Life after the Cosby Show was defined by anxiety and frustration. I didn’t work for two years. And if you count the months following my last appearance on the show, it was two and a half years. I have to re-write that, because I can’t believe it myself. After spending three years on the number-one rated show in America, starring in a feature film, and standing by for a Tony-Award-winning Broadway play, I did not work for two and a half years! Fortunately, in spite of all the money I poured into public relations (with little to show for it) and business management, I had managed to squirrel away a few dollars. So, in the immediate aftermath, things had been good. I was optimistic, planning, and moving ahead. However, it was not long before I was having anxiety attacks while driving through the Holland Tunnel. Sweating, my heart beating out of my chest, unable to breathe, my mind on over drive, wondering how in the world I was going to make ends meet.
As the show ended, it seemed clear that I needed new representation. During my last year on the show and the months that followed, I was on the phone with Ron every day. I wanted to work. I needed to work. I didn’t even care what it was. I was willing to put on a red nose, big shoes, and stuff a pillow down my shirt.
The first two seasons I was on the show, I had sat idle during pilot season – the time of year that the new television shows are cast. The last year of my contract was just more of the same. I sat around doing nothing but twiddling my thumbs, wondering if the entire television and film industry had imploded. I would then bump into actors I knew on the street, who would tell me that they were just returning from an audition for the next big television program that would make them rich and famous. As I had done prior to my stint on Cosby, I would rush to a phone and ask Ron, “Hey! I hear they are casting for the next big program that will make me rich and famous. Why am I not being seen?”
Ron would answer, “You are still under contract with Carsey-Warner. You can’t do another program.”
One thing I hate is bullshit. And Ron seemed to be up to his knees in it and tossing it in my direction by the shovelful. At the time, there were one or two actors who were doing two series, so being under contract to Carsey-Warner didn’t seem an insurmountable obstacle. Why not let me audition and worry about the legal stuff afterward? What’s the old saying? “It’s better to ask for forgiveness rather than permission.” But more importantly, I wasn’t being used on The Cosby Show. What possible objection could Carsey-Warner have to my shooting a pilot? In spite of my appeals to reason and logic, I still sat, doing nothing, but stewing in frustration.
That my agent would allow me to sit idle and not attempt to take advantage of my being on such a popular program is counterintuitive. He only made money when I worked. But Ron didn’t seem to care if I worked. He certainly didn’t care as much as I did. Three years earlier, he had made it clear what kind of career he envisioned for me and that type of career didn’t require much work on his part.
In desperation, I sat with him and asked what the problem was. How was it that with the feature film, the play, and all the publicity, I wasn’t working or auditioning?
“Well, Joseph,” Ron shrugged, “For some people the phone rings and for others it doesn’t.”
I sat there with my mouth hanging open. What the hell? Apparently, his ten percent only required that he be my answering service and not my advocate. But I didn’t need an answering service, I needed someone who believed in me and believed that I should have a career.
I left his office with the conversation playing on a continuous loop in my head, and every time it played a red-hot anger rose inside me. I just kept thinking, “Fuck you! Fuck the fuck out of you! That meeting was the end of our relationship. I stopped answering his calls – not that he called all that much anyway. Even now when I think of that conversation I get angry. And if by some chance Ron, you are reading this: Fuck you!
I began my search for another agent. I very quickly discovered that Ron was not the only one who didn’t believe in me. My inquiries were met with polite (and a few not so polite) “No thank you.” It would take me several months, before I could finally leave Ron for greener pastures – green as in the color of money.
During the fall of the final season of the show, just as Strictly Business hit the theaters and died, I began looking to move from Brooklyn. I’d spent almost 10 years in Park Slope. I loved the neighborhood. I actually loved my apartment. I just wanted more space – more closet space and more entertainment space. I was also a bit tired of living in New York City. David Dinkins was mayor of New York at the time and, with all due respect, he was a horrible mayor. I was actually honored to meet him at an event held at Gracie Mansion, the mayor’s residence, and found him quite charming. But charming doesn’t substitute for leadership, and I felt that the city suffered greatly under his tenure. There was a tension in the city that had fatigued me and I wanted out. I wanted a change in lifestyle and I thought I could find that outside of New York.
The house I finally settled on was a small colonial, located on a quiet, dead-end street in the town of West Orange, New Jersey.
West Orange is a quiet, middle-class town, near enough to New York City that I still had access to all the good things New York had to offer, but far enough away that you could hear the crickets chirp at night. In that way, West Orange reminded me of Denver, the city in which I grew up, and seemed like a good place to put down roots.
I was so excited about my house and what I saw as the upgrade in my lifestyle that I didn’t pay much attention to my lack of presence on the show. Sure, it bothered me, but the frustration was a low rumble in the background. I had just starred in a feature film, and my photo had been plastered on billboards all over Hollywood. I was still doing interviews and my public profile seemed to be very high. I had every reason to believe that my career was on an upward trajectory; it was just a matter of time. Ron be damned. So, I focused on finding my house and organizing and orchestrating my move. I had run the numbers and my mortgage, car payment, and associated expenses were only a bit more than I was already paying for my co-op in Brooklyn. If I worked as much as I did prior to being on the Cosby Show, it would be tight, but I would be okay. I felt certain I would work much more than I had. Of course, I didn’t dream that I wouldn’t work at all.
Next…The gray lady and the redhead