Bill Cosby visits Queens College, remembering childhood and recounting some of its lumps
The 75-year-old master comic Bill Cosby sits for nearly two hours to tell tales about his siblings, growing up and, of course, his wife Camille
Mon Apr 8 2013
Erinn Chalene Cosby
Sharp, hale and hearty at 75, Bill Cosby maintains a public profile: tweeting, backing causes, commenting on-air and—most importantly for comedy lovers and their parents—touring every few years. He skipped NYC proper last time, but he made a stop at Queens College on Saturday night, packing the 2,000-seat Kupferberg Center with the sort of crowd promised by The Cosby Show's multigenerational, interracial Brooklyn. Here's what we learned:
Just the sound of Cosby's voice is funny. Turns out the Forest Hills F is, er, not all that close to the college, so we were late. Upon walking into the auditorium and hearing Cosby speak—about what, we weren't yet sure—with his high-pitched, elongated oo's, dra-mat-i-CALLY em-PHA-sized syllables and the melodic muttering that rounds out his sentences, we laughed. Generations of Cosby impressionists lean on his cadences for a reason: These signature, aural cues—which are deeply embedded inside listeners—mean: It's time for funny.
The man is impressively together. After watching a couple of recent, meandering television appearances, we weren't sure how much Cosby would coast on the benefit of his fans' adoration and their implicit understanding of his persona. He did this not at all; his stories were carefully detailed, his delivery crisp, his impressions animated and his conclusions, as always, relatable. When it came time to skewer recent cultural phenomena, he was ready. In lamenting what he saw as a lack of articulate songwriting, the comedian summed up his impression of current pop hits: "I'm wet, you're wet, let's go!"
The image of Cosby falling out at a meal with his siblings is fantastic one. Many of his stories revolved around siblings, childhood beatings and gender politics. One big chunk of the evening was spent retelling a tale that Cosby's brother Russell told him at a recent Thanksgiving dinner: It was about Russell—after catching a beating from his mother—going to the police to have her arrested, only to be abandoned by their local policeman at home and in more trouble than he started. Many of the details here were embellished by Cosby, but the thought of Russell's remembrance and the laughter it sparked warmed the cockles of our hearts.
All gray does not suit the man. Cosby may have doffed the ostentatious sartorial totems of his middle age—that is, the vivid, multicolored pullovers that have henceforth branded any like garments as "Cosby sweaters"—but Cos's grey Queens College sweatshirt, grey pants and laceless sneakers (that looked like house shoes) were dull. As much as we hate to be the Yelp reviewer who obsesses about tablecloths when the food is delightful, we like to think of him, at least, in a tie.
Like any great master, Cosby makes his shortcomings work in his favor. He talked about a routine he'd done years ago about leaving one room for another, forgetting why he'd done it and remembering only when he sat back down. He insisted there is a connection between the butt and the brain, and poking the posterior must spark the memory. At a couple of moments, Cosby appeared to lose his train of thought; by the time he cupped his behind and the crowd was laughing, he was back in the story. He may have forgotten his place or it may have been a bit; it worked perfectly, either way.