An Exclusive Talk with Bill Cosby
Did the Huxtables make the Obamas possible? On the 25th anniversary of "The Cosby Show," Cos on Clair's Dominican roots, Cheney, Bush, and a different kind of "taking the house back."
TR: This was a No. 1 show for years; millions watched every week and talked about its politics at the water cooler. Did that place pressure on you?
All I ever wanted was something on TV. I wanted to take the house back. I felt that on all these other shows the children owned the house. Now in real life, I have five children and [my wife and I] aren’t letting people go around the house the way the writers were writing for these kids.
I wanted to … show people that this is parenting, and this is home, and this is deep. And though these people have their careers, their lives, and they’re comfortable—paying their bills and such, the wheels can come off with the behavior of your children, and you have to deal with that. But you also have a lot of fun.
TR: The political backdrop of The Cosby Show was the last of Reaganomics and the beginning of the Clinton years. How much were politics forced upon you, and how much did you seek it out?
No, no. When you say politics, I think of Washington, D.C. …. I did not do anything that people who were not African-American didn’t understand …. We went straight at [the audience]; we went at them with visual art, we went at them with music; we went at them with celebrations of things that had to do with music, black culture. We went James Brown, B.B. King, Stevie Wonder. So when we talked about those things, people understood that this is a black family.
TR: The Cosby Show displayed the black middle class to a mainstream audience who might otherwise only have seen them as gangbangers, shift-workers or athletes. Without Cliff and Clair, would there have been Barack and Michelle?
My answer is yes, he would be. Yes. Because before Cliff and Clair, there was Dr. King. And that movement brought down a whole lot of things that were against black people. In those participations against racism, against segregation, there were people of all colors, cultures, races, creeds, who joined, marched, took hits, gave money, were fired from jobs, were called communist and anti-American by the New York Times and the Washington Post. Because the government and institutions were treating black people negatively. So when these people joined together and they began to win, they also married … integrating and marrying, so that it was Latin, brown people, black people, white, mixing. I think that this United States has come to a point—or had—where this man and his wife could do it.
You know, I’m not sure if he didn’t have a George W. and a Cheney and that Republican Party and what it did to people, he could have been elected. More than anything, I think people also woke up, and they were being used; they were using soldiers and holding them up as shields to keep this inept president and vice president. The nation became very, very tired of this foolishness—and they were tired of being used.
And so along comes this man and this woman, and he is what the people are looking for. The people [were] trying to get out of this mess, and it didn’t make a difference to them what color [Obama was], if he created a feeling of honesty and as he said, change.
TR: Do you think the Obamas were or are fans of The Cosby Show?
I don’t know. I think they were. They had to be. I watch the Obamas. And I’m fans of their show.
Read part two of The Root’s exclusive talk with Cosby on Friday.
Dayo Olopade is Washington reporter for The Root.