Bill Cosby's Canadian Stand-Up Show Sparks Protests

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THR checked out the scene and spoke to demonstrators at the embattled TV star's first gig since November

A loose-knit protest campaign on Wednesday sprung up around a Kitchener, Ontario theater as Bill Cosby brought his stand-up comedy show to Canada.

As the TV star gets set to perform three Ontario stand-up dates this week, disillusioned fans and women's rights activists are tapping into the outcry after around two dozen women have come forward to claim Cosby sexually assaulted them decades ago. Shirley Lichti, a volunteer at the Sexual Assault Support Centre in Kitchener, told The Hollywood Reporter that, as more alleged victims of Cosby come forward, sexual assault survivors feel freer to break their own silence.

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"What's changed is, for the first time, they (victims) can say 'I'm not alone, it's safe for me to call other people.' Women are feeling safe," Lichti said.

Chicago-based Innovation Arts & Entertainment, which is promoting Cosby's appearance in Kitchener, promised a heavy security presence to prevent disruptions. But few concertgoers entering the Center in the Square theater would have been caught unaware by the protest campaign.

As concertgoers arrived, around 100 protesters marched outside the theater, some chanting, others carrying placards. Kathy Simpson, a local activist holding a poster that said "Rape is No Joke" said she believed Cosby's victims over the embattled celebrity. "It's not OK to drug and rape women. For every woman who has come forward, 10 more stand ready to break their own silence."

‎Dan Emerson, a local Kitchener resident looking forward to Cosby's concert, criticized the protest and media circus blocking his way into the theater. "I don't know how you can condemn a man until you know the whole story," he said.

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Inside the Center in the Square theater, around one-third of the seats in the 2,000-seat hall remained empty at showtime as many ticket-holders, perhaps frustrated at not being able to secure refunds, decided against showing up. Cosby, arriving onstage under a giant photograph of himself alongside Nelson Mandela displayed on overhead screens, opened by telling the Kitchener audience: "First of all, thank you."

Then, with multiple police officers and security guards patrolling the theater aisles to spot possible troublemakers, Cosby completed a 90-minute comedy set filled with jokes about his family life growing up, religion and his marriage. In the end, his low-key performance earned generous laughter, warm applause at the end of the show and no heckling from the audience, as had been predicted.

Cosby's polite reception on Wednesday night contrasts with the ongoing scandal surrounding the TV star in the U.S. At least 10 stops on his high-profile North American tour have already been canceled or postponed.

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Since November, when his accusers started coming forward with sexual assault allegations, Cosby has seen a TV project scrapped and faced a media storm and defamation lawsuit.

The comedian has not been charged in connection with any of the allegations, which have been denied through his lawyers. But that's done little to quell the growing public debate over the allegations.

Similar protests are expected at Cosby's shows in London, Ontario on Thursday and in Hamilton, Ontario on Friday. At Kitchener's Dallas Nightclub, a Voices Carry fundraiser to coincide with Cosby's concert had organizers expressing discontent with the sitcom star daring to pass through town with a media circus in tow.

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"Tomorrow Cosby will leave town, and we will still be here, along with the (sexual assault) victims," said Melanie Baker, a Voices Carry organizer.

Cosby's appearance has led to further discussion about the issue of sexual assault, a conversation that began a few months ago with the Jian Ghomeshi sex scandal at the CBC.

"In those places where they canceled Cosby's show, it was the end of the story," Baker said. Mike Farwell, radio host for Country 106.7 in Kitchener, said he understood why the media spotlighted Cosby's appearance.

But he and fellow organizers aimed, with the Voices Carry fundraiser, to put the focus on the women alleging abuse by the comedian. "I find it unfathomable to believe that so many women would decide to conspire against Bill Cosby," Farwell said.

"In a twisted way, he (Cosby) has been the catalyst for an important and very difficult conversation," he added. The Canadian concert appearances are the first for Cosby since November 2014 dates in Melbourne, Florida and the Bahamas.

Jan. 7, 11:15 p.m. This story has been updated with details on Cosby's comedy performance in Kitchener.

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