THE REPUTATION of the man known as America's Dad took a huge hit after fellow comedian Hannibal Buress joked last month in Philly about rape allegations by a number of women against Bill Cosby.
Suddenly, ugly rumors that somehow had faded away were front and center once again. A much-shared Washington Post headline asked: "Is the World Starting to Turn Against Bill Cosby?"
But that hasn't stopped the Cos from being, well, the Cos.
The 77-year-old actor-comedian was relaxed and jovial as he talked to me by telephone in his Jell-O voice on Friday. He's the keynote speaker at 11 a.m. today at a Veterans Day commemoration at the All Wars Memorial to Colored Soldiers and Sailors at Logan Circle on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
As we chatted, I couldn't help but notice that he didn't have a trace of old-man grumpiness.
Nah, this was the old Cosby, the one with whom we fell in love and came to think of as America's Dad.
Yes, he was Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable from "The Cosby Show" all over again as he filled me in on the history of the All Wars Memorial: Originally, the plan was to erect the monument at 23rd and Pine streets, which back then was a working-class neighborhood. Because of strong opposition to that plan, it took seven years before a new location was found. The memorial wound up tucked behind Memorial Hall in Fairmount Park. But that location was considered too remote, and in 1994 the statue was moved to the Parkway.
"Don't forget men and women of color knowing the racial negatives. . . . They believed strongly in a country and they wanted to protect it and they wanted to protect their families," Cosby recalled.
As we talked, Cosby suggested that I reach out to a friend of his, famed historian Charles L. Blockson, for details and more background.
Although he has a slight tendency to wander, Cosby is still a great raconteur.
But as he spoke, my mind kept slipping back to Buress, who, while performing at the Trocadero last month, joked that Cosby's criticisms about black America were ironic given allegations that have been made about him by women. The performance was witnessed by Philadelphia magazine's Dan McQuade, whose video went viral.
A few years back, 13 women alleged that Cosby had drugged and/or sexually assaulted them, according to court records. They came forward after ex-Temple University employee Andrea Constand lodged complaints about Cosby in 2005. She settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.
"Bill Cosby has the f---ing smuggest old-black-man public persona that I hate," Buress said on the video of his routine at the Trocadero on Oct. 16. "He just gets on TV - 'Pull your pants up, black people. I was on TV in the '80s. I can talk down to you because I had a successful sitcom.'
"Yeah, but you raped women, Bill Cosby. So, [that] brings you down a couple notches."
Buress goes on to add: "I don't know what I'm doing by telling you this. I wanted to at least make it weird for you to watch 'Cosby Show' reruns. . . . When you leave here, Google 'Bill Cosby rapist.' That's not funny. That s--- has more results than Hannibal Buress."
That last bit set the Internet buzzing.
Yesterday, Cosby's website unveiled a meme generator that allows users to scroll through archival photos. Twitter users began to use the images to create jokes about Cosby and the unsettling rape allegations.
So, on Friday, I knew that I couldn't let Cosby off the phone without his at least addressing it. America's Dad would never have done some of the ugly things that have been alleged, would he? As our conversation about the memorial wound down, I brought up Buress' routine and, as I expected, Cosby put on the brakes.
"Noooo, no, no, no. Look at the beauty of what we had here," Cosby said.
He had me feeling like Theo or one of the other Huxtable kids when they'd get busted for a failing grade or something.
All right, but you know I had to ask . . . , I said, grimacing at how I sounded whiny like his TV daughter Vanessa when she was being disciplined.
"Miss Armstrong, look at the beauty of what we have," he repeated in the Dr. Huxtable tone. "Plus, by the time you talk to Charlie [Blockson] you will have forgotten [it]."
But not 100 percent. Cosby may be a great storyteller, but he's not completely made of Teflon.
On Twitter: @JeniceArmstrong