There he was in 1960 in a remedial English class in college,
where he had entered in his 20s with a total 500 SAT exam
score (out of a possible 1,600), wrestling with two composition
assignments. He resolved to write about yanking his tooth out as
a boy and procrastinating on a paper by sharpening his pencil
over and over, down to the eraser.
Cosby got A's for the stories (and lesser grades for the grammar
and syntax). More importantly, the compositions unlocked a gift
for comedic storytelling and a confidence that launched a
prolific career that continues to this day at the age of 76.
"I am feeling that there are thoughts I have about things that
are kooky enough, and I know they are kooky because I like them
and they are funny," Cosby recalled in a telephone interview
from his Massachusetts home. "I've got to do something with
So he started selling stories to comedians for $25 a pop. Most
didn't think they were funny enough to buy, forcing him to try
his hand at his own stand-up act. To this day, he says, "People
are getting the full value of the thoughts I have."
His kooky thoughts on love, marriage and family are the basis
for his first TV special in 30 years, "Far From Finished," which
premiered on Comedy Central in November. In a contrast to the
cable outlet's often course, profanity-laced humor, Cosby's
90-minute routine is free of cursing.
The exposure on Comedy Central has in turn fueled new interest
in Cosby's earlier work. His comedy albums occupied some of the
top positions on Amazon's bestseller CD list during December,
including "Wonderfulness" from 1966 and "Why is There Air?" from
1965 along with "Far From Finished."
Cosby is clearly amused by the fact that his "LPs," as he calls
them, are selling nearly 50 years later.
"HE'S TALKING ABOUT ME"
Baby boomers knew Cosby from TV's 1965-68 hit "I Spy," in which
he was the first African-American to co-star in a dramatic
series, though his race never came up in the script. He and
co-star Robert Culp were two spies enjoying friendship and
watching out for each other.
"I think 'I Spy,' still when you look at it, speaks volumes in
terms of propaganda for equality," says Cosby, who won three
Emmys for his role as Alexander Scott. "It's just magnificent."
Generation X-ers know him best as Cliff Huxtable, the father of
an affluent African-American family on the TV comedy "The Cosby
Show" that was a top-ranked show for NBC from 1984 to 1992 and
made Cosby a very wealthy man. It is credited with accelerating
racial tolerance and even paving the way for a black U.S.
And the millennials discovering him today? They laugh, he says,
although he suspects they may be wondering before the show, "Is
it gonna be hip, hip, meaning, 'Are you with our time, are you
with my time?'"
Cosby believes his appeal to audiences old and new comes down to
one thing: They think, in his words, "He's talking about me."
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"I have had the pleasure of hearing, 'How did you get
in my house?'...people aggressively stopping me and saying, 'I am
suing you for being in my house without permission,'" Cosby quips.
In "Far From Finished," Cosby sits in a chair, patiently explaining
how women amass all the power in a marriage. But he also plies his
trademark physical comedy, from furtive chewing of forbidden cookies
to portraying a statue at his proposed Husband Museum in a pose that
says "Don't hit me" to fencing with the invisible "Lady Cosby." (His
wife of 50 years is Camille Cosby).
Apart from his comedy tour, which goes to Texas this
weekend, Cosby is also developing a new NBC sitcom with "The Cosby
Show" executive producer Tom Werner. He's not ready to reveal much,
"I am not going to be walking through the whole show, but it's
generational. They like to give things titles," he concedes,
mimicking a TV executive voice when he says "It's generational."
Cosby says he has no problem keeping in shape for a 90-minute
stand-up routine. But he does give some crucial advice for show
nights: "Keep people out of your dressing room."
Acts today seem to have grown longer than they used to be.
"I don't remember during my time during the 1960s and 70s anybody
doing two hours," he says. "We had the singer and the comedian. The
comedian and the singer. That's what you did."
And then he thinks about other older comedians who perform today.
"Do you know who else is still out there? Mr.
Rickles. I know he is 170," Cosby deadpans. Don Rickles is, in fact,
Cosby doesn't watch the younger comedians on Comedy Central, but he
does keep up with them in terms of interacting with fans over social
He has 3.5 million followers on Twitter and calls the banter "by far
the best fan-to-entertainer (exchange) I've ever had."
"This is you and you say in your way what you want and it flies,"
Cosby says. "And trust me: I can do it in 40 minutes."
Last month, he did a Q&A with armed forces personnel via Twitter,
remembering his own days in the Navy at 19.
"As I said in one of my tweets, when I was stationed in Newfoundland
in 1959, we got the Ed Sullivan Christmas show at Easter," he said.
"And it was in black and white, too."
(Editing by Ken Wills)
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