*Bill Cosby got a standing ovation from Canadian fans at his first show following a string of cancellations in the wake of sexual assault allegations from more than 15 women.
But outside protesters braved the sub-zero weather to heckle ticket-holders as they streamed in, and are likely to do so again at the second of three performances in Ontario on Thursday.
Cosby’s show in Kitchener was his first show since November when the entertainer saw at least 10 gigs on his North American tour get canceled.
Like his last show in Melbourne, Florida on Nov. 21 there were no disruptions during the performance and the crowd laughed throughout, according to the AP.
Wearing a sweater saying “hello friend,” Cosby climbed the stage decorated with two giant posters of him with Nelson Mandela.
“First of all thank you,” Cosby said to the audience before starting his routine with some cold weather jokes.
He left to a standing ovation that was somewhat slow to start.
“Dear Fans: I would like to personally thank you for giving me the opportunity to bring laughter back into your lives tonight. Also, I would like to applaud all of you and give you a standing ovation for respecting yourselves, the theatre (Centre In The Square) and the event organizers that produced a spectacular show for the Kitchener Community,” Cosby said in a statement issued by his publicist following the show.
Some ticket-holders had said they would boycott the performance, and the 2,000-seat venue was about two-thirds full. Several police officers and private security guards were posted throughout.
Outside the Centre in the Square, more than a dozen protesters carried signs saying “rape is no joke.” Some shouted “you support rape” and “shame on you” at fans. A few protesters blocked the doors of the venue until being asked to leave by security.
But fans defended Cosby as they arrived.
“I’m skeptical of all the accusations,” said Gerald Reinink. “I always loved Cosby, good family humor. Why are 20 women coming out now when it’s 20, 30 years ago?”
Dan Emerson said he was glad there were no hecklers inside the venue. “Innocent until proven guilty. I’m hope it’s not true and until I know otherwise I love him to death,” Emerson said.
Cosby, 77, is also scheduled to appear at the Budweiser Gardens in London on Thursday and at the Hamilton Place Theatre in Hamilton on Friday
Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic attended an alternative event that was organized to raise awareness of sexual assault at the same time as Cosby’s show.
Aatif Baskanderi said he put his six tickets up on the online site Kijiji after he and his family decided they couldn’t go in light of the allegations. He said six tickets that cost $600 went for just $220. He said they tried to get a refund but couldn’t.
Baskanderi, whose family is of Pakistani origin, said his family had looked up to Cosby because his TV show portrayed professional minorities in a positive light.
“We grew up watching the “The Cosby show” as an illustration of civil rights,” he said. “It feels like no one is treating these women seriously. It kind of goes against what we connected to the “The Cosby show” as being representative of civil rights. It turned us off.”