Here’s what I know, and here’s what I don’t. Feel free to fact check me. Some of it will be true, and some of it won’t be true, and that’s the story of his life.
Once upon a time there was a young man, raised by a hard working woman and a veteran of the armed forces. He fell out of high school but entered the military, serving honorably and completing his high school education via correspondence courses. He then got into a college on an athletics scholarship and from the looks of things he was going to spend the rest of his life as an instructor of physical education. He had developed an interest in educating others. However, he also had an interest in comedy.
That’s one version of this story. Another version says the father was hardly ever home, and the mother had a great many suitors who this man called uncles. There’s no evidence substantiating this second version of the story. At least none that a cursory glance can see. However, it wouldn’t take much for a group of people to start believing that, and insisting there was evidence somewhere, and completely trashing this man’s childhood and his mother’s reputation, rest her soul. Why would anyone do that though? There’s no motivation for ruining the memory of a great woman, except maybe if you really hate her son. Still, perhaps that second version of this story is true, and some other group of people covered up that truth, which would be about as easy to accomplish as spreading lies in the other direction, given enough resources. I guess we’ll never know. I can guess tho, that the truth is probably somewhere in between.
By the way I am talking about Bill Cosby. The first version of the story has survived the test of time. The second version of this story floated about decades ago. I remember reading about it, and hearing people question the authenticity of Bill Cosby’s story telling. Did he even have a father? Or did the father run away from home and he was raised by a single parent? Was she trying to remarry, and find a man who would help her provide for her children? Or was she just toiling as a maid to put enough food on the table for he and his brothers?
I just went around the Internet mulberry patch looking for those inciteful slanders and wouldn’t ya know it? They don’t exist anymore. I can’t find any allegations questioning the sanctity of Bill Cosby’s mother. Good thing too. Cuz they never really sounded believable, but decades ago I remember believing them. Cuz I used to believe in belief.
If one were to listen to this gentleman’s early comedy routines, a landscape is painted of an urban America with some warts and dark alleys, but also some fluffy clouds and rainbows. How much of it is honest and how much of it is stretching the truth we may never know. Even if he were to explain in detail which comedy routines were elaborate fish tales and which were the truth and nothing but the truth so help his god, we’d only have his word to go on. Still, this man’s life has been about telling the public stories which may or may not be true, and when people tried to pry and spy, he’d try to explain the inconsistencies but after awhile he just dummied up about it, cuz some people will believe whatever they want to believe. During Stephen Colbert’s tenure on Comedy Central, he’d refer to this as “truthiness.” The intention of Bill Cosby’s stories was to reveal the truth about modern life, and relate with his audience in tales they could understand, having perhaps experienced similar thoughts and adventures themselves. Whether or not one of his brothers was named Russell, and whether or not he actually slept with him, is this really important? Do we really need to know? Or can we just take his word for it?
Exaggeration is a cornerstone of Bill Cosby’s comedy routines. He takes the mundane and exaggerates until it’s funny. That’s his bread and butter. That’s how he’s made his money. Telling fish tales, using everything in his life except fish.
Cosby’s later comedy efforts weren’t about his own childhood, but rather instead his adult family life with his own children. He skirted an uncomfortable line between living in a fishbowl and keeping the curtains drawn. The family life he showcased on The Cosby Show was that of The Huxtables. It was not intended to be autobiographical. However, it was a family of well-to-do black parents in late 20th century America, with several daughters and one son. That’s exactly the description of Bill Cosby’s actual family. “My wife and I have five children and the reason why we have five children is we do not! want! six! Because all children have brain damage! Let me describe to you the brain damage..” His live comedy performance titled Bill Cosby Himself also reflected his actual family life, albeit with some stretching of the truth here and there. The names have been changed to protect the innocent, but Bill either intentionally or inadvertently propped himself up for others to deliver pot shots and spit balls. Perhaps he had faith in humanity that they wouldn’t do such a thing, but any stand up comedian should know there’s always someone in the audience carrying rotten tomatoes.
Fast forward to today. I don’t know what to make of the allegations that during his many decades of travel and work as a public figure, Bill Cosby quietly drugged women under false pretenses and had his way with them. Then for the past few decades whenever someone threatens to go public with this scandal, he uses his extensive resources to pay them off or otherwise shut them up. Given that he’s spent his life telling us stories about his life which may or may not be authentic, it’s perhaps fitting that in the twilight of his days he’s caught like The Boy Who Cried Wolf, facing predators who seek to undermine his lifetime of achievements with scandal and equally fishy anecdotal evidence. Despite any efforts on anyone’s part to bring truth to light or sweep things under the rug or throw rotten tomatoes, the actual truth is probably somewhere in between what we know and what we don’t. I am concerned however, that something even more sinister is going on.
Throughout his career, Bill Cosby has seen himself not merely as a clown or a performer, but as an educator. Early on he was on cast for the children’s series The Electric Company, and many of his projects have been geared towards entertaining and enlightening children. He worked with CBS and Captain Kangaroo to develop Picture Pages for young minds, his Fat Albert series contained morality plays in modern urban settings, and his latest animation effort was simply named “Bill” and featured a young boy in a modern setting who seemed like an innocent reflection of the young boy whose life Cosby described in his early stand up routines. This incarnation of Bill would learn simple life lessons and interact with family, friends, and strangers, and always learn something new. He was always learning.
I remember when I was my own incarnation of “Bill” sitting in a pick up truck with my father riding around with him and listening to eight track tapes, one of the first Bill Cosby comedy routines I remember hearing was called Ennis’ Toilet. I might have been five years old. Eight track tapes were popular when I was five, by the way. Cassettes wouldn’t come till later, and it’s all discs and digital downloads now. Whatever. Anyway. I remember asking my Dad “Why is there a duck in his diaper?” and then laughing as my Dad explained what Bill Cosby meant by duck, then laughing again at Bill Cosby when I realized what he meant by duck. And STILL having the visual in my head of a cute yellow rubber duck covered in shit whose head is sticking out of Ennis’ diaper. I remember sitting there listening to this grown man talking about a child dragging his diaper across the floor and laughing hysterically, cuz it’d only been a couple few years ago I had done that myself. I was kinda late to big boy pants, truth to tell. I was the first and only child in my family to wear Pampers. They were brand new back then. I wore the cutting edge of fashion when I was two. My sisters reminded me on a regular basis when I was little how they had to wear cloth diapers and it was terrible compared to my literally being pampered with Pampers. So it took awhile before I grew out of em.
It’s only a minute long piece, but it had an effect on me. The comedy album Inside the Mind of Bill Cosby also has Froofie the Dog and Invention of Basketball, some of his best comedy bits, but the one I asked dad to play over again was Ennis’ Toilet. Cuz it was raunchy. Only, it wasn’t. Bill Cosby’s whole comedy career has consisted of few if any curse words, and I think when he would work on his comedy he was very self-conscious of the five year olds like me in pickup trucks with their fathers all around the world laughing at diaper humor. He didn’t want to be held responsible for dirtying our minds. He tried to make his material family friendly. There’s one bit he does that I’m too lazy to go dig up you’ll just have to take my word for it or google it yourself! I don’t care. You got Internet access! Anyway Bill describes how his father used to curse. He says till he was ten years old he thought his name was Jesus Christ. And he thought his brother’s name was Dammit. One day Bill’s standing out in the rain, and his father opens the door and shouts, “Dammit! Will you get in here!?” And Bill says, “but Daaad! I’M JESUS CHRIST!” I wrote that one out to illustrate how Bill Cosby used profanity. In essence, he didn’t, unless it was absolutely necessary for purposes of the joke. Whereas his contemporaries like Richard Pryor and George Carlin were cussing at least once practically every sentence.
Eddie Murphy describes an experience he had with Bill Cosby. How much of this is true and how much of this is not true is left open to interpretation.
Now this may or may not have ever happened. It probably didn’t happen in exactly the way Eddie Murphy describes it. Maybe it actually was a phone call. Maybe it was a letter which is less dramatic so Murphy changed it to a phone call. Maybe he was told by someone that Bill Cosby would like him to stop. Or maybe Bill Cosby wasn’t even in the situation. Never talked to Eddie Murphy. Maybe Eddie Murphy just wanted to do his Bill Cosby impersonation and this was a way of working it into his own standup comedy film Raw. Anyway. My point is, and I do have one, that Bill Cosby has throughout his career seen himself not merely as an entertainer, but an educator.
Or to put it another way, Bill Cosby likes to tell people what to do, and then he expects them to do it. This tends to piss people off. A lot.
I think this goes back to what he was going to be before he became a public figure of the stage and screen. Deep down what Bill Cosby really is, is a P.E. instructor, and from my own personal childhood dealing with P.E. instructors, the one thing they really like to do is tell other people what to do with their lives and then they expect those other people to listen to them. What I always wanted to know, why would I listen to you? You’re a P.E. instructor. If I listen to you, I might end up just like you. If Bill Cosby had listened to himself, maybe he woulda been nothing but a P.E. instructor all his life, but I digress.
Still, Bill Cosby is known, infamously, for telling other people what to do, and then he expects them to do what he says, and invariably people don’t. This was all well and good for most of Bill Cosby’s life cuz he had his money and he had his work and he had his wife Camille, and his loving family and so if people laughed but didn’t take him seriously he was crying all the way to the bank and then hugging it out with his family.
Then it stopped being funny.
After this event in Bill Cosby’s life, where he lost his only son to violence, his career took a sea change. From then on when I’d see him make appearances, or see him in the news, it was usually less about telling people jokes and more about telling people we are all raising our children wrong and we need to do something about it before it’s too late. And he has pissed off a lot of people telling what he thinks is the truth. And he no longer seems to give a shit what people think about him when it comes to improving the world for future generations. His solutions are not easy and they’re not friendly, and they would probably cost a lot of money for some people, and they would mean dramatically changing some people’s lives in ways they don’t wanna change. I don’t personally think his “solutions” are any better or worse than anything anybody else has to say about all this. I don’t think he has the answers, but then I doubt anyone does or that anyone could.
And I hate to type these words out, but again maybe we shouldn’t listen to a man who didn’t get it right with his only son. Cuz it’s like listening to a P.E. instructor about how to have a successful life as something other than being a P.E. instructor. How dare a father tell other fathers how to be a father, if you couldn’t get it right yourself.
I’m not saying he raised his son wrong. He didn’t. He gave himself to his family fully. He then used his family to make lots of money telling stories about his family, so that he could provide lots of money and other resources for his family. Cuz that’s what a father does and he did and that’s it. You don’t then turn around and tell this man, who is still carrying the weight of his son’s tragic loss in his soul, how he should have raised his son in order to avoid such a violent tragic end. However, that’s kinda what he’s been doing. Going around telling people how to live. Like he knows any better than any of us how to do that. And he’s pissed off a lot of people doing that. And some of those people would perhaps do anything, say anything, make up lies even, to convince Bill to have a coke and a smile and shut the fuck up.
I love Bill Cosby. Warts and all. Maybe if these allegations turn out to be true I’ll be forced to turn my back on him like the rest of society, but I’ll still love him. Still, it doesn’t ring true. None of this has, but then again, Bill Cosby has never rang true. All his stories have always had a fishy smell to them, cuz that’s his life’s work. Telling fish tales. Lying about how big the fish really was. That’s his life’s work.
I can’t prove any of this. Maybe there is no conspiracy. Maybe Bill Cosby really did drug all those women and had sex with them, and the allegations are coming from honest people who never conspired in secret to topple a man’s career and tarnish his reputation for posterity. Or maybe Bill Cosby is really innocent but he knows he can’t prove it, like Michael Jackson’s claims that his interactions with children were innocent and there was no hanky panky and people are just believing what they want to believe and it’s really a sad statement on how we put our heroes up on pedestals just so we can take them down. We may never know the truth, but I can’t help but feel the real answer is somewhere in between. There’s what we know, and there’s what we don’t, and objective reality is not something the subjective perspective of a brain encased in a fleshbag can ever truly comprehend, but based loosely on past experience the truth usually washes out to be something in between. Doncha Know.