Bill Cosby said he had a “wonderful time” and got a standing ovation from polite Canadian fans at his first show following a string of cancellations in the wake of sexual assault allegations from more than 15 women.
But outside, protesters braved below-freezing weather as ticket-holders streamed in and are likely to do so again at the second of three performances in Ontario.
Cosby’s show in Kitchener was his first show since November when the entertainer saw at least 10 performances get cancelled on his North American tour.
Like his last show in Melbourne, Florida, on November 21 there were no disruptions during the performance and the crowd laughed throughout.
Wearing a jumper saying “hello friend”, Cosby climbed the stage decorated with two giant posters of him with Nelson Mandela.
“First of all thank you,” Cosby said to the audience before starting his routine with some cold weather jokes.
He left to a standing ovation that was somewhat slow to start.
“Dear Fans: I would like to personally thank you for giving me the opportunity to bring laughter back into your lives tonight. Also, I would like to applaud all of you and give you a standing ovation for respecting yourselves, the theatre (Centre In The Square) and the event organisers that produced a spectacular show for the Kitchener Community,” Cosby said in a statement issued by his publicist following the show.
Some ticket-holders had said they would boycott the performance, and the 2,000-seat venue was about two-thirds full. Several police officers and private security guards were posted throughout.
Outside the Centre in the Square, more than a dozen protesters carried signs saying “rape is no joke”.
Some shouted “shame on you” at fans. A few protesters blocked the doors of the venue until being asked to leave by security.
But fans defended Cosby as they arrived.
“I’m sceptical of all the accusations,” said Gerald Reinink. “I always loved Cosby, good family humour. Why are 20 women coming out now when it’s 20, 30 years ago?”
Dan Emerson said he was glad there were no hecklers inside the venue.
“Innocent until proven guilty. I’m hoping it’s not true and until I know otherwise I love him to death,” Mr Emerson said.
Cosby, 77, is also scheduled to appear at the Budweiser Gardens in London on Thursday and at the Hamilton Place Theatre in Hamilton on Friday
The comedian, who starred as Dr Cliff Huxtable on The Cosby Show from 1984 to 1992, earning a reputation as America’s Dad, has never been charged in connection with any of the sexual assault allegations.
A 2005 lawsuit by a Pennsylvania woman was settled before it went to trial, and he is being sued by a woman who claims he molested her in 1974 and by three other women who allege they were defamed by the comedian when his representatives denied some of the allegations.
Most of the women say he drugged them before he assaulted them.
Hours before Cosby took the stage, lawyer Gloria Allred said three more women are accusing the comedian of drugging and sexually assaulting them in Las Vegas or Los Angeles between 1981 and 1996.
Allred said at a news conference in Los Angeles that the accusations are too old for criminal charges or lawsuits.
Phylicia Rashad, who played his screen wife Claire on The Cosby Show, defended her co-star in an interview with ABC World News Tonight. Rashad said she believed the allegations are part of a campaign to ruin Cosby’s legacy.
“He’s a genius. He is generous, he’s kind, he’s inclusive,” said Rashad, who first spoke to Roger Friedman earlier this week for his Showbiz911 blog. “This is not about the women. This is about something else. This is about the obliteration of legacy.”
Kitchener mayor Berry Vrbanovic attended an alternative event that was organised to raise awareness of sexual assault at the same time as Cosby’s show.
Aatif Baskanderi said he put his six tickets up on the online site Kijiji after he and his family decided they could not go in light of the allegations.
He said six tickets that cost $600 dollars went for just $220. He said they tried to get a refund but could not.