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The disgraced legend has been away from the standup scene since accounts of sexual assault from 60 women came to light in recent years. This week, though, Cosby surprised an audience at Club LaRose in Philadelphia with a standup set. The 80-year-old is in town facing aggravated indecent assault charges, alleging that he “drugged and sexually assaulted a woman in his Montgomery County home.” The first trial against Cosby ended in a hung jury last June, and a second starts April 2.
Cosby didn’t discuss the upcoming trial during his set, which he announced via a press release on Facebook two hours prior. Instead, the event kicked off at 5pm with music by the Tony Williams Jazz Quartet, and Cosby joined the band onstage afterward.
“I came here tonight to enjoy being with my friends and the musicians and the people who came,” he said.
Bill Cosby jokes about his blindness at Germantown’s La Rosa Jazz Club pic.twitter.com/XnkKgg15kQ— Jeremy Roebuck (@jeremyrroebuck) January 23, 2018
According to the Cut, Cosby performed for over an hour and the audience “seemed to welcome him” at the intimate club. He wore a sweatshirt that said “hello friend” in multicolored letters and referenced his wife Camille and his daughter (who he called “a very intelligent lady”) at various points. Cosby shared anecdotes from his childhood, poked fun at his impaired vision, and joked that he “used to be a comedian.”
Bill Cosby plays the drums pic.twitter.com/VDwTvCtxfY— Jeremy Roebuck (@jeremyrroebuck) January 23, 2018
Selection for Cosby’s jury begins March 29, and according to TMZ, there’s speculation that the performance is part of an attempt to lather up some last-minute goodwill with locals. The AP points out that Cosby’s social media accounts featured photos of him visiting a barber in the area and stopping by a cafe decked out in Philadelphia Eagles gear this weekend. (The team won Sunday’s NFC Championship against the Vikings, securing a spot in the Super Bowl.)
It makes sense for Cosby’s team to be worried about finding jurors in the current cultural climate. The efforts of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have cast a stark light on issues of gender violence in recent months, specifically when it comes to powerful men in show business. Montgomery County D.A. Kevin Steele recently filed a motion to allow as many as 19 women to testify in Cosby’s second trial, according to the Cut. Each of the women has accused the comedian of drugging and sexually assaulting them, and there’s still no word on whether Judge Steven O’Neill will end up allowing the witnesses to appear. O’Neill presided over Cosby’s first trial and did not allow a similar motion last year—but there are rumblings that things could change this time around.
Christine Friar is a writer and editor in New York who focuses on streaming entertainment and internet culture. Her work has appeared in the Awl, the Fader, New York Magazine, Paper Magazine, Vogue, Elle, and more.