Comedian D.C. Benny made a new splash last summer competing on NBC’s Last Comic Standing. But back in the day, Benny thought he was getting a huge break with a small part on the CBS sitcom, Cosby. As in Bill Cosby.
We have hindsight in 2015. Two decades ago, Benny was about to have his first TV role, and his ideal vision of Cos, crushed. He explains in this essay printed in today’s New York Observer.
And as he tells friends today: “This is actually a condensed version of a chapter from my book. Names were changed to protect the innocent and some of the saltier language was removed but the essence remains; worst showbiz experience of my life!!!!”
Here’s an excerpt from that essay:
This Cosby show was a newer incarnation, with mostly different cast members, filmed out in Queens, at Kaufman Astoria studios.
I only had one actual line; “Jack, we gotta go…” which I was to say to Robert Klein. It was decent pay for three days work; first day rehearsal, second day shoot, third day the episode was done in front of a live audience.
I showed up the first day at my appointed call time 10:45 a.m.
Only my call time wasn’t 10:45.
Unbeknownst to me, my bi-polar manager was off his meds and had told me a completely wrong time, before going on a spree of physically confronting everyone who’d slighted him over the years, and ending up in central booking.
When I signed in with security, I was informed that I was an hour and 45 minutes late, and a very tense lady with a clipboard appeared. She labored over my name.
“Is it D.J. Penny or B.J. Penny?!”
“It’s actually D.C. Benny”
“Yah, well, C.D., you are very late and Dr. Cosby is NOT HAPPY. Let’s go. When you meet him, only refer to him as Dr. Cosby. Not Mister, not Bill. Doctor, understand?”
Eventually, Benny meets Dr. Cosby, who was chatting with his co-stars Madeline Kahn and Robert Klein.
“Dr. Cosby. I have C.D. Lenny on set.”
Cosby slowly blew out a cumulous cloud of smoke, which floated toward the illuminated “No Smoking” sign.
“BOY, DO YOU UNDERSTAND THE CONCEPT OF TIME!! IT IS NOT TO BE WASTED, ESPECIALLY MY TIME! AN HOUR AND FORTY FIVE MINUTES?! WERE YOU IN A MEDICAL EMERGENCY, THUS UNABLE TO VIEW YOUR WATCH?! SHOW BUSINESS. THINK ABOUT THESE TWO IMPORTANT WORDS. IF YOU DON’T SHOW UP ON TIME, YOU WILL CONTINUE TO BE AN ACTOR NO ONE HAS EVER HEARD OF. WHY? BECAUSE YOU HAVE NO BUSINESS BEING IN SHOW BUSINESS! CASE IN POINT: HAS ANYONE HERE HEARD OF C.D. LENNY?! ”
“I THOUGHT NOT.” “
“DOCTOR COSBY!” he snapped and threw his cigar against the floor. Clipboard grunted audibly. A PA ran to the smoldering stub, extinguished it with a stomp and removed the flattened carcass like a spent tennis ball during Wimbledon.
The next day of rehearsals, Benny made sure to show up on time. Still, all did not go as he’d planned or hoped.
When I got to the set, The Cos was talking to Mr. Klein and Ms. Kahn. When he saw me, he announced with theatrical flair: “THE STAR OF THE SHOW HAS ARRIVED! WE CAN COMMENCE FILMING NOW! A ROUND OF APPLAUSE FOR THE INCOMPARABLE C.D. LENNY!”
Everyone applauded. I thought hard of sunny places, lollipops, and horsies.
We got into our positions. I introduced myself to Robert Klein, who surprisingly remembered when I had opened for him, a few years back. He told Madeline Kahn I was funny and she smiled.
I felt a bit better.
Soon, the camera was rolling and on my cue, I walked in and delivered the line.
Immediately, Cosby yelled “Cut!” and glowered at me.
“BOY! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! ARE YOU TRYING TO MAKE A MOCKERY OF ME?!”
He eventually got his line, delivered it on cue when the actual TV taping came and went, and managed to have two even more awkward interactions offstage with Cosby between then and when the episode actually aired.
You’ll have to read Benny’s whole essay on the Observer to find out how that went. Or buy his book.
(Above: D.C. Benny photographed in 2002 by Dan Dion. He did not get into the ring with Bill Cosby then. Probably for the best for at least one of them!)