Of course they could all be false as his defenders claim -- a massive, nasty conspiracy to tear him down. But there's a very good chance that they're true. It's highly unlikely that there'd be so many independent sources making very similar accusations over many years. And if he is guilty of these crimes, this obviously says a lot about him and a few things about comedy as well -- not least how comedians are perceived as opposed to other performing artists.
To be specific, there seem to be different standards applying to comics than for actors. If an actor is accused of some heinous crime, it doesn't seem quite as shocking somehow. Take the case of Stephen Collins, who played the good-hearted dad in Seventh Heaven. Of course people are shocked that he may well have abused young girls, since he played such an affable and upstanding character -- and a minister no less. But there seems to be less consternation about it than with Cosby.
I think most people read about Collins and think, "Gee, that's ironic ... But he is just an actor, playing a role." But all these claims about Bill Cosby drugging and raping women? They're more jarring in my opinion.
The scandal is a lot like what happened with Rolf Harris. The first reaction you have is like: But he seemed like such a nice guy ... So affable, likeable, gentle. How could he have done that?
This has a lot to do with the fact that a comedian's stage persona is seen to be very closely alligned to his real nature. Actors just play roles written for them by other people. But standup comics often write all their own material, and it's very personal stuff.
When Bill Cosby got up on stage he didn't give himself a fictional name. He was saying this is me -- to a large degree. Sure, he was exaggerating what he'd experienced and observed for comic effect. And the audience always knew this. But they were also led to believe that his comic persona was like a distilled version of the man himself.
In his hugely popular sitcom of the eighties, he didn't go by his own name. His character was called Cliff Huxtable. But the persona he used was the one he'd honed on stage over many years. It was the family man; the bemused observer of children's behaviour, etc.
A lot of comedians use this approach. And they're not always trying to be present themselves in such a traditionally positive light. But even if they have dark, twisted stage characters they're still using them to get affection and attention in most cases. (If they are like this, they risk the opposite reaction. They could well end up disappointing fans by turning out to be comparatively normal and functional in their personal lives!)
But when you present yourself as an everyman, a good man? Well, you'd better be very careful about what you get up to in your private life. And it appears that Cosby didn't do that at all.