Friday, October 15, 2004

Dissed by Bill Cosby, the Comedian

Bill Cosby, Comedian
Love For All, Hatred For None

WAUKEGAN — City officials knew about it for nearly a month, and various members of the community knew the secret as word started to leak out in the last week.

On top of that, early arrivals to Tuesday's unveiling of the Genesee Theatre's opening act could see the name through the thin blue tarp covering the marquee.

But there was still a stir in the noontime crowd of around 200 when the tarp was pulled down to reveal words the city has awaited for at least two years: "Opening night — December 3 — Bill Cosby."

"There isn't a bigger name," said Mayor Richard Hyde, moments after tugging down the cover with former mayor Bill Durkin and state legislators Terry Link and Eddie Washington.

Cosby, the multiple Emmy and Grammy winner who staged two sold-out shows this week at the Rosemont Theater, is scheduled to open the revitalized 1927 stage house with two performances. While showtimes and prices have yet to be announced, officials did say tickets will go on sale Oct. 22 at 10 a.m. through Ticketmaster via phone and the Internet.

…and there it was in bold headlines, right before my eyes – I couldn’t believe it. After so many years of being haunted by the man who almost caused me years of therapy and grief, Bill Cosby is now coming to Waukegan, my hometown, my village, my abode, my safe haven…will this hell for me ever stop?

This Cosby nightmare of mine started many, many years ago when he was a virtually unknown comedian with a few comedy albums out that I was naturally drawn to. Cosby’s humor was funny and he soon became my favorite comedian. I would tell friends, “you’ve got to listen to this brother, he’s really funny.”

It was during my years as a reporter with the local newspaper, The News Sun, that fate would bring me together with Mr. Cosby. He was booked for a one-night show at Libertyville High School and I was the reporter assigned to cover the event. It was to be a glorious assignment for me, more glorious than my first banner headline when the Waukegan school superintendent dropped dead at his surprise party.

It’s been more than 30 years since that fateful assignment. I don’t remember much about his performance, but I do remember how Cosby dissed me. It may very well be the worst dis of my life, since he was a black hero to me.

After his show, I nervously approached Cosby, who towered over me, and politely asked for a quick interview. Cosby shot back at me: “I don’t give interviews to the press.”

Quickly recovering from his response, I replied: “Mr. Cosby, I really need this interview. I’m the only black journalist at my newspaper and this interview would really be a feather in my cap.” I asked him to reconsider but he simply shot me a “take a hike” frown and he walked away from me.

I just stood there, a blank reporter’s pad in hand and nothing to take back to my editor. I’ve never forgotten the look on his face. It completely devastated me. And as the late and great black journalist Lu Palmer would say: “It’s enough to make a Negro turn black.”

For me, it was a good learning lesson in life. Entertainers are usually not who we think they are in real life. I had created a persona that only existed in my mind. Bill Cosby is simply an entertainer, a comedian…not someone who would evoke profound thoughts from his rantings and ravings as a comedian and now an old man who makes pronouncements about poor black folks.

I’ve watched Bill Cosby for years from a distance. He is not my favorite entertainer. I’m not amused by his animated and emotional attempts to marginalize the plight of poor folks in America. Yet, I cannot ignore the fact that he has put his money where his mouth is by constantly giving to philanthropic causes to help folks to help themselves.

Now, will I make the trek to the multi-million dollar Genesee Theatre in Waukegan…I don’t think so. Bill Cosby may have dissed me once, but I won’t give brotherman the chance to do it again!


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