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The LBT INTERVIEW:  WILLIAM H. COSBY

A candid conversation about the entertainment business, comedy and a controversy that threatens his legacy.

Bold, outspoken and politically incorrect are not adjectives normally ascribed to a comedian. But then again, Cosby was never one to fit anyone’s preconceptions. A giant of the entertainment industry, Bill Cosby recast what it meant to be a black man in America. At 77, Cosby is as vibrant and unpredictable as ever. He has been a part of The LBT family since its first Jazz Festival in 1971, and perhaps that is why he chose The LBT to speak out for the first time after allegations arose concerning supposed sexual improprieties from decades ago. The LBT’s Stephanie Glass sat down with Mr. Cosby at his New York brownstone home.


LBT:

Good morning, Mr. Cosby.

COSBY:

Good morning, madam! Please, the name is Bill.

LBT:

Thank you, Bill.

COSBY:

I remember you because you used to work at the Jazz Festival when you were a young intern. You were an usher in the VIP section.

LBT:

You have a very good memory.  That was almost 15 years ago.

COSBY:

Yes, indeed. Lots of good memories about that event. Lots of wonderful music. Now I do not want to be a rude host.  My wife Camille just returned from Africa – doing wonderful work there – and returned with a very rare African oolong tea. Comes from the hillsides of Madagascar. Will extend your life by two years. Please try some since you are my guest.

LBT:

Thank you, but I’m really not a big tea drinker. Caffeine makes me jumpy.

COSBY:

Please you must, must try this tea. You can taste the minerals from soil of the hills in furthest reaches of Africa in this tea.

LBT:

It sounds delicious, but I’m just afraid I will get jittery. Maybe I could take some home with me. But please have some yourself since you already brewed it.

COSBY:

Why don't we get just started with the interview then?

LBT:

Let’s talk more about music for a moment, because I don’t think you have talked much publicly about it.

COSBY:

You are perceptive to ask that question because music has been a huge part of my career and existence as a human being. Music and comedy are intertwined, you know. Comedy is all about rhythm and timing. An instant can be the difference between a joke or a line reaching the audience or not.

LBT:

You even released some music albums, didn’t you?

COSBY:

Yes, I made some jazz records with Quincy Jones. Also, I was able to take what I was hearing in popular music and turn it into something unique. I took The Beatles’ music and James Brown and reinterpreted it.

LBT:

You also worked with Quincy Jones on the title track of your first television show, didn’t you?

COSBY:

That was a great experience to work with a genius like Quincy. He knew exactly what I was after with my riffing over the music like I did. He is a true legend. True legend.

LBT:

There is a whole generation that only knows you through your show in the 1980s, but your shows in the 1960s might have been even more groundbreaking.

COSBY:

That’s true, and I’m very proud of The Bill Cosby Show from the ’60s. People remember I Spy, but The Bill Cosby Show was just as unique and showed a black man as a regular and responsible type person. And we had no laugh track or any of that other silliness the TV business insists on.

LBT:

Do you see some irony in your career having a resurgence based on your part in a commercial ad campaign? You always have been somewhat of an iconoclast.

COSBY:

Well, you see TV commercials were once very different. When commercials would come on, people would not start changing channels or going to fast forward. So people got to see me in me and they made up their own minds. Not the TV executives.

LBT:

Let’s talk about some of the less than pleasant accusations that have been made against you recently.

COSBY:

I’ve wanted to talk about it for months now, so go ahead and ask me anything. It is important that people do their own research into these kind of accusations.
“Listen, I charged nothing for acting lessons for 45 years – 45 years of acting lessons... It is a cruel world, it really is.”

LBT:

Now I understand from your publicist that you want to make some sort of a clarification on what you can and cannot talk about.

COSBY:

This is true. Now you see I have attorneys whom I am supposed to listen to. These attorneys tell me that if I say anything directly about any particular person or particular accusation -- no matter how unsubstantiated -- it could be used to file a lawsuit to get more publicity.

LBT:

Can you comment on some of the fallout from the accusations? Why did you resign from the Board of Trustees of Temple University? Were you forced out?

COSBY:

No. Now you have to understand people assume things. This is the problem with this world we are living in. Rumor and innuendo circulate and people make conclusions based on their own notions of reality or what other people are repeating.

LBT:

So what happened with Temple?

COSBY:

Because of my touring schedule and my plan, you see, to winnow down what I have, I did not feel I could continue serving the University in a way that I should. If I cannot focus on being a trustee of a major educational institution – 15,000 students, hospital, police force – I have to let someone else come in and move along. On to the next thing.

LBT:

Did NBC cancel your project with them because of the accusations?

COSBY:

I never wanted to do anything with NBC. They spread rumors that Bill Cosby wanted to do a show because their shareholders were starting to get angry. What are you going to do to get viewers? This is what they were asking. Can TV beat the internet? Bring back something that works. So this was a story they were telling to people.

LBT:

Let me ask you about the accusations themselves. How do you explain so many women coming forward with similar stories?

COSBY:

Now I can’t talk about anyone in particular. I’m just talking about the world, the world in general. People nowadays want two things: fame and money. You have people on these terrible shows doing stupid things just to be on TV.

LBT:

So are all of these women that have come forward just after money or fame?

COSBY:

In general, this is what people want. I can’t say any one person is this way or that way, but like I said before there’s no sense of shame anymore. People repeating allegations but they don’t think about what this means.

LBT:

Bill, are you a rapist?

COSBY:

Absolutely, positively no. Let me ask you, all of these women say they were sleeping. So are these women sleeping with their eyes open?

LBT:

What about the stories of you drugging women to make them susceptible to sexual advances?

COSBY:

I played a doctor on TV. I am not a doctor. I cannot put women under anesthesia. This is hysteria that spreads and gets out of control.

LBT:

Have these allegations made you bitter?

COSBY:

Listen, I charged nothing for acting lessons for 45 years – 45 years of acting lessons. And this is the return or the thanks? It is a cruel world, it really is.

LBT:

Let’s try to end on a more positive note. Do you have any inspirational messages for young people today?

COSBY:

We’re suffering from a real decline in moral values in this country. I think we can get back to that place if we, as parents and grandparents, teach the young the right way to act in society.  Pull up your pants. Speak proper English.

LBT:

Thank you so much for speaking with me. I know many of your fans will be pleased to hear your side.

COSBY:

No, I thank you and the rest of The LBT for providing me this opportunity. Now you have to let me repay you with some of Camille’s African oolong.