standing in solidarity with women who have been assaulted.”
She said that many more were on the Dundas Street side of the building - a total of about 200 altogether.
Velma Moore of London said she was protesting, “to make awareness of the rapes that go on and people that don’t believe women. I have granddaughters, I have nieces and if they were raped and they came to me and said they were raped, I want people to believe they were raped.”
Bill Smith drove in from Norwich to the show because he and his wife were given the tickets as a Christmas present. Allegations or not, he was going to use them.
“I think if they had proven in court that Bill Cosby was a rapist, then I would not have come, but I believe that until then we should be able to come in and not be harassed by the people out front.”
Cosby is scheduled to play Hamilton Jan. 9.
He has not been criminally charged with any crimes.
- With files from Whitney South