By Steve Novotney
Bill Cosby needs to make a decision.
Will he perform at the Capitol Theatre on March 14, or will he cancel or reschedule?
It’s a valid question, especially since he has canceled some shows, rescheduled others, and even performed when expected. The legendary comedian has been embroiled in controversy for the past six months, and since 2002 a total of 21 different females have waged similar claims: that he drugged them and then sexually assaulted them.
Keep in mind, though, that Cosby has never been convicted of a connected crime. There have been reports that he has “paid off” some of his accusers, but few details have been uncovered and remain unclear. In the eyes of America’s criminal justice system, Bill Cosby is not a rapist.
But the public seems unsettled, and several postings on one of my recent Facebook inquiries prove that to be true here in the Upper Ohio Valley. I asked the valley’s Facebook Nation if they planned to attend.
“I purchased tickets well before the accusations. As it stands right now, tickets will not be refunded, and in that case I will have to eat my loss. He could be a victim, but it hardly seems reasonable with the number of women who have made claims. I can’t bring myself to the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ mindset.”
“No, he has to prove he did Not assault these women!”
“I believe in ‘innocent until proven guilty,’ BUT I’m afraid Cosby tied his own noose by paying off a woman secretly over 30 years ago. I have been a longtime fan and have gone to his live shows – no more.”
“IF I had the night off, I would be there.”
“Absolutely I will go see Bill Cosby! He is a brilliant entertainer — which is why we bought tickets months ago. As far as his legal issues, the last I checked no charges were being pressed. You see things like this happen all the time with celebrities, and he is not the first, and I guarantee he won’t be the last.”
So what’s it going to be for the Friendly City?
“He hasn’t canceled, that I can tell you,” said Doug Campbell, assistant general manager of both Wesbanco Arena and the Capitol Theatre. “But I can tell you that people are not purchasing the tickets.”
Campbell said seats sold quickly as soon as the show was announced, but far more than 1,000 remain empty today. The Capitol Theatre holds around 2,200, and the phones aren’t ringing.
“When we booked this show, it was a no-brainer,” Campbell explained. “We all have grown up watching Cosby on TV and in the movies, and those kinds of performers are always popular here in the Upper Ohio Valley. The Elton Johns, the Jerry Seinfelds – those kinds of acts are always very popular here, and we were really happy when they booked the theatre for the March show.”
And now they can’t cancel. The Greater Wheeling Sports & Entertainment Authority is under contract with Cosby and his promoter, and a several-thousand-dollar payment has been made by Cosby’s promoter.
It’s up to them.
“There is a contract in place, and our job is to bring the best shows we can bring to our two venues,” Campbell said. “The decision is theirs. If they cancel, they cancel. It’s their call.”
Three cities in Canada are still on Cosby’s schedule before his scheduled Wheeling appearance, and so are 15 U.S.-based performances in 12 different states. When Cosby honors contracts, protesters picket in an effort to convince ticket buyers to turn away from the doors. A few famous folks, including Hollywood director Judd Apatow (“40-year-old Virgin” and “Knocked Up”), have strongly encouraged consumers to keep their cash in their pockets.
“There are questions we’ve been asking ourselves,” Campbell said. “If there are hecklers in the crowd, how do we handle that? What if there are protesters outside on the street? How to handle that.
“At the same time, any show that we have that’s connected to controversy has provoked different reactions from the people here in the valley,” he said. “I can remember when we had Marilyn Manson at the arena in the late 1990s. There was all kinds of controversy about that show, and it was probably one of the most well-behaved crowds we’ve had in this building.”
So what’s it going to be, Bill? Will you honor the date, or will you suck it up, forfeit the cash, and continue living off your vast wealth of more than $400 million?
The Wheeling area and the staff and management of the Capitol Theatre deserve to know and know now.
But hey, whom am I kidding? What are the chances Bill Cosby, or anyone connected to him for that matter, will read this demand?
“Someone will see it,” Campbell insisted. “I wouldn’t be surprised if someone connected to Cosby reads what you write. I think a lot of people would be surprised to learn how much attention the promotion companies pay attention to the media in the cities they are traveling to.
“Weelunk is all about Wheeling, so I guarantee it’s on their radar,” he added. “They’ll read it.”
Then we shall await his answer, and hopefully the comedian doesn’t find it funny to wait until the day before the show.