Minus social commentary, the Cos is old-fashioned funny.
Bill Cosby is 72 years old.
That’s the first thing he said in his stand-up routine at the packed opera house in New York City’s Avery Fisher Hall this past Saturday. In a burnt orange-colored sweater, brown corduroys and brown dress shoes, Cosby looked exactly his age. He also performed it, charmingly so.
In a fold-out chair positioned at center stage, with a white sweatshirt hanging over it that read, Hello Friend (the name of his foundation and a subsequent jazz album), Bill Cosby was every bit the veteran he is. He was sure, not only of himself and the wisdom age has brought him, but of the crowd and their expectations. Cosby, after all, was, in the 1980s, America’s Dad. But on Saturday evening, in the first of two two-hour sets, Cosby went back to the stand-up roots that made him a star in the 1960s.
The crowd spanned generations—from people who looked the age of Cosby himself, to people like me, an ‘80s baby more familiar with him on the small screen. Scattered about were even a few people whose youthful looks suggested they only heard stories of the Cos on stage, had only seen The Cosby Show in syndication and were more familiar with his recent controversial years as a social activist and critic.
Aware of all of this, Cosby, like a grandfather telling his family and friends to gather in the living room after dinner, immediately delved into his now legendary brand of storytelling. (The Cosby Show was initially based on stories about his own family he’d talk about in his stand-up routines.) From the ups and downs of being married for 49 years (to let Cosby tell it, it’s been more up than down) to cautionary tales of colonoscopies and cataract surgery, Cosby played the role of master raconteur.
As he was beginning his first story, a few coughs peppered the hushed crowd. “For those of you who have swine flu,” Cosby said. “Please, do this,” and for a minute, he launched into a lesson on why one should cover their mouths with their whole arm rather than just a hand. Knowing he has interrupted his own story, Cosby looked out to the crowd, smiled and said, “You all probably think this is age doing this.” When a cell phone interrupted another story, Cosby just said, “Please tell them I’m not here.” And when the crowd burst into applause when Cosby stood from his chair 15 minutes after he made a joke about how when you’re as old as him “other people clap every time you get up,” Cosby playfully warned the crowd to “Watch it!”
His stories were not the kind with big punch lines. But when Cosby recalled the time his wife, Camille (who he refers to throughout the show as Mrs. Cosby) wanted him to take the family to cut down their own Christmas tree at a farm, the story had hilarious twists, including a brief brush with a wild wolf. It seemed Cosby wanted to pull in the married men in the audience with a story they all could relate to—until the end when he explained why he never finished cutting down the tree. “I said to my wife, ‘I am a millionaire.’ And I am going to find two men who aren’t to cut down this tree.” Humble? Hardly. Hilarious? Absolutely.
At Avery Fisher Hall on Saturday, Cosby, wearing no dark shades (as he’s been known to do over recent years) and withholding social commentary (probably in the interest of the virtual town hall meeting he is hosting tonight live from Lincoln Center) about today’s urban youth, did what he does best: Tell stories. They were wise, sometimes outrageous, but most of all genuinely, straight-up funny. And if any of the moments shared here seem like those you-must-have- had-to-be-there it’s probably because one really should do their best to be wherever Cosby is the next time he is performing.