September 5, 2013 in Washington Voices

Front Porch: Cosby still master of comic tale

By The Spokesman-Review
 

My ribs hurt. Tears rolled down my cheeks. I gasped for breath. I was 5 years old and my brother David had just introduced me to Bill Cosby.

He’d brought home the “Bill Cosby is a Very Funny Fellow Right!” album, and we listened to it repeatedly that summer while David packed for college.

In 1970, there was no comedy channel and no YouTube. We watched our comedy on one of four television channels or listened to our favorite comedian’s albums.

And Cosby became an instant family favorite. My siblings and I can still recite his Noah routine (How long can you tread water?) and his classic football pep talk.

Forty-plus years later, I sat in the Beasley Coliseum at WSU and laughed until my sides ached. The roar of appreciative applause that filled the auditorium proved the Cos has still got it.

“It” is the magical talent to take the innocuous and inane and imbue it with hilarity. “It” is the ability to hold a crowd of thousands in the palm of his hand while wearing comfy sweatpants and a T-shirt. “It” is the gift of finding humor that transcends age, race, religion or gender.

The crowd that gathered to hear Bill Cosby at WSU last month ran the gamut from students to faculty to parents, grandparents and children.

He started the evening by explaining to the students how they got here. He wasn’t talking about placement exams or essays; he was talking about childbirth, which he calls the only pain you practice for. “Now, athletes don’t do this,” said Cosby. “The coach doesn’t say, ‘OK, you have a broken leg, now breathe. Good. Now, everyone on the team join hands and breathe.”

From there he launched into the trials and tribulations of being the firstborn – a routine my husband, also a firstborn, thoroughly enjoyed

“I especially don’t like the last born,” Cosby said. “Cause that’s when your parents start drinking and leave that kid with you!”

He assured us that his youngest brother, Bob, is still alive despite his parents leaving him in Bill’s dubious care. “They just gave up and put me in charge of this guy.”

What he learned from this experience is simple. “Parents don’t care about justice, they just want quiet.” And every parent in the auditorium laughed and nodded.

Cosby told the crowd, “There were no psychiatrists when I was growing up. We just had Ben Franklin and he just kept saying, ‘A penny saved is a penny earned.’ ”

Thanks to a friend who snapped up the tickets as soon as they became available, we sat just six rows away from Cosby. His facial expressions tell as much of his stories as his words.

His silly putty face mirrored each character as he related a typical parent/child dialogue. “Parents say things like, ‘Don’t let me catch you doing that again!’ And kids are like, “OK. Fair deal.”

Some of his material showed its age a tad when he talked about parenting. For instance, he did a bit about fathers being smart enough to get jobs that take them out of the house early, before the kids get up. “Drive to the nearest Dunkin’ Donuts and you’ll find all the fathers in the world gathered there.”

He didn’t do his Noah routine, but he did offer his take on the Garden of Eden. “I don’t know what the penguin said or did to make God so mad he said, “From now on you’ll have no knees! And what did the baboon do?”

Cosby’s ability to start a story about his wife calling him from another room, then segue into a story about the men in his family having selective hearing, and somehow find his way back to finish the original tale he started about his wife, is nothing short of amazing.

I’m 30 years younger, and if I get interrupted midsentence I’m lost!

With the college crowd in mind he admonished students, especially “freshpeople” that parents have peer pressure, too. He said it’s embarrassing to hear how well other people’s kids are doing in school and when asked how your daughter is doing, to have to answer. “Well. She’s tall.”

For me the highlight of the evening was discovering Cosby can make me laugh just as hard now as he did when I was 5. The best comedians are timeless and even better, they make us feel ageless.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

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