Today, July 12, the great Bill Cosby— my favorite stand-up comedian— turns 77-year-old.
One of the great things about Cosby’s humor (and this was emphasized on the back of his album Why Is There Air?) is that he tells stories, not jokes punctuated with punch lines. What’s more, his delivery of lines that would be neutral statements if taken out of context is such that he brings the house down.
And his routines remain timeless.
To the best of my recollection, I first encountered Cosby’s humor when I checked one of his albums out of the library around 1982 or so. I think it was When I Was a Kid. I own all but one of his comedy albums (Sports) and I can recite many routines by heart, even ones I haven’t heard in years.
A few of Cosby’s comedy albums include Bill Cosby is a Very Funny Fellow, Right!; Wonderfulness; Why is There Air?; I Started Out As a Child; To Russell, My Brother, Whom I Slept With (which Chris Rock singled out for praise at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 2009 when Cosby was honored with the 12th annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor); Bill Cosby Himself and Revenge.
Among my favorites of his routines are the “Noah” trilogy, “Noah: Right!”, “Noah and the Neighbor” and “Noah: Me and You, Lord.”; “Superman”; “Oops”; “Neanderthal Man”; “The Lone Ranger”; and “Chicken Heart.”
And that’s just scratching the surface.
Cosby’s comedy even found its way into I Spy, the 1960s series he co-starred in with the late Robert Culp. There’s a scene in the episode “The Honorable Assassins” in which Alexander Scott (Cosby) and Kelly Robinson (Culp) make oblique references to Cosby the comedian. In the scene, the two men wake up in the middle of the night, ready to set out on a journey, only to discover several snakes on the floor of their room. This prompts Scott to tell the snakes to get out of there, leading Robinson to say that it reminds him of a comedy record.
“Yeah? Well, it’s not too funny now,” Scott replies.
They’re alluding to the “Chicken Heart” routine, which relates— among other things— how, before they went out for the evening, the young Cosby’s parents told him that invisible poisonous snakes around his bed would bite him and make him dead until morning if he got out of bed (to go into the living room and listen to Lights Out on the radio). Indignant, the young Cosby shouts, “snakes, you get out here! This is not your room, this is my room! Now you get out of here!”
Other I Spy episodes made reference to characters in Cosby routines (such as “Old Weird Harold”), but “The Honorable Assassins” had the character of Alexander Scott commenting (without naming names) on the humor of the real Bill Cosby.
Some of the humor from Cosby’s comedy albums— including a funeral for a goldfish— also found its way into his popular 1980s series The Cosby Show. Though, to the best of my recollection, there was never an instance where the character of Cliff Huxtable made an oblique reference to the real Bill Cosby.
On the other hand, in the “My Spy” episode of the 1990s TV series, Cosby, Cosby’s character, Hilton Lucas, falls asleep while watching an I Spy marathon and dreams that he’s Alexander Scott. Robert Culp guest-starred in the episode as Kelly Robinson.
If you don’t already own a Cosby comedy album, you’re missing out on some great stuff. And if you get a chance to see him live in concert, you should definitely do so.
Happy birthday, Mr. Cosby.
Copyright 2014 Patrick Keating.