Bill Cosby walked onstage Friday night at the Heymann Performing Arts Center in Lafayette to cheers and loud applause. Onstage for nearly two hours, the 77-year-old comedian never mentioned the accusations of sexual abuse made against him by dozens of women.
Friday’s performance proceeded without interruption, heckling or the protests that a prerecorded announcement heard in the Heymann Center before the show suggested could happen.
“Dear patrons: We have been advised that there may be attempts to disrupt tonight’s performance,” the announcement said. “If a disruption occurs, please remain calm until the matter is resolved and do not confront the person making the disruption.”
Uniformed security personnel were stationed in the auditorium, but Cosby’s folksy, story-filled performance was not disrupted. Just before 10 p.m., he stood up, gave a single wave goodbye and said, “Thank you all for coming.”
The applause that accompanied him as he left the stage was louder than the reception he received at his entrance.
Friday’s performance was much like the show Cosby performed in 2012 at the Baton Rouge River Center Theatre. As at that show, his stage set consisted of a table beside a simple chair, where he sat for much of the show. Prior to the show’s start, a photo of a beaming Cosby with Nelson Mandela, the late South African president, loomed above the stage.
But in contrast to the glowing demeanor Cosby projected in Baton Rouge three years ago, the comedian, his face covered by a light growth of white beard, looked worn. Nor did his storytelling and comic riffing flow quite as freely as they did three years ago.
Cosby’s warmly receptive audience filled most of the seats on the auditorium’s floor. Many seats near the rear of the balcony were empty, but balcony ticket sales had increased the last few days before the show.
Cosby looked somewhat wary as he made his entrance just after 8 p.m., but the brilliant storyteller and comic soon was in his element.
“Now wait a minute,” he said in advance of the first laugh of the evening. “Somebody here said, ‘Bill Cosby.’ Is that what you said? Why did you say it? Nobody else is coming!”
Cosby next asked the Heymann Center’s sound man to turn the P.A. system down. The comic explained that he wished to speak to his audience as if they were in a living room. Bringing home the point, the sweatshirt he wore had the words “Hello Friend” printed across the front.
“Tonight’s audience happens to know me at least 50 years,” he said in what may have been a glancing reference to the sexual-abuse allegations. If it was a reference, Cosby instantly deflected it with more comedy.
“I’m 77,” he said. “And what happens, parts go bad. They go bad and you do things. By the time you hit 70, you understand why old people did what they did!”
The old Cosby charm was working. He’s still a funny man.
“We’re married 51 years,” he said of his marriage to Camille Cosby. The comment drew a round of applause. “Camille says to me, as they will, the woman says, ‘Can you reflect on 51 years?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ She said, ‘Well.’ ”
If there was more to the bit than that, it was interrupted by someone’s cellphone ringing. In response, Cosby drew another laugh. “I’m not here,” he said.
Indeed, he was there, unlike the several shows that have been canceled elsewhere, a fact that reinforced the statement he released Wednesday regarding the upcoming Lafayette show.
“I can’t wait to see your smiling faces and warm your hearts with a wonderful gift — LAUGHTER. I’m ready! I thank you, the theater staff, the event organizers and the Lafayette community for your continued support and coming to experience family, fun entertainment. Hey, Hey, Hey — I’m far from finished.”
On balance, as the self-effacing Cosby riffed — on marriage, the Bible, sibling rivalry and going to church during his Philadelphia childhood — and played multiple characters, such as himself as a 5-year-old and his Uncle William, a drinking man of few words, Friday’s show was almost a typical Cosby show.