David Alan Grier on perils of hero worship: Bill Cosby, Jimi Hendrix and more

Comedian and actor David Alan Grier has always been a mix of the outrageous and thoughtfulness.

In this episode of The Big Questions, the Tony-nominated actor and alum of “In Living Color” is both when we talk about the dangers of meeting your heroes – especially when those heroes fall.

In our wide-ranging conversation, Grier talks about his time with Bill Cosby, his early love of Woody Allen and trying to reconcile an icon’s art with their behavior.

Grier is performing this weekend at the Chicago Improv. Tickets and information can be found by visiting chicago.improv.com.

Q: How can we have heroes in a modern day? For example, Bill Cosby was such a pillar of middle class comedy values before multiple sexual assault allegations.

Grier: The Bill Cosby I know, he was a great mentor to me. I had one of the most incredible afternoons in my life. Damon Wayans and I had lunch with Bill Cosby and he opened his whole life to us. It was just amazing how generous and wonderful he was. So I have that as a memory and he brought me onto his show and mentored me …

So, I still have that memory and those incredible experiences. I’m as bewildered and devastated as everybody else hearing these allegations. And basically what I tell my friends is, I say, “Look, if one person tells you, ‘David Alan Grier cut my arm off,’ remember me for the person you know I am. But if 14 do, start wondering.

Q: That’s actually why I brought you here. Is there something that you can confess so I can just sort of cross you off the list?”

Grier: Nothing like that, brother. I’ll tell you something. I’ve done crazy stuff, one time. Twice, maybe. But not a hundred.

Q: But are we in a place in culture now where it is really hard to separate the artist from the art?

Grier: If you are looking for perfection, you have to not look at human beings because there is no perfect person. There are people — I doubt if we are going to find some personal skeletons in Elie Wiesel’s closet. OK, perhaps. But human beings are human beings by nature. By nature they are flawed. And so if you look for perfection, you will always be let down. You can’t control the lives of others.

Q: Is there any path for redemption?

Grier: Of course, if you actively take it. I’ve said bad things, horrible things. We all have. But there’s a difference if it is continued pattern of behavior, as opposed to I said something stupid and I want to make amends for that, and will change my life. I mean, I am about forgiveness. I am not going hold you to something that you said 50 billion years ago.

Q: But is that possible? Michael Richards — his career has never been the same. Is that possible in this media landscape?

Grier: It can be. Tracy Morgan is an example. He said some things and people took great offense to. After this whole brouhaha, and he met with GLADD, he made a really serious attempt at atoning for his misstep.

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