KITCHENER, Ontario – Scandal-plagued Bill Cosby got applause from Canadian fans as he took the stage for first time since November but protesters outside shouted "shame on you" at ticket-holders streaming in.
Cosby's show in Kitchener was the first of three performances planned in Canada's Ontario province and come in the wake of sexual assault allegations from more than 15 women. The entertainer saw at least 10 performances get canceled on his North American tour.
Wearing a sweater saying "hello friend," Cosby climbed the stage decorated with two giant posters of him with Nelson Mandela. Some in the audience gave loud whoops but the reception was subdued compared to the standing ovation at his last stage performance in Florida.
"First of all thank you," Cosby said to the audience before starting his routine with some cold weather jokes.
Some ticket-holders had said they would boycott the performance, and the 2,000-seat venue was about two-thirds full.
Outside the Centre in the Square, more than a dozen protesters came out in sub-freezing temperatures, carrying signs saying "rape is no joke." Some shouted "you support rape" and "shame on you" at fans.
But fans defended Cosby as they arrived.
"I'm skeptical of all the accusations," said Gerald Reinink. "I always loved Cosby, good family humor. Why are 20 women coming out now when it's 20, 30 years ago?"
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, attorney 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 Cliff Huxtable's wife Claire on the Cosby Show, defended her co-star in an interview Wednesday with ABC World News Tonight. Rashad said she believed the allegations are part of a campaign to run 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."
The show in Kitchener was Cosby's first since Nov. 21 in Melbourne, Florida, where he was greeted by an adoring audience that laughed so hard they slapped their knees and rose to their feet as he came and went.
Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic said he would attend an alternative event that was organized 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 couldn't go in light of the allegations. He said six tickets that cost $600 went for just $220. He said they tried to get a refund but couldn't.
Baskanderi, whose family is of Pakistani origin, said his family had looked up to Cosby because his TV show portrayed professional minorities in a positive light.
"We grew up watching the "The Cosby show" as an illustration of civil rights," he said. "It feels like no one is treating these women seriously. It kind of goes against what we connected to the "The Cosby show" as being representative of civil rights. It turned us off."
London Mayor Matt Brown said the promoter should consider canceling the London show and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said she wouldn't attend any of Cosby's shows in the province because of the "very serious" allegations.
Cosby's promoter, Adam Epstein of Chicago-based Innovation Arts & Entertainment, said he is legally obligated to move ahead with the shows in Canada, and said it would send the wrong message to other artists if he canceled.
Scott Warren, the general manager of the Hamilton Place Theatre, said the theater is bound by a contract with the promoter and would risk being sued if the show were canceled.