Hours before showtime Sunday, fans poured into the Health Education Activities Learning Complex at Paine College for their chance to see comedy great Bill Cosby.
The university’s faculty and staff sat front and center. After all, they were the guests of honor.
“(Cosby’s) sole purpose for being here is to give thanks to our faculty,” Paine President George Bradley told the crowded arena. “Faculty provides the intellectual resources that are central to moving us
toward our vision of higher education.”
After Bradley left the stage, Cosby emerged in a black Paine College sweatshirt, bringing cheering audience members to their feet.
In the center of the stage sat a chair draped with a shirt that read “Hello, Friend,” an homage to the catchphrase of his late son, Ennis Cosby.
As he sat in the chair and adjusted his microphone, the 76-year-old reminded the audience why he came to Augusta.
“I want to do this for faculty,” Cosby said. “To say to all of you, ‘Thank you.’ This is one of the biggest moments for me.”
He then asked the audience to applaud the faculty and staff, and everyone rose to their feet and cheered for nearly a minute.
Cosby isn’t unfamiliar with Paine, having served as a commencement speaker in 2003 and being awarded an honorary doctorate.
He told the audience Sunday that he has been in contact with several presidents of historically black colleges and universities, but that Paine was the first to invite him to speak to the faculty and students.
During his 1½-hour routine, Cosby covered material ranging from education, marriage and raising children to an eventful trip to South Africa in which he met Nelson Mandela and had several misadventures.
Sunday’s event attracted several prominent Augustans, including Georgia Regents University President Richardo Azziz, Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree and other elected officials.
In the bleachers on the left side of the stage sat Ida Jones and Ezell Smith, of Augusta. Smith said they have been fans of Cosby since they were children.
“We were very excited,” he said with a big smile.
Lee Fudge, of Augusta, said his son, a running back on Paine’s reinstated football team, asked him to go Sunday. He said he didn’t argue after learning who the performing act would be.
“I knew I was going to enjoy myself anyways,” he said. “Just to see (Cosby) in person. I’m elated.”