Cosby dishes on roots
WENATCHEE – As thousands of fans pile in before a show, Bill Cosby likes to sit alone backstage. After more than 50 years telling stories and jokes, he hardly needs to prepare the material. He needs that time to prepare himself.
“I just sit quietly and give myself a feeling of,” Cosby paused during a phone interview from his Massachusetts home, “ … of feeling privileged to go out and draw the people to me, and cause them to smile and laugh.”
The 75-year-old legend will step out onto the Town Toyota Center stage Saturday and work his magic with just expressions, a microphone and a chair. He’s known for finding the humor in everyday life, without the shock or crudeness of the comedy mainstream.
Cosby touched three generations throughout his career. In the ’60s, Cosby co-starred in “I Spy” as one of the first black leads on television. He created the Saturday morning cartoon, “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” in the ’70s. In the ’80s, he was everyone’s dad as Mr. Huxtable in “The Cosby Show.” In the ’90s, he played himself in “Kids Say the Darndest Things” and the Nickelodeon cartoon “Little Bill.”
On Saturday, he’ll be wearing a bright sweatshirt with the phrase, “Hello Friend,” the name of a charitable foundation dedicated to his late son Ennis, who was shot while changing a tire in Los Angeles in 1997. Ennis was one of five children Cosby had with his wife of 48 years, Camille.
The first seeds of his comedy act were planted by old radio shows, including “The Lone Ranger” and “Green Hornet.” He remembers his sixth-grade teacher pointing out how the dialogue was written to paint a picture in the listener’s mind.
“That studying left me with a want to do the same thing,” Cosby said. “The things that I heard and liked, I would repeat those stories for friends of mine or relatives.”
Cosby later studied at Temple University on an athletic scholarship to become a physical education teacher. To make ends meet, he took a job as a bartender. He earned extra tips on his ability to entertain with stories from his childhood and retellings of old comedy shorts by Jonathan Winters and Lenny Bruce.
“The intent was not to go into show business,” Cosby said. “But after the customers left and I collected the glass where the tips were, oooh boy.”
“It’s something that if you think too hard about it, it might scare you,” Cosby said of performing in front of audiences. “How could you take 2,000 to 3,000 people and say something – and all these people are different in terms of their understanding, in terms of how they feel today – and have them, in unison, smile and laugh.”