Bill Cosby, Still Himself After All These Years
Comedian Bill Cosby has been in show business for 50 years, and he celebrated on Comedy Central over the weekend with a stand-up special — his first in 30 years — called Far From Finished.
That earlier special, called Bill Cosby Himself, inspired one of the most popular sitcoms in TV history: The Cosby Show, starring Cosby as paterfamilias Cliff Huxtable. It was a show that was really the first of its kind, capturing life in a highly educated upper-middle-class African-American family.
Cosby is 76 now, and he has a room full of awards. But he shows no sign of letting up — and with his 50th-anniversary special, we thought it would be a good time to check in.
But I've got to tell you, I immediately lost control of the interview. He wrong-footed me at the outset, asking what I had to say for myself that morning. And when I hesitated, he — well, he kind of took me to school.
"Mr. Greene," he said in that inimitable paternal baritone, "I think this is your program. And I'm sure that whatever professor you had said, 'For God's sake, don't say, 'Lemme [stutter mumble squeak...]' "
But when I'd gotten my act together, and asked what moment he points to as the launching point of his long career, his answer took us back to the 1960s. Cosby was a student at Temple University in Philadelphia, and it was in class there that he noticed something that would become central to his comedy: the way his mind has a tendency to wander.
"I'm drifting!" he says. "I'm drifting ADD [attention deficit disorder] off of Professor Barrett."
And "the ability to drift," as he puts it, is key to his free-associative comedy.
"ADD people, they are the real — and this is my humor, but it's true — they are the real multitaskers," he says.
Jokes About Marriage, And Sober Truths At Home
Cosby's comedy, old and new, has always involved a heavy dose of domestic-affairs humor — jokes about the plight of the husband and the iron rule of the wife. He says his own wife, Camille Cosby, honestly loves his marriage jokes — actually edits some of them.
The two have been through a lot in their 49 years together: Cosby has admitted to a secret affair. He settled a lawsuit with another woman who claimed he had drugged and sexually assaulted her.
And the Cosbys lost their son, Ennis, in 1997. The 27-year-old was shot and killed on a California roadside while changing a tire. His murder rocked the family, along with a public that, in a way, felt it had watched Ennis grow up on TV, in the character of Theo Huxtable.
In talking to Cosby about losing his son, something becomes clear: His wife is indeed the one who manages the family.
"I was told about Ennis," Cosby remembers. "And immediately, immediately after opening the front door and going into the house, the children were there, the daughters, and it was quiet. And I went to her, and she was warm, she was loving. And she mothered, she wifed. She human-ed — and helped me an awful lot."
Man work, woman cook? Not in Bill Cosby's world view.
"It's wonderful, and it's hilarious," he says. "It's hilarious because you and I, and our fathers and our grandfathers and our great-grandfathers, are told, 'You will toil in the fields, and you will pick up the oxen and carry them and do all of this and that,' and she's supposed to be there in an apron boiling a pot of something.
"And we forget, the males: You. Are. Her oldest child."
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