Bill Cosby’s “Far From Finished” comedy tour, whose final scheduled show is May 2 in Atlanta, has come at a precarious moment for the former TV star. In the face of tremendous scrutiny over Cosby’s alleged past of sexual assault, more and more women came forward to claim the comedian assaulted them. Cosby’s shows were cancelled or protested (Gloria Allred, the lawyer, has said the Atlanta show will see a protest). A planned Cosby special on Netflix was indefinitely postponed, and an NBC sitcom in development was halted.
Why is it, then, that Cosby seems to be thriving? His shows—those that were not cancelled—draw crowds, and Cosby himself apparently feels liberated to joke with his fans about the allegations of date-rape drug use, saying at an Ontario show, “You have to be careful about drinking around me.” His disregard for the turn in public attention against him would seem to be proof that he does not believe himself to have done anything wrong. Further, though, it indicates he’s aware that any public-relations crisis a male celebrity undergoes can be outlived.
The past week has seen the release of the trailer for Woody Allen’s new movie Irrational Man, about a professor who has a relationship with his young student. If this trailer bore echoes of allegations against Allen by his daughter Dylan Farrow, ones that had dominated the news cycle only last year, it seemed few had the bandwidth to consider them. And Mike Tyson, who’s actually served jail time for rape, has put any whiff of controversy behind him: He was just recently a featured guest on the feel-good hit of the season, Lip Sync Battle.
Cosby’s future as a comic is certainly in doubt; with two big partnerships cancelled, he has no outlet but future live dates. If history is guide, though, that may just be temporary. Cosby scoffing at the charges against him makes explicit what anyone who’s paid attention to celebrity redemptions of the recent past should assume: That he’ll, ultimately, be fine. Periods of extremely intense scrutiny can’t, realistically, be sustained by a public whose attention is divided. Besides, the anger of some doesn’t matter much when die-hard fans are willing to keep on buying in.
Consider recent figures who rode out periods of intense scrutiny: The Allen furor of early 2014 faded to a dull awareness that his career is unstoppable; criticisms of Charlie Sheen’s behavior towards his co-stars and towards women were muted as his sitcom Anger Management kept on rolling; Roman Polanski basically didn’t acknowledge the renewed ire around him after his 2009 arrest, and has continued making movies in the years since. Is it that hard to imagine, after a cooling-off period, Cosby working on TV again? Indeed, with the charges against Cosby having long ago exceeded what the casual news reader is able to comprehend, and with the comic largely falling out of the news cycle, perhaps the cooling-off period is already underway.
As long as a celebrity is willing to play to whomever is their base, they’ll eventually see their critics silenced, because it’s simply too frustrating and tiresome to protest a problematic star who won’t express remorse, or go away. Cosby seems to relish performing, and has plenty of admirers who are willing to pay to see him do it. That’s a more powerful force than those angered by the allegations against him, who can do little but continue to speak out—and Cosby has already made it clear that he’s not listening.