MELBOURNE, Fla. (AP) — As Bill Cosby’s standup tour crumbled with cancellations, the embattled entertainer joked about his usual subjects of family, wives and childhood Friday to a cheering audience that greeted him with a standing ovation as he took the stage and another when he finished.
It was a stark contrast to announcements that performances in Oklahoma, Nevada, Illinois, Arizona, South Carolina and Washington State, were called off as more women came forward and accused entertainer of sexually assaulting them many years ago.
Cosby’s attorney, Martin Singer, in a statement Friday, said the accusations by women with “unsubstantiated, fantastical stories about things they say occurred 30, 40 or even 50 years ago have escalated far past the point of absurdity.”
“Over and over again, we have refuted these new unsubstantiated stories with documentary evidence, only to have a new uncorroborated story crop up out of the woodwork,” Singer said. “When will it end? It is long past time for this media vilification of Mr. Cosby to stop.”
Tom Werner, who co-founded the Carsey-Werner Company which produced “The Cosby Show,” defended Cosby in a statement to the Boston Globe on Friday.
“The Bill we knew was a brilliant and wonderful collaborator on a show that changed the landscape of television,” Werner and partner Marcy Carsey said in the statement. “These recent news reports are beyond our knowledge or comprehension.”
Despite everything swirling around the 77-year-old longtime entertainer, fans filled a sold-out theater in Melbourne, Florida.
Though an announcer before the show said disruptions were possible, none ever came. A radio station had offered $1,000 to anyone who would interrupt Cosby.
Instead, the comedian — wearing cargo pants and a shirt that said “Hello Friend — was greeted only by a cheering, whistling, knee-slapping audience. He never came close to referencing the allegations.
At least twice, someone shouted, “We love you, Bill Cosby.”
His 90-minute set wandered from a childhood fear of God to the loss of freedom in marriage to the rocket-speed Spanish of a piñata-store worker. He sat for much at first, then grew increasingly physical, impersonating jujitsu and gymnastics poses, lying on the floor in stocking feet and thrusting a fist upward in describing everyday quarrels with his wife.
At every turn, even when he blew his nose, the audience howled.
“I think people went in there with him as Bill Cosby from the TV show, not the guy they heard about on the news,” said Travis Weberling, 40, of Melbourne.
Outside the theater before the show, just one protester could be found. She held a sign that read, “Rape is no joke.”
Julie Lemaitre, 47, of Rockledge, Florida, said she was there just to have a presence and to try to say to people attending “think about what you’re doing.”
Cosby’s producers said at least 28 other shows remain on his schedule through May 2015.
However, shows in Las Vegas, Tucson, Arizona, Champaign, Illinois, Reno, Nevada, Florence, South Carolina, and at the Choctaw Casino Resort in Oklahoma were called off.
David Fischer, the director of The Broadway Center in Tacoma, Washington, said Friday that it has canceled Cosby’s April appearance because it conflicts with the nonprofit organization’s mission “to strengthen our community’s social fabric by building empathy, furthering education and sharing joy.”
Several fans in Florida, though, said they came to the Maxwell C. King Center For The Performing Arts to see good comedy and that the accusations didn’t influence them.
“Let them prove it. It’s old accusations,” said Paul Palmieri, 47, of Melbourne, who said he was ready to see “the king of comedy.”
Still, projects on NBC and Netflix have been canceled, and TV Land decided not to air reruns of “The Cosby Show” after recent allegations by more than six women that Cosby sexually assaulted them after giving them pills many years ago.
Josette Tornabene, 24, of Melbourne said she bought her ticket Friday, motivated by the radio’s station’s $1,000 offer.
“I wanted to see someone call him out,” she said. “I want to see him be held accountable.”
Some of the women accusing Cosby are going public again after initially coming forward around 2005, when Andrea Constand filed a lawsuit alleging that he sexually assaulted her. The Pennsylvania woman’s lawyer said other women were prepared to make similar claims, but the case was settled before trial.
Tamara Green, a California attorney, was among those who had agreed to testify. She later said Cosby tried to sexually assault her in her Los Angeles apartment around 1970, when she was a model and an aspiring actress.
She said Cosby asked her to help him raise money to open a private dance club. When she got sick shortly after starting the project, she said Cosby gave her two pills that made her almost lose consciousness, took her to her apartment, undressed her and then took his clothes off.
“I got really angry,” she told The Associated Press in an interview on Friday. She recalled screaming and trying to break a window with a lamp as she fought off Cosby’s advances. He eventually left, leaving two $100 bills on her nightstand, she recalled.
Another woman, Joan Tarshis, decided to tell her story publicly for the first time on Monday.
Now 66, Tarshis said Cosby gave her drug-laced drinks twice in 1969, forcing her to perform a sex act the first time and raping her the second time. She said she told no one about this for decades, and only decided to go public when she read a Nov. 13 column in The Washington Post by Barbara Bowman, who alleges she was drugged and raped by Cosby when she was 17.
“I actually spoke with Barbara Bowman yesterday,” Tarshis told the AP on Friday. “It was great. Because she’s a person who understands what I’ve been through.”
Cosby has never been charged with any such crime.
“I know people are tired of me not saying anything, but a guy doesn’t have to answer to innuendos,” Cosby told the Florida Today newspaper after the show. “People should fact check. People shouldn’t have to go through that and shouldn’t answer to innuendos.”