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The Cosby Show

After decades of playing the affable good guy, reality may finally be catching up to America’s favorite father figure.

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In October 2006, a month before Bill Cosby settled a civil suit filed by a woman who accused him of sexual assault, I interviewed him backstage at the Orpheum.

He was in town to perform at a benefit for Hurricane Katrina-damaged Dillard University. I can't remember who set up the meeting, but it was presented as a special treat: "Do you want to talk to Bill Cosby?"

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How could I say no?

I would get to meet the creator of The Bill Cosby Show, the patriarch of the black familial perfection that was the Huxtables, to which my family was often favorably compared.

I remember being nervous before the interview. I worried that he'd think my questions were dumb, that he'd think I was dumb, that my pen would run out of ink and he'd wonder aloud about how dumb you had to be to show up to an interview with an inkless pen.

This was in Cosby's "call out" days — when he'd plod about the country, scolding black audiences and preaching the salvation found in personal responsibility. All of black America's woes would disappear if we'd parent better, polish our grammar, and, of course, pull up our pants.

By October 2006, the tally of Cosby's accusers stood at six.

I took a tape recorder to the interview, so I could be sure to capture every word. Backstage, I waited my turn while Cosby talked to a mom and her kid.

Someone got me a chair, and I sidled up to ask some questions.

Words came out of Cosby's mouth, but they didn't relate to the questions posed. Nor were his responses formed in complete sentences that would make decent quotes. He was a rambling mess of disjointed thoughts.

More than once, I rephrased my question in an attempt to get something usable. My forehead crinkled in confusion, but Cosby got frustrated, as if I were the one being willfully obtuse.

Intimidated and anxious, I backed down. I thought: If what this rich, powerful Ph.D. is saying is clear to him and not to me, maybe I am dumb.

The column, which had two partial quotes from Cosby, stunk. (To be fair, it stunk not just because of Cosby's refusal to cooperate but also because, back then, I foolishly bought into the respectability politics rhetoric on which Cosby's call-outs were based. For that I apologize.)

In the past month, 14 women have publicly come forward to accuse the 77-year-old comedian of sexual assault, bringing the total number of accusers to 20.

Some of the incidents go back more than 40 years, and the women's accounts are eerily similar: Cosby offers them a drink or pills, and when the woman comes to, she's being groped or penetrated.

His shows are being cancelled, and organizations with any connections to Cosby are severing ties.

After I interviewed Cosby, I told my parents that I was so disappointed by how incoherent he was that I never wanted to interview any other famous person I admired. I didn't want to mar the image in my head with reality.

The reality is that Cosby is either a serial rapist or the unluckiest guy on the planet. I'm certain it's the former.

The testimony of these 20 accusers was persuasive. Any lingering doubts were erased after I saw how Cosby treated an Associated Press reporter last month.

In a brief snippet of the videotaped interview, the AP reporter awkwardly shifts his line of questioning from Bill and Camille Cosby's art exhibit to the allegations of sexual assaults.

Bill becomes a manipulative bully, calling into question the reporter's character for broaching the subject.

"I don't want to compromise your integrity, but we don't — I don't — talk about it," Cosby said, before asking that the video be "scuttled."

"I think if you want to consider yourself to be serious, that it will not appear anywhere," Cosby said.

He suggests that the reporter has reneged on an implicit agreement.

"The reason why we didn't say that upfront was because we thought that AP had the integrity to not ask," Cosby said.

The reporter makes no promises, but he's clearly uncomfortable and the interview ends.

In the two-minute exchange, Cosby puts on his most convincing performance ever — as a predator accustomed to using his power and influence to intimidate others into submission and silence. It's a role Cosby has played for decades, but it looks like the show is about to end.

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