Bill Cosby Recalls Roots of Race-Neutral Comedy Career

Bill Cosby Recalls Roots of Race-Neutral Comedy Career

By FRAZIER MOORE
AP Television Writer
NEW YORK
It was 30 years ago when he last filmed a concert special.

Now he’s gone and done it again. “Bill Cosby: Far From Finished” finds this king of comedy onstage in Cerritos, Calif., where he rules for the 90-minute special airing Saturday on Comedy Central (8 p.m. EST).

Still, it’s fair to ask: Why so long a break, and why now for his return?

“There’s a gap,” says Cosby during an interview this week, “between people knowing what I do and really believing that I still do that–and wondering what it is I really do.”

This audience-awareness gap, he believes, is among the younger demo drawn to Comedy Central. He aims to school those viewers in the principle established by his 1963 debut album: “Bill Cosby Is a Very Funny Fellow … Right!”

Since the early 1960s, Cosby has had a stellar career, including records, books, films and social advocacy. And, of course, television, where he broke the color barrier in the first of his many series, “I Spy,” in the `60s, and scored stratospheric success with “The Cosby Show” (1984-92).

Now, at age 76, he keeps up a busy itinerary doing the thing that got him started: being onstage saying things all sorts of people find funny and true.

So, another question: Why keep up this grueling pace?

And then, just like that (or he would have you believe), he takes the stage somewhere and it’s showtime.

On his new special, as always, Cosby frames life in universal terms, albeit now from the perspective of a septuagenarian with a solid if sometimes trying marriage, plus kids and grandkids, a sweet tooth he shouldn’t indulge, and a habit of losing things.

The audience eats it up, rewarding Cosby, he says, with “a sense of how much they understand and trust” him.

Meanwhile, what you don’t have, if you’re Cosby, is jokes.

That’s what he discovered at Temple University in 1960, when, as a lad from a downtrodden Philly neighborhood, he rose to the challenge of his Remedial English professor. The assignment was to write a theme about the first time he’d ever done something. Cosby wrote an account of having pulled one of his own teeth. The professor gave him his first-ever A.

Not too much later, Cosby had vaulted to New York’s Greenwich Village as a burgeoning stand-up. He speaks of consorting with the likes of Richie Havens, Richard Pryor and Peter, Paul and Mary _ “people who were going to be somebody someday.”

He landed a gig at a club on MacDougal Street “where I came on at 8 and left at 4 in the morning, and my job description was to break up the monotony of the folk singers.

Soon he was a star, having soared after making a key decision as he surveyed other rising black comedians, who typically tailored their acts to their identity and experiences as black men.

But whatever your color, “you can identify with what I’m talking about. It goes all the way back to freshman Remedial English: I never said, `And I looked at my black face and my tooth was white.'”

Cosby chuckles again at that messy self-extraction and adds, “There WAS a lot of red.”

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EDITOR’S NOTE _ Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore(at)ap.org and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier.

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Online:

http://www.comedycentral.com

http://www.billcosby.com


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