BY DAVE WALK Bill Cosby is 70-years-old now and its been 45 years since his debut comedy album. And even though he may be known to some for wearing his trademark sweaters on The Cosby Show, the pudding pops or, more recently, for his critical remarks towards African American families, he is, above all things, a stand-up comedian. And he’s still performing live. This past Sunday the 24th, he was at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, New Jersey and he did two shows, three and seven.There’s a scene in 2002’s documentary Comedian, about Jerry Seinfeld’s re-entrance into the world of stand-up comedy, where he’s sitting in a New York comedy club with Chris Rock. “I saw Bill Cosby three weeks ago,” Rock says.
“The best comedy show I ever saw in my life.”
Seinfeld’s mouth gapes, his eyes bug and he sincerely looks shocked.
“I took like 15 people,” Rock continues. “We had all seen him before. We only knew one bit. He did two and a half hours.”
They both laugh in disbelief.
“The best shit, Jerry,” Rock continues, ”I felt like a fucking fraud. What is this? What, I’m good? Who says I’m good? Who says any of us are good? Sixty-three and embracing it.”
“Did he have an opening act?”
“So he took an intermission after…”
“No, he didn’t take an intermission.”
Again, Seinfeld looks shocked. “Two and a half hours straight?”
“Pow, pow, two and a half hours of killer shit,” Rock says. “Killer and it’s so much edgier now and mean. Oh, you’ve got to see it.”
Cosby is essentially a monologist. His act isn’t like most other stand-up acts in the traditional sense of setup-joke because it’s all so flowing and seamless. And, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone as relaxed and confident on stage. He wore a sweatshirt that said “HELLO FRIEND” in various colors and spent most of the show leaning back in a chair with his legs slightly spread – not exactly someone that is worried about what the audience thinks. Surprisingly, there were people in the front that talked to him between jokes, but it didn’t seem to bother him. Rather, he took the opportunity to engage and gently make fun of them. Like “I’m Bill Cosby, go ahead and try to be funny.” The interruption didn’t throw him off at all.
After one bit there was silence, and audience members yelled out topics for him to cover. “Teenagers!” one woman yelled.
“Do you think, if I wanted to go there…”
Instead, he talked about Adam and Eve, wives, turkey bacon, dentists and getting old. That last topic got me thinking about what Chris Rock said about embracing it. Cosby talked about how his wife was going to live to 188 “and still be looking good. Not me, I know I’m going to die. Because I get that feeling, when I walk, I feel people turning the lights out.” Even something so honest and piercing as this got a huge laugh, because at this point the audience was eating out of his hand.
It was the Cosby style. Totally clean and making fun of people (mostly his wife), yet not ever too mean-spirited. Like Richard Pryor, often it’s him that’s the idiot. Subtle phrases and turns of the story that relied on timing, pacing and the volume of his voice. And there’s no one else that is quite as good of a storyteller.
And yes, he really did five minutes on turkey bacon.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dave Walk blogs about stand-up comedy in the 215 at COMIC VS AUDIENCE.