We Need to Talk About Cosby is a four-part docuseries directed by W. Kamau Bell (who also proves to be a probing and effective interviewer); it’s currently streaming on Showtime. Early on in the production, Bell is honest in confessing his admiration for Mr. Cosby. “I am a Black man. I am a stand-up comic. I was born in the ‘70s. I was raised by Fat Albert, Picture Pages, and The Cosby Show.” These are all admissions that Bell effortlessly reveals. What’s more, Bell says, “Bill Cosby showed me you could be smart and funny in equal measure.”
But the question posed, parsed, and explored in Bell’s daring exposé is this:“ What happens when the artists you idolized aren’t the human beings you thought they were?” This is a worthy query and ethical journey that is a trip many of the adults among us should consider taking; perhaps it may clarify our own moral pathway and consideration of how our choices and preferences in artists and entertainers influence our everyday behaviors and general philosophy of life. From Adolf Hitler’s reputed idolization of Richard Wagner to Michael Jackson’s long-lived fan base, can the artist as a person be distinguished from creations made by that artist? Does Pablo Picasso’s abuse of women negate his Guernica painting? Does Hank Williams’s alcohol and drug abuse undermine has masterpiece of melodic melancholia, I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry?
Is Bill Cosby’s comedic brilliance and breakthrough television stardom, ranging from the intriguing espionage series I Spy to the TV smash hit The Cosby Show, somehow negated by his egregious trespasses? The remarkable success of Cosby the entertainer is unsettlingly juxtaposed against the accusations by Bell; each victim suggests a similar modus operandi, and the dozens of women who allege to have been sexually assaulted by Cosby insist that he demanded they imbibe drugs (specifically Spanish Fly, known to be a powerful aphrodisiac), often along with an alcoholic beverage.
Many of Mr. Cosby’s victims were rendered unconscious to the extent that they were uncertain as to how they ended up in such a compromised situation. Lise Lotte-Lublin retells her troubling encounter with Mr. Cosby, saying she only grasped what had happened to her when Janice Dickinson spoke out in 2014 about the sexual exploitation she experienced through the underhanded and criminal machinations of Cosby. (He was convicted of all charges of sexual assault and sentenced to prison, only to later be released on a technicality.)
Fittingly, Jerry Seinfeld is shown being interviewed by Stephen Colbert, both talented comedians who were greatly inspired by Bill Cosby’s hilarious comedy routines. While Seinfeld indicates that he is able to draw a line between Cosby’s comedy and Cosby’s criminality and still enjoy Cosby’s comedy, Colbert admits that Cosby’s actions have turned Cosby’s humor into a sort of psychopathic hubris that takes punch out of the Cosby punchlines.
We invite readers to share their thoughts on separating the artist from their artistry. Can it be done? Should it be done?
What: We Need to Talk About Cosby, Four part Docuseries.
Where: On Demand, Showtime