When I was a kid, he was IT.
He was hilarious, handsome, and cool. He was Eddie Murphy before Eddie Murphy was even born.
Bill Cosby is the Jackie Robinson of comedy. While half the US still had segregation laws, Cosby was selling out stadiums with his comedy tours, and his comedy records were on the Billboard Top ten with six of them winning Grammy Awards.
Before anyone had ever heard of Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby opened the door for African-American comedians to hit the mainstream. And the door he opened wan't just in comedy clubs, but on TV, as he went on to be the first African-American TV star, in the hit series I Spy.
I loved Cosby. Sitting in my room when I was a little kid, I'd throw my parents' Cosby comedy records on my little portable, mono RCA record player and listen, over and over, to his albums like Bill Cosby Is A Very Funny Fellow...Right!, and Wonderfulness, and Why Is There Air?
Cosby made me roll back on the floor with laughter. There are not too many comics whose material stays fresh after five decades, but as a testament to his genius, Cosby's routines, like Noah and Chicken Heart, remain hysterically funny today.
I loved Cosby. Which is why it's heartbreaking to hear the allegations of sexual misconduct against him. I haven't commented on them before and I won't now. When you have a number of women who would have made up an impressive harem for a Turkish Sultan alleging that he drugged and had sex with them, I'm not going to suggest they're all lying. I just don't want to think of that when I think of someone who was one of my heroes. It's just too painful.
Yeah, Cosby could get a little sanctimonious about up-and-comers who used "blue" material, the way he tore into Eddie Murphy back in the late 1980's. Eddie was more than capable of answering back, and did snap back at Cosby then.
If anyone has an excuse for mocking Cosby's current circumstances, it's Eddie Murphy. But Eddie, in addition to being one of the funniest people alive ever, is also a class act. So when the Saturday Night Live crew implored him to do a routine mocking Cosby on their reunion, Eddie's answer was no. He said he wasn't going to kick the man when he was down.
Whatever Cosby's sins may be, one of the creepiest aspects of his current controversy is that a few too many seem to be taking more than a little sadistic glee in tearing him down.
It's good to see that Eddie Murphy hasn't joined the braying mob and is, by an act of omission, showing respect for a man who paved the road that he, Chris Rock, and multitudes of African-American comedians sped along.