Pat Clark

Scene & Heard: Cosby puts Turlock theater in a hard spot

In this Nov. 21, 2014 file photo, Bill Cosby performs during a show at the Maxwell C. King Center for the Performing Arts in Melbourne, Fla.
In this Nov. 21, 2014 file photo, Bill Cosby performs during a show at the Maxwell C. King Center for the Performing Arts in Melbourne, Fla. Associated Press file

Turlock Community Theatre is caught between a legendary rock and a white-hot fire blazing across a seriously hard place.

The rock is Bill Cosby, who has chosen to go on with the bulk of his current comedy tour despite allegations that he drugged and sexually assaulted women in the past. The hard place is the media and public firestorm those allegations have drawn.

And for the theater, there’s precious little funny about it.

The 1,000-seat nonprofit venue will host Cosby for a comedic performance Sunday. Booked and sold out before the assault allegations became public in the fall, the show should have been a dream ending to another season of live performances there.

Instead, it’s turned into a nightmare.

The theater, not surprisingly, has received calls from various media outlets about the Cosby show. I made two of those calls – one in November when the renewed allegations surfaced and a second last week when the comic returned to his tour after a two-month break. Theater managing director Kit Casey was polite, but in the second call sounded beleaguered by the issue.

This week, the theater was taken to task on Twitter by Hollywood heavy hitter Judd Apatow: “Cosby is coming to the Turlock Community theater in Turlock California in a few weeks. Are these really still happening? Turlock? Come on?”

(Which, of course, drew the requisite potshot comments from followers about the Central Valley town – dust, ignorance, middle of nowhere, etc. Right, right, we’ve come to expect that ... move along, all you masters of rapier wit.)

Apatow, a producer and director of big-screen hits, including “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up,” has been vocal with his condemnation of Cosby and with his call to have his current comedy tour shut down.

“I’m not comfortable with him running around the country doing stand-up like nothing’s happening,” he said in a podcast interview that was downloadable on his Twitter page. He added later, “At the very least, go in your mansion and disappear for the rest of your life.”

While that latter idea doesn’t seem like a bad one – whether you do or don’t believe the allegations against the comedian, it seems time for the 77-year-old to call it a career and retire – few things this controversial are that easy.

To Cosby, canceling the rest of the tour and retiring now might be tantamount to hiding away and tacitly admitting to the allegations, for which he hasn’t been charged and likely never will be because of the statute of limitations.

For the venues that have booked Cosby, it could mean financial calamity to heed Apatow’s call.

Apatow is funny, and he makes funny films and TV shows. He seems like a pretty stand-up guy, too. To take a stand in an industry that mostly appears more comfortable saying nothing on the issue is noble.

What’s shortsighted is calling out theaters like the one in Turlock to do something that most have little recourse to do. Venues likely would lose thousands of dollars if they canceled Cosby’s shows. When I spoke to him last week, Casey would say only that the Turlock theater is “not in a position to cancel the show.” But it’s a safe bet that the venue would have to pay Cosby’s fee AND refund all the ticket holders if they did.

Apatow might be in a financial position to do that, but I’m going out on a limb and say that the Turlock Community Theatre is not. It’s easy to sit upon your movie millions and cast aspersions at a small venue in a small Central Valley town, but a Hollywood producer and director should know something about signed contracts.

To be fair, some venues have canceled Cosby’s shows, and Cosby’s people have canceled others. The situation is fluid enough that no one can predict what’s going to happen with the rest.

Apatow, on that podcast, was concerned that Cosby might be welcomed at more venues when his current tour is done. “He’s booked through the spring, are people going to book him again?” he said. “Maybe they will if we don’t complain about it.”

Maybe, but Cosby’s current tour was a signed and done deal before the allegations hit the media. How many theaters would book Cosby now, unless he manages to somehow clear his name? Those shows in the spring easily could be his last.

At least for Turlock, spring comes early on a chilly night in January. But, while sitting squeezed between that rock and hard place, it likely can’t be early enough.

Reach Scene editor Pat Clark at pclark@modbee.com.

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