(This review was originally published on August 23, 2011 at The Rogers Revue)
When asked by acquaintances what he was like around the house, Bill Cosby’s wife Camille simply stated, “After being married to a comedian for forty years, he’s not that funny.”
This was preceded by a recollection of Bill falling asleep on the couch, thinking that he was drifting off to an educational show about prehistoric animals, only to awaken and realize that it was a commercial about ‘erectile’ dysfunction. His wife didn’t share the humor.
It’s been forty-seven years now, and the seasoned comedian certainly has a lot to say about his marriage, setting the stage for his trademark style and slow paced but matter-of-fact delivery. His stand up routine may not have strayed much from his realm of expertise over the years but it has certainly evolved – into a sit down that is – and on Saturday night I was able to catch his two hour set at the Pier Six Pavilion, a small open aired venue on the east side of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor where the 74-year-old comedian casually shared some new stories about his life.
Sticking to his usual minimalism, Cosby emerged without announcement to sit in a chair, donning a white T-shirt that simply read “HELLO FRIEND” with props consisting only of a bottled water, box of tissues and a waste basket. His demeanor was expected – after all, this is Bill Cosby, and the next 120 minutes would incorporate facets of his childhood in the projects with his years in the Navy, futile attempts to nap, hearing issues and becoming a grandparent.
Commencing with his relaxed conversational tone, Cosby began by introducing a close friend of his in the audience who he grew up with in north Philadelphia, followed by an elderly couple that he asked to stand up having just celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary. After exceeding their allotted time he yelled, “Sit down, you’re stealing my show!” At some point, someone in the first few rows was neglecting an electronic device that was beeping incessantly until Cosby bellowed, “Turn that thing off, just turn it off!” and received some applause.
The set was split between his marriage and his childhood – early childhood to be precise – recalling stories from the time he was six to about sixteen, progressing inevitably into his marriage and eventually seniority. The events and details that he recounted from his school days were a dry mix of religion, parents, punishment and girls, including a story about bathing in cologne before a date and hijacking his friend’s collection of Miles Davis LPs.
He grew up, as he says ‘bi-protestant’, a mix of methodist and baptist, and was frightened by the idea of church and god. He seemed okay with Jesus though, a less intimidating entity, but laughed at the miracles that people expect of him: “Jesus, please help me, I have high blood pressure!”
Jesus: “Okay, stop eating salt.”
When they question Jesus’s response, he replies, “You’re not going to like my father!”
As usual, he talked a lot about parenting. Cosby observed that children are not able to see their own brain damage, and parents suffer from the same inability… “The respite is when you become a grandparent,” he said.
Cosby covered plenty of the comic cliches in marriage that we’ve seen in played stand-up routines for decades, but he speaks from a wiser perspective where half of these tried and true bits probably originated. Eventually he reverted back to his early teenage years, reflecting on some funny memories of spin-the-bottle at a 13-year-old’s birthday party, a first kiss and a miscommunication when he asks about the meaning of the word ‘platonic’.
The show was a blend of the ever evolving catalog of Cosby’s life and a few new observations that were more like a storytelling session than a standup routine, but still funnier than most contemporary comedy. Of course this is Cosby, particularly his mastery of improvisational humor over a fifty year career that still seems to be ripening, lending itself to the moments in each performance where he inevitably deviates from his routine. In a nutshell, I find this material even funnier than many of his classics sketches – perhaps because I’m married myself now – and maybe because the difference between his embellishment and reality is not such a stretch after all.
“Your wife is not your friend,” he says. “Here’s the difference between your wife and a friend. I was driving home from the airport, 2:40 in the morning. My car breaks down and I call my friend Ed. I wake him up. I say… ‘Ed, I’m an hour away, my car has broken down and I need you to come pick me up’. Ed says, ‘Let me get dressed, I’ll be right there’. MY FRIEND ED! You know what happens when I call my wife? She says, ‘How many times have I told you to get that car fixed?’”