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Geoffrey Owens Launches Instagram Show 'Shift Happens'

Sep 13, 2020
Originally published on September 13, 2020 6:04 pm
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And finally today, we'd like to tell you about a timely new show that highlights the work of workers. And who better to host it than our next guest, Geoffrey Owens? He is a classically trained actor, director and teacher who you might remember from his breakout role as the Huxtables' son-in-law, med student Elvin Tibideaux, from "The Cosby Show."

But in 2018, he was trolled on social media and on Fox News when a Trader Joe's customer took a photo of him working at one of the stores. The picture went viral on social media, igniting a debate about famous people, side gigs and job shaming.

Well, the joke is on the trolls because along with other acting gigs, Owens is hosting a new show on IGTV where he speaks with working people about their jobs. It's called "Shift Happens." And Geoffrey Owens is with us now to tell us more about it.

Geoffrey Owens, welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.

GEOFFREY OWENS: Thanks for having me, Michel. Great to be here.

MARTIN: A lot of people will remember that "The Cosby Show" was not just a hit show. It was, like, a cultural phenomenon. It was a show with a predominantly Black cast featuring an upper-middle class, you know, functional Black family. But, of course, in 2018, the show was pulled from syndication after the star, Bill Cosby, was convicted of three counts of indecent assault. And, of course, he was accused of drugging and raping dozens of women over a period of decades. So did that affect your career? Did it affect your career?

OWENS: Well, you know what? I don't think it affected my career. It affected my income a little bit. And I don't talk about this much because I don't think it's that important. But, you know, at a time when I wasn't working much, and various circumstances made earning a living as an acting more difficult.

But the fact that those unfortunate - Bill's going through that stuff, and that was happening in his life affected me in the sense that, yeah, when the show got pulled, there was a certain amount of residual income from the show that I stopped getting. And, you know, again, it wasn't the thing that that led to my financial ruin. But it didn't help, right? But that's the only way. In terms of artistically or opportunity-wise, it didn't have any effect.

MARTIN: I understand that you have sympathy for Mr. Cosby, but I would say it's unfortunate that the people he assaulted went through that. I mean, it's - you know...

OWENS: Oh, my God...

MARTIN: ...My take on it.

OWENS: Needless to say - needless to say.

MARTIN: So take me back to the moment when you found out that that photo went viral. How did you experience that?

OWENS: Well, at first, it was - fortunately, the bad part lasted for just a little bit. I mean, I literally - my wife and I saw the - it on social media and the Internet. And all of a sudden, it was horrible. But it was only for a few hours because in less than maybe two - one or two hours, all the positive stuff started flooding in, you know?

So at first, we thought it was just going to be like - I don't know. My wife and I are so old-school we thought, you know, how bad can it be? You know, maybe 10 - some 10,000 or 20,000 copies of the National Enquirer will carry this at the supermarket. That's what we're thinking. We're thinking newspapers at the supermarket. And all of a sudden, we're, like, what are we thinking? It was, like, all over the Internet, all over the world.

And I was, like, oh, my gosh. This is terrible - those horrible pictures of me and, you know, some disparaging words and stuff. But as I said, it was only a matter of hours before this incredible flood of support and encouragement and love started coming in from every corner of the world from people of all - not just my profession but all professions supporting me and sticking up for me and defending me and, you know, kind of putting me in the position of poster child for the dignity of work. And it became really good really fast.

MARTIN: Well, that leads me to the show, then - to the new show. "Shift Happens" - tell me about it.

OWENS: Yeah. Two years after the Trader Joe's event, people are still approaching me on the street in public telling me how meaningful that whole thing was for them and how they were inspired by it. On top of that, the pandemic has come along, and now, recently, the whole set of people who work certain jobs are being rightfully seen as heroes - you know, heroic.

So that - this whole notion of the dignity of work and nobility of work is even more relevant than ever because of the horrible thing that's happened. And now, you know, we're looking at people who do these regular jobs that we didn't think much of before, and we're calling them heroes now and - yeah, because yes, they're literally sometimes risking their lives to provide the services to make our lives work and function.

And the other thing I go back to, you know, really as an inspiration is that my colleagues at Trader Joe's when I was working there, it - from the first day I worked there, I noticed, you know, there were people in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, in their 70s - people in their 70s working these shifts day after day to earn a living. And it just boggled my mind. I was so impressed and humbled by the hard work that the vast majority of people on this earth do every frickin' (ph) day.

And that's the thing that, you know, made me proud that the whole thing happened and that if I can shed any light on the idea that, man, yeah, every bit of work - you know, unless it's, you know, some kind of illegal - whatever - illicit thing - you know, counts and has dignity and matters. And there's no one job that is inherently better than another in terms of how it benefits society, etc.

And so it's all come kind of full circle. And, you know, with the crisis, of course, no one wishes the crisis to be there or continue. But at the same time, it's revealed things - you know, it's kind of underlined things in our society that we need to look at.

MARTIN: That was Geoffrey Owens. His new show, "Shift Happens," debuts soon on IGTV.

Geoffrey Owens, thank you so much for talking with us. Good luck with everything.

OWENS: You're welcome. Thank you so much. Stay safe.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: For Sunday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Thank you for listening. And we hope you will join us next Sunday, when we are devoting an entire hour to the topic of food insecurity. Millions of people in the U.S. don't have enough to eat, and a pandemic has only made things worse. Across the country, food pantries are seeing increased demand, and closed schools are working to get meals to families in need. We'll do a deep dive to find out what it means to be food insecure and what can be done about it.

Until then, we hope you'll stay safe and have a great week. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.