‘Cosby Show’ Star Geoffrey Owens Works at Traders Joe’s: What Exactly Does That Mean

Patton Oswalt has talked about how people started to assume he was rich when they saw him on an episode of Seinfeld playing a video clerk George tried to rent Breakfast at Tiffany’s from. He was on TV, and a really popular show, so he much be rich, right? Obviously, a guest role with a few lines only pays a few hundred dollars, which is nice for the amount of work required but not exactly a fortune.

But what does it mean when someone spends five years on television’s most popular sitcom as a recurring guest and continues to work as a character actor, booking a few roles a year but also works as a bag boy at Trader Joe’s to make ends meet? This is the question people are asking after Geoffrey Owens, who played Elvin Tibideaux on The Cosby Show, was the subject of a Fox News story after being spotted at his day job.

The good news for Owens is that it means he’s eligible for SAG-AFTRA’s insurance plan, and it’s a very good plan. But takes on this have generally fallen into either the “Haha, nice career there jerk” category or the “Here’s why working at a grocery story makes Geoffrey Owens a hero” category. I don’t think either of these opinions is particularly good.

Owens is a character actor and not a huge star, so this isn’t a story of some major star being forced to scrape by after blowing his millions. There’s no reason to shame someone just for not hitting a big level of success in a very public career. At the same time, people talking about the dignity of work are missing out on the bigger story here.

The Cosby Show was the biggest show on television in its prime, and up until recently it’s been bringing in a ton of money in syndication and from streaming agreements. Owens was in 44 episodes but clearly didn’t get any of the money the show made. And it has made a lot of money. in 2014, The Cosby Show had brought in around $4 million dollars per episode in syndication money in 1986 alone, and there’s a nearly 200 episodes; that adds up to an obscene amount of money.

Owens probably got none of that because of the way his contract was structured. I mean, if he had, he wouldn’t be working at Trader Joe’s. And he wasn’t a minor guest star, Owens was in a full quarter of all the episodes of the shows. Meanwhile, some networks executives, agents at William Morris and a guy who was literally using the money to fly from town to town and rape women made tens to hundreds of millions of dollars.

Sure, there’s dignity in doing work. There’s also dignity in making sure the people who made you a literal fortune aren’t bagging groceries to keep a roof over their head when they’re nearly 60. Owens isn’t working at Trader Joe’s because he couldn’t get enough work as an actor to not have to work at Trader Joe’s, he’s working there because Bill Cosby fucked him. You know, figuratively this time.

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