Comedian Bill Cosby stayed away from the stage for nearly three years, but many felt his impromptu stand-up return Monday night was still too soon.
The comedian performed at the LaRose Jazz Club in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Monday evening, an event that was announced only hours before its scheduled start time via Cosby’s social media pages. The stand-up show was the first public performance by Cosby since 2015 when his scheduled gigs were cut short amid the dozens of sexual assault allegations brought against him. Dubbed his “return to the stage,” the event was held to honor jazz performer Tony Williams.
The show, parts of which were captured on videos posted online, was met with swift criticism on social media by fans.
“If you gave me front row seats to see Bill Cosby I’d burn them,” novelist Terry McMillan wrote on Twitter.
“NO. Too soon … any time is too soon,” another user wrote on the social media platform.
The performance came ahead of Cosby’s scheduled April retrial for an alleged 2004 sexual assault in Philadelphia. According to the suit, Cosby will be tried on charges that he drugged and assaulted former basketball player Andrea Constand at his home.
“I’m confused why is Bill Cosby even welcomed/allowed to perform stand up anywhere right now??” another Twitter user said. “Perfect timing with the #metoo movement in full force.”
Footage from the performance showed Cosby wearing a sweatshirt, sitting on a stool during his set. According to the Chicago Tribune, Cosby’s set touched on stories involving family and friends, as well as his own childhood. The 80-year-old joked: “I used to be a comedian.”
The only time Cosby referenced the trial or other allegations of misconduct against him during the evening was when he was asked by NBC 10 Philadelphia how the scandal has impacted his ability to go out in public, according to Deadline.
“This is life and life changes. I go out,” he said.
The publication reported a lone protester attended the performance, playing Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” outside the venue.
Despite backlash, the comedian performed a set for his crowd of fans that lasted nearly an hour.
He also received scattered support on Twitter, with a few fans who were excited to see him return. One Twitter user told him not to “bow your head to these haters.”
Throughout the trial against him, Cosby has denied assaulting anyone, saying any encounters with his accusers were consensual.