Bill Cosby wrapped up the first show of his Canadian tour in Kitchener, Ont on Wednesday night, with a largely warm and welcoming audience.
The comedian had anticipated hecklers would be at the Ontario shows, and issued a rare statement warning his fans not to interact with anyone who causes disruption. The venue also repeated this message with an audio recording several times before the show.
However, Cosby was able to perform his act smoothly without any interruption from the audience, and received big laughs and plenty of cheers.
While there were noticeable gaps in seating inside the 2,047 concert hall, the venue was about 50 to 75 per cent full.
After the show, Cosby issued a statement thanking Kitchener fans for coming to the show.
"I would like to personally thank you for giving me the opportunity to bring laughter back into your lives tonight," Cosby said in a release. "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 organizers that produced a spectacular show for the Kitchener community."
His material covered a wide range of topics from jokes about Canadian weather to faith and atheism to the pride the elderly feel about their medications.
At no point in the show did Cosby address any of the allegations of sexual assault made against him, and members of the audience who spoke with the media did not comment at length about them either.
"It's circumstantial evidence. It's been 40 years, they can't prove anything," said audience member Sam Smith. "I just like his humour, and that's why I'm here."
"They're all allegations, he hasn't been charged with anything and we're here for comedy," said another woman to reporters, refusing to give her name.
Alternative event raises more than $7,400
Not too far from the venue at a bar in downtown Kitchener, an alternative event known as Voices Carry was put on as a counter to Cosby's act. More than 300 people attended, and anyone with a ticket to Cosby's show could redeem it for free admission.
David Jonker had purchased six tickets to Cosby's show on Wednesday night, but chose to attend Voices Carry after allegations against the comedian came to light.
“I’ve got three young daughters and I can’t imagine anything like the allegations that came out around the other women," said Jonker. "I can’t imagine anything like that happening to my three young daughters.”
Money raised at the event on will go towards Women's Crisis Services and the Sexual Assault Centre of Waterloo Region. Mike Farwell, who co-organized the event, tweeted shortly after 10 p.m. that more than $7,400 had been raised.
Farwell started organizing the event after going on a Twitter tirade about Centre in the Square's decision not to cancel Cosby's appearance.
"Before the Bill Cosby show became the catalyst, the rallying cry, I had been talking to women in my life that said 'I was groped in a bar, I was inappropriately touched on a bus,'" said Farwell. "All of these stories, none of them are minor but some less severe than others and I was astounded. [I thought] I can’t believe this happened to you and why did this happen to you, and how did people like me – men – feel like it was okay to treat you like that?"
Sara Casselman, a spokesperson for the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region, said three women approached her separately at the event to say that they had experienced sexual assault and had never told anyone.
Audience members heckled by protesters
At the end of his show, Cosby received a standing ovation from his audience at Centre in the Square. But as showgoers left the venue, they were confronted by a small group of a dozen protesters with signs shouting phrases such as "I hope you had a great time, rape is still a crime."
Katie Gosen, the group's leader, said she and her fellow protesters wanted to remind audience members of Cosby's alleged victims, and act as their "guilty conscience."
"If they came here with those feelings [of guilt] but there was no one there to validate what was actually happening, it would probably be easier for them to write them off," said Gosen.
Cosby is set to make his next stop in London tonight, and will finish up his tour of Ontario in Hamilton on Friday.