Bill Cosby gets standing ovation at first show in Kitchener
People protest at the Centre In The Square venue where Bill Cosby is performing in Kitchener, Ontario, January 7, 2015. Bill Cosby, the subject of more than a dozen sex abuse allegations over the past three months, will go ahead with three Canadian shows this week, coming as more women levelled accusations against the comedian. REUTERS/Mark Blinch
KITCHENER, Ont. -- It was smooth sailing for embattled comedian Bill Cosby during the first stop of his three-city southwestern Ontario tour Wednesday.
There were some heated exchanges between protesters and ticket-holders outside Cosby's Kitchener, Ont. show, but nobody disrupted the 77-year-old's performance inside.
"First of all, thank you," Cosby said as he took the stage to applause at 7:30 p.m. ET. He was framed by large screens displaying his image and that of Nelson Mandela, the revered former South African opponent of apartheid who later became president.
Security at the Centre in the Square theatre, along with a handful of police officers, kept a close eye on the audience during Cosby's energetic 90-minute set.
But there was only laughter coming from the crowd, who filled about three-quarters of the concert hall.
Wearing a white hoodie and sitting on a chair, Cosby joked about everything from the cold weather and atheism to disciplining children.
The night ended with the crowd giving him a standing ovation for his performance.
In a statement released after the show, Cosby said: "Dear fans: I would like to personally thank you for giving me the opportunity to bring laughter back into your lives tonight. Also, I would like to applaud all of you and give you a standing ovation for respecting yourselves, the theatre and the event organizers that produced a spectacular show for the Kitchener community."
Earlier Wednesday, sparks flew outside the Kitchener venue when a sign-wearing protester clashed with ticket-holders.
"Shame on you. What (if) it was your daughter? How would you feel?" yelled the woman who wouldn't give her name.
Some performance attendees yelled back at her, while others ignored her.
Bert Diehl, 84, dismissed the protesters.
"I wanted to see a good show," the Kitchener, Ont. resident said. "(Cosby) hasn't even been charged yet."
On Wednesday, three more women accused Cosby of sexually assaulting them, bringing the total number of accusers to 30.
No charges have been laid and Cosby has denied all allegations.
Cosby didn't mention the allegations at the Wednesday show -- his first performance since November.
Protest organizers expected around 130 demonstrators, but only a dozen people braved the finger-numbing cold.
Demonstrator Marc Xuereb wasn't discouraged by the small turnout.
"It's not disappointing to me," he said.
"I think what we have done -- just the threat of doing this -- has generated a lot of (awareness about) these very important issues."
More than a dozen Cosby shows have been cancelled or indefinitely postponed.
Police and officials at Budweiser Gardens in London, Ont. said security will be increased for Cosby's show there Thursday.
A spokesperson for the London venue warned that ticket holders who disrupt the show will be removed.
"Anybody who attempts to disrupt a performance will be asked to leave immediately," said Ike Richman, a spokesperson for Global Spectrum, which operates Budweiser Gardens.
Asked what would be defined as a disruption, he said "if it's disruptive to the artist and the performance or to the audience."
Megan Walker, head of the London Abused Women's Centre, said she expects about 400 people will gather outside the arena for a peaceful protest at 6 p.m. Thursday.
Police will be on hand, local police spokesperson Const. Ken Steeves said.
"We have been advised there will be a peaceful protest. With traffic and numbers attending the protest and the show, we want to ensure the safety of the public."
Steeves wouldn't comment on the number of extra officers, but said "normally we don't have any officers at a concert unless they are hired on."
Cosby finishes his swing through Ontario with a show Friday in Hamilton.
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