Until somewhat recently, Bill Cosby was known for The Cosby Show, hawking Jello Pudding Pops, and as the creative mind behind Fat Albert And The Cosby Kids. By “somewhat recently,” we mean 11 years ago, when sexual assault allegations first appeared. Of course, much more recently, Hannibal Buress took Cosby to task, thrusting these claims back into the spotlight and forcing everyone to reconcile their fond remembrances Mr. Huxtable’s terrible sweaters with the terrible actions of an alleged serial rapist.
As Cosby has fought these allegations with refusals to speak, refusals to speak coherently, calling imaginary fans, and making comedic hay with oblique references to his reputation for drugging women. If the nature of the allegations weren’t so awful and widespread, Cosby’s self-incriminatingly unsympathetic response would be fascinating in its own right. He behaves as if his legacy and demeanor should place him above reproach. He’s baffled by the incongruity between how we’ve viewed him for decades and how we are viewing him now; his perplexity is perplexing.
Maybe that’s what makes this Vimeo cut of Bill Cosby: Himself so jarring. Stripped of all jokes, the edit strings together all of the laughter, with Cosby alternating between mugging and soaking up the audience reaction. Like all comedians, Cosby is there for the vindication and approval of a supportive audience; that’s something he shouldn’t be judged for. But as we increasingly come to terms with the fact that Cosby was likely wearing a mask to move among us, observing that mask takes on a new, uncomfortable meaning.