The Slatest

The Time Bill Cosby Humiliated Marion Barry

Marion Barry
Bill Cosby refused to be photographed with Marion Barry. Here, Barry poses with a photo of himself.

Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for HBO

Earlier this week, Deadspin dug up an old story about Bill Cosby admonishing a Notre Dame football player for getting mediocre grades. Cosby, who had reached the moral scold phase of his career at this point, told Dean Brown that his 2.5 GPA was “OK if you have a mental disorder.”

In 1986, three years before Cosby eviscerated Brown in front of his teammates, he mocked a more public figure: Washington, D.C. mayor Marion Barry.

Courtland Milloy described the scene in an Oct. 9, 1986 story in the Washington Post:

When D.C. Mayor Marion Barry walked onto the stage Monday night at the tribute to the late jazz musician Thelonious Monk, host Bill Cosby began cracking jokes about him. “Here’s the mayor of D.C. … or what’s left of it,” Cosby said.

Barry winced and forced a smile, but Cosby didn’t stop there.

“The mayor told me he was looking for a campaign contribution,” Cosby continued. “I asked, ‘How did you do in the primary?’ He said, ‘I got 71 percent.’ So I told him, ‘Here’s 35 cents.’ ”

As Barry was making his presentation, Cosby returned to the stage with cohost Debbie Allen on his arm, and without even letting the mayor kiss her, Cosby turned on his heels and escorted Allen away.

The audience snickered and Barry hung his head. Even though it might seem like an honor to be poked fun at by the most popular man in America, this act came across as a show of disrespect. If Barry weren’t embarrassed, many people in the audience were.

Cosby was at the peak of his fame in 1986, as The Cosby Show had reached No. 1 in the ratings with a weekly audience of 30 million households. This was also around the time, Barbara Bowman alleges, that Cosby “brainwashed [her] into viewing him as a father figure, and then assaulted [her] multiple times.”

Barry, meanwhile, was about to be elected for his third term as mayor. In Milloy’s view, the D.C. politician—whose administration was beset by allegations of corruption—was lucky he wasn’t facing stiffer competition. “One got the impression that if Cosby wanted to run for mayor as a write-in candidate, Barry would have to throw in the towel,” Milloy wrote.

In 1990, a little more than three years after Cosby yukked it up at his expense, Barry was arrested after getting caught on tape smoking crack as part of an FBI sting operation. In 1994, though, Barry completed a remarkable political comeback, getting elected for a fourth term as mayor.

Cosby was not impressed. In October 1996, the Washington Post’s Reliable Source column reported that the comedian “refused a photographer’s request that he pose for a picture with D.C. Mayor Marion Barry at a National Coalition on Black Voter Participation event.” A Cosby spokesman said, “He is not a fan of the mayor” and did not want a photograph that might “suggest he is a friend of the mayor, a supporter of the mayor.”

Cosby and Barry would make up, sort of. At an event a couple of months after the photograph incident, the Post reported, Cosby “blew a make-up kiss at [Barry’s wife] Cora Masters Barry.”