Try doing a Bill Cosby routine at the water cooler sometime. You'll fail miserably. Cosby doesn't have a battery of one-liners; he doesn't even tell jokes per se. His humor sneaks up on you: Somewhere in his slow telling of a story you discover by accident that your sides are splitting.
Perhaps it's this sneak-attack approach to comedy that makes it so easy to forget that Bill Cosby is funny -- or maybe it's his recent slew of unfunny television shows. The Cosby show on CBS is comfortable enough, but it won't make you laugh out loud. The Cosby Mysteries wasn't even intended to be funny, though sometimes it was. And let's just try to forget Kids Say the Darndest Things; no one could've made that contrived concept work. Actually, it hasn't been since The Cosby Show of the mid-eighties (when the comedian single-handedly took NBC from worst to first in one season) that Cosby was downright hilarious on television.
But Bill Cosby the stand-up comic has always been funny. When he exploded on the scene in the early sixties doing routines about Superman, Noah's Ark, kindergarten, go-carts, living with his brother Russell and, of course, The Chicken Heart (Thump-Thump), Cosby was the kid that wouldn't grow up. His act started to incorporate more adult themes in the late sixties. Nothing raunchy, mind you; Cosby's humor has always been pristine proof that laughs are not dependent on expletives. But Cosby the kid became Cosby the parent, and his storytelling reflected that: No longer were parents the only people in the world who were crazy; the kids were brain-damaged too.
Cosby's stand-up comedy has endured this transformation better than his television efforts have because he can tell a great tale, whether it's about going to kindergarten or turning 50. After all, he is, as his first album title said, a very funny fellow. Right!
-- Paul J. MacArthur
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Bill Cosby performs at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., Saturday, May 1, at Galveston's Grand 1894 Opera House, 2020 Postoffice, and Sunday, May 2, at the Cypress Creek Christian Community Center's performance facility, The Centrum, 6823 Cypresswood in Spring. Call (409)765-1894 for tickets, $45, $65 and $75, to the Galveston show and (281)440-4850 for tickets, $76 and $100, to the show in Spring.