For at least one white kid growing up in the 60's with undiagnosed Asperger’s (in fact the diagnosis did not even exist until the early 80’s), Bill Cosby was more than just a cultural phenomenon and one of the coolest guys on TV — he was also kind of a lifesaver.
Cosby was everywhere on TV in the sixties — on his own sitcom, on I SPY, on the Carson show and the Mike Douglas Show doing his stand-up routines — and just by being there, and by being the coolest guy in the room (especially on I SPY, where he was an equal co-star with Bob Culp, not Culp’s “sidekick”) he helped to shatter the cultural barriers that kept our culture lilly-white up to that time.
He did it all well, but his stand-up was pure genius. When my dad brought home Cosby’s comedy albums in the late sixties, it was a kind of cultural bomb-burst. As a ten-year old kid I didn’t necessarily get all the jokes, or even understand all the words, but I knew it was funny, and I knew that funny opened doors.
It was when my father forced me to go to summer camp that Bill Cosby saved my life. As an Asperger’s kid, I couldn’t talk or interact with other kids the way that normal people do. But I had learned the Cosby routines by heart and I was a skilled mimic even in those days. Summer camp started out really, really bad — but in the end, Bill Cosby’s comedy made me a popular guy around the campfire.
I knew Cosby was a Big Deal in popular culture, but for saving my life in summer camp, for that I loved him.
Later, as I grew into a young man, shows like Monty Python’s Flying Circus and stars like W.C. Fields and Laurel & Hardy and writers like Faulkner filled out my repertoire. But Cosby could always surface at any time: to this day, when I’m lost in some kind of social interaction, I’ll fall back on a quote from someone to express what I’m feeling. It can be that, or silence.
So when all the rape accusations started coming out about Cosby… there were so many that they couldn’t be ignored, but I didn’t want to believe them. I never figured him as a saint (he was so very popular and so very cool in the sixties, and that kind of thing, feeling one’s oats in that kind of atmosphere, never results in Marital Fidelity), but still… you never want to believe that your favorite teacher when you were growing up was a child molester, and you never want to believe that your heroes are rapists.
Even as the evidence mounted against him, and he began to look more and more stoic in his public appearances, I just couldn’t believe it about him. It was easier to believe that this was just one more cultural lynching.
Cosby was a Great Man, and Great Men don’t do things like that.
But now it’s come out that he has confessed to it all. We have it from his own mouth. And I’m so sad. This is what he’s going to be remembered for: all of his accomplishments, the fact that he almost single-handedly integrated TV, all this is going to be wiped away. The fact that his comedy helped a white kid with Aspergers get along and get through in this world, it’s like that never even happened. And it can’t be any other way: we can’t excuse what he did, just because he was a “Great Man” in the other parts of his life. I still shake my head and push back the tears and wonder why? Why would he do it?
My Mom had it figured out years and years ago. She said, “Sometimes the smartest men in the world are also the most stupid men in the world when it comes to — some things.”