For comedians, fans who idolized Bill Cosby: What now?

I feel bad, now, for the comics who grew up idolizing Cosby. It had to affect their decision to begin doing standup and motivate the kind of standup they wanted to do… I hope there’s a way to salvage that kind of inspiration.

I never saw or listened to comedy when I was a kid. I heard the Noah bit when I was about 10 and thought it was hilarious. But that was it. Until I did stand-up I didn’t even know the same guy from sitcomville was a stand-up. But I knew that he was beloved. And then all I knew of his stand-up was that he was hacked a lot. I met a fair number of guys, on the road, who would do impressions of Cosby AS THEIR ACT.

I didn’t know anything about comedy until I started doing it and yet, even at that late date (I was 19) I remember being inspired by the stories about Cosby doing stand-up in clubs he wasn’t allowed to enter during the day, or through the front door. It’s crazy to have someone who, clearly, is a great stand-up, turn out to have such a nightmare of a second life. To be a, genuine, psychopath.

I saw him perform live a couple times. (approximately six years ago and four years ago) And he had a new hour between those two shows. I was curious to see his long set, as I’d just seen short clips of him on Dick Cavett previously. I still haven’t seen the famous Himself show or listened to his albums… So seeing him live was a lesson in what 45 years doing stand-up looked like. It was interesting. From how beloved he was, I thought I’d be, either, despairing of my own comedy because he was so great; or he’d be phoning it in and living off the hype. It was neither. I was impressed that it was interesting and genuine; and relieved to see a good comic. The first time I saw him I sat there thinking, “This is just comedy. He’s just doing stand-up like he has for 50 years. With new bits, proving he still writes and works on stuff.”

I don’t know what to do with him as a “role model.” Lucky for me he wasn’t a role model of MINE. I never had comedian heroes. I don’t know that I had heroes. My political heroes were “heroes for a day” because they so, obviously, had feet of clay. Truman desegregating the armed forces (right after bombing Nagasaki) Emma Goldman with her union rights and feminism (but willing to assassinate capitalists). I guess I don’t have heroes.

There’s been some talk of trying to separate the crime from the performer. Or the creepy act from the artist. Woody Allen and his, consensual, adoptive daughter marrying… makes it hard for me to watch his movies. I make a “face” even when watching Annie Hall, which I love(d).

I do wonder about those comics who idolized Cosby and how they’re processing this. Just because someone’s work inspires you doesn’t make you anything like them. And years into your own work, you are always something completely different from what made you, I think. But a comic MIGHT feel weird because they came from that… how does one process that? But I hope they can. Because, the guy is clearly a nightmare of a human being, but he created a sense of hope and accomplishment for a lot of comics I know. The ability to tell stories on stage. The fact that it was okay to be clean and family oriented was a real thing Cosby encouraged. It was a gross fabrication in that guy’s life…but sometimes an illusion can make others make it real. And, I think… the thing is real. The message that the kind of work he did was real and possible, even though the messenger was living a lie.

Addendum: Response to comment: It’s got to feel “silly” bc he’s a TV star, but it REALLY isn’t. Because of the immediate nature of TV performance, and the interview process on talk shows… People who are famous feel like you know them. And, coupled with his (very real) struggle to get work, recognized and respected… The comparison to a “real” person’s life (yours or mine) is inevitable. Just because he went power mad doesn’t mean that the things he did weren’t real. But it’s very much like finding out yer dad is a horrible person. Ugh. I’m sorry for your loss. It’s like a death. And I’m, genuinely, sorry and grieving for everyone who loved and NEEDED him.

Republished from Jackie Kashian’s Tumblr with the author’s permission.

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