Commentary

Comedian No One Ever Heard Of Takes On Cosby, Gets Tons Of Attention

An NBC sitcom, in only the second episode of its new season, decides to take on Bill Cosby, who happens to be one of the most storied personalities in the history of the network.

What are we to make of this? Several conclusions come to mind. The first one is cynical, that this fledgling TV show (which had a short, six-episode first "season" last summer) decided to make the Cosby rape allegations the centerpiece of its storyline Sunday night in order to draw attention to itself at a critical time, when survival hangs in the balance.

So “The Carmichael Show,” starring a young African-American comedian named Jerrod Carmichael, had Carmichael's TV family debating the ethics of attending a Cosby stand-up performance. In the episode, which aired Sunday night, it was young Jerrod (who is 29 or 30 in real life -- the Internet does not reveal his birthday, for some reason) who bought the tickets to this Cosby concert. 

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He thought the tickets would make a nice surprise for his girlfriend Maxine (Amber Stevens West), but she refused to go. Their conversation went like this: 

“I've loved ‘The Cosby Show’ since I was a kid, and I've never seen him live, and let's be honest -- this is kind of his farewell tour. Who knows how long he's going to be alive … or free!” Jerrod tells her.

To which she replies: “The ironic thing is you would have to knock me unconscious to get me to go see Bill Cosby!”

“So, I just want to confirm that's a 'no,' right?” Jerrod asks. “I wouldn't take you without your consent, Maxine!”

A few moments later, a line of dialogue written for Maxine literally convicted Cosby. It occurred when Jerrod's mother, Cynthia (Loretta Devine), was trying to decide whether she and Jerrod's father, Joe (David Alan Grier), should accept the tickets as a gift from Jerrod. “Well, Cynthia does not want to go and see a predator who took advantage of innocent women!” declared the outspoken Maxine on Cynthia's behalf.

Cosby has been accused by more than 50 women of drugging them and then taking sexual advantage of them in a string of incidents dating back to the 1960s. He was indicted for one of them in December, in Pennsylvania. He is out on bail pending a trial.

Another young African-American comedian, Hannibal Buress, 33, made a name for himself when he referred to Cosby as a rapist in his stand-up act. A video of one such performance in Philadelphia went viral in 2014, and Buress instantly became a lot more famous than he had been before. Carmichael is no doubt familiar with this. It may or may not be relevant, but he and Buress were both in the 2014 Seth Rogen movie called “Neighbors.”

Cut to the present day, and Jerrod Carmichael is adopting the same strategy. Not only did his show tackle the Cosby scandal, but Carmichael's p.r. handlers made him available to do a couple of interviews about Sunday's episode so that stories about the show would make a splash right after the episode aired, on Web sites such as Vulture.com and THR.com (The Hollywood Reporter). 

The interviews were apparently conducted and then written in advance of the episode, since they were posted at 9:30 p.m. Eastern time on Sunday night, seemingly mere seconds after the show ended.

And yes, in order to preempt one of my readers from commenting here on the irony that I too am writing about this show on Monday morning and giving it even more attention, I hereby acknowledge that fact.

Of course, besides reacting cynically, one can give credit to the show for taking on an uncomfortable subject and giving it a fairly respectable airing. Among other things, the characters on the show got into various discussions about other celebrities involved in headline-making scandals -- from Michael Jackson to Woody Allen -- and debated whether or not they should still enjoy their work. “You need to separate people's personal life from their work,” Jerrod pleads of his family members at one point in the show. “Talent trumps morals,” he says.

And now, you've heard of Jerrod Carmichael when previously you may never have heard of him at all. Feel free to discuss.

9 comments about "Comedian No One Ever Heard Of Takes On Cosby, Gets Tons Of Attention ".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, March 14, 2016 at 12:44 p.m.

    Mr. Carmichael has been the subject of three puff pieces in the New York Times, in 2014, 2015, and again in 2016. I'm not sure the phrase "comedian no one has heard of" and New York Times article align very well.  Maybe not Cosby-famous (infamous) but hardly unknown.

  2. Brigitte Clark from Access Media, March 14, 2016 at 12:49 p.m.

    Ok Adam this is actually not a new show, they had one previous season and were brought back which could suggest it's not "fledgling". While the comedian who brought attention to Cosby in 2014 wasn't famous and now some may know his name, I see nothing wrong with this comedian featuring "a hot topic" which Cosby is. Saw the episode and thought it was funny and gave all the prespectives, stereotypes and opinions on this subject that we all have. Like this show and not just for this episode.

  3. David Mountain from Marketing and Advertising Direction, March 14, 2016 at 1:03 p.m.

    Comedy is more personal craft than timeless art. It gets better for the practicioner with practice, and doesn't (generally) transcend its era; for every immortal Marx Brothers bit, there's dozens of works that no one remembers. Cosby's humor may seem vital to the people who grew up with him, but to those who are new or willing to change their thinking, he's just a criminal, and enjoying his work is now impossible.

    Now, compare this to Wagner, who was by all accounts a very regrettable man... but "Ride of the Valkyries" has been played for 140 years anyway. When you hear it, you probably think of the scene in "Apocalypse Now", rather than of the composer. Look at a Van Gogh, and your reaction isn't "I can't look at this without thinking of self-mutilation." And so on. Art separates from the individual. Craft, not so much.

    As for Carmichael's motivations and effectiveness, (a) we're not his therapist or his agent, so being cynical is besides the point, (b) he's going to have to do a lot more than hit a point to have a career beyond this week, and (c) going on the record as saying "talent trumps morals" means that any future blemish on your own record, or commerical failure, will not make for a very kind epitaph.

  4. Chuck Hildebrandt from Self, March 14, 2016 at 1:05 p.m.

    OK, I'll pile on here:

    Hannibal Buress did not "make a name for himself" on the back of Bill Cosby, except maybe to those old and older white men who work in establishment media.  He was already very well known in mainstream comedy circles, and had already appeared on Saturday Night Live, Loui, Mindy project, The Kroll Show and The Eric Andre Show, never mind Broad City.  Heck, he had already appeared on nine episodes of 30 Rock, for crying out loud!  How could you miss him?

    So not only was Hannibal Buress not a nobody before he did the Cosby bit, it's actually because he *was already* somebody that the story got traction precisely because he brought it up.

    Full disclosure: I'm am also an old white man.  Hope that makes you feel even worse for not knowing who Hannibal Buress was before the Cosby bit. ;) 

  5. Adam Buckman from MediaPost.com replied, March 14, 2016 at 1:05 p.m.

    Dear Ms. Clark, Thank you for reading today's TV blog and posting the comment above.  We have gone back into the column to correct and clarify its references to "The Carmichael Show" being "new." I regret the mischaracterization, but it's also true that the show came and went last summer in the blink of an eye, although that short flight of just six episodes apparently earned it a renewal for a second season consisting of more than twice as many episodes -- 13 -- which started last week. Thanks again for reading.  I am grateful for your readership. -- ABuckman

  6. David Mountain from Marketing and Advertising Direction replied, March 14, 2016 at 1:06 p.m.

    For the record, Hannibal Burress had specials on Netflix and a recurring gig on the highly regarded "Broad City" before the Cosby matter. His level of celebrity was at least equivalent to Carmichael's. He also was cited by Louis CK as the best working stand-up prior to the brouhaha. He'd have been fine either way.

  7. Ken Kurtz from creative license, March 14, 2016 at 3:11 p.m.

    Calling a spade a spade didn't always resulted in such "attention-getting." Our society, however, has devolved to such a degree that telling the truth (or telling it "as it is") actually sets off waves of alarms in this day, and age of "correctness" and "BS."

    The irony is that the people that should have the most attention paid to them at present are the many people that enabled Cosby's criminal dis-ease, and self-interestedly looked the other way for decades.

  8. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, March 15, 2016 at 10:59 a.m.

    I think it's terrific that the show tackled this subject in such an insightful and intelligent way. Bravo. They deserve all the publicity they get. Sure beats watching Kardashians get waxed. 

  9. Chuck Hildebrandt from Self replied, March 16, 2016 at 1:44 p.m.

    And on NBC, to boot!

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