Bill Cosby at Pier Six Pavilion

Posted by Michael Parsons on August 23, 2011 in / No Comments


(This review was originally published on August 23, 2011 at The Rogers Revue)

When asked by acquaintances what he was like around the house, Bill Cosby’s wife Camille simply stated, “After being married to a comedian for forty years, he’s not that funny.”

This was preceded by a recollection of Bill falling asleep on the couch, thinking that he was drifting off to an educational show about prehistoric animals, only to awaken and realize that it was a commercial about ‘erectile’ dysfunction. His wife didn’t share the humor.

It’s been forty-seven years now, and the seasoned comedian certainly has a lot to say about his marriage, setting the stage for his trademark style and slow paced but matter-of-fact delivery. His stand up routine may not have strayed much from his realm of expertise over the years but it has certainly evolved – into a sit down that is – and on Saturday night I was able to catch his two hour set at the Pier Six Pavilion, a small open aired venue on the east side of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor where the 74-year-old comedian casually shared some new stories about his life.

Sticking to his usual minimalism, Cosby emerged without announcement to sit in a chair, donning a white T-shirt that simply read “HELLO FRIEND” with props consisting only of a bottled water, box of tissues and a waste basket. His demeanor was expected – after all, this is Bill Cosby, and the next 120 minutes would incorporate facets of his childhood in the projects with his years in the Navy, futile attempts to nap, hearing issues and becoming a grandparent.

BILL-COSBYCommencing with his relaxed conversational tone, Cosby began by introducing a close friend of his in the audience who he grew up with in north Philadelphia, followed by an elderly couple that he asked to stand up having just celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary. After exceeding their allotted time he yelled, “Sit down, you’re stealing my show!” At some point, someone in the first few rows was neglecting an electronic device that was beeping incessantly until Cosby bellowed, “Turn that thing off, just turn it off!” and received some applause.

The set was split between his marriage and his childhood – early childhood to be precise – recalling stories from the time he was six to about sixteen, progressing inevitably into his marriage  and eventually seniority. The events and details that he recounted from his school days were a dry mix of religion, parents, punishment and girls, including a story about bathing in cologne before a date and hijacking his friend’s collection of Miles Davis LPs.

He grew up, as he says ‘bi-protestant’, a mix of methodist and baptist, and was frightened by the idea of church and god. He seemed okay with Jesus though, a less intimidating entity, but laughed at the miracles that people expect of him: “Jesus, please help me, I have high blood pressure!”

Jesus: “Okay, stop eating salt.”

When they question Jesus’s response, he replies, “You’re not going to like my father!”

As usual, he talked a lot about parenting. Cosby observed that children are not able to see their own brain damage, and parents suffer from the same inability… “The respite is when you become a grandparent,” he said.

Cosby covered plenty of the comic cliches in marriage that we’ve seen in played stand-up routines for decades, but he speaks from a wiser perspective where half of these tried and true bits probably originated. Eventually he reverted back to his early teenage years, reflecting on some funny memories of spin-the-bottle at a 13-year-old’s birthday party, a first kiss and a miscommunication when he asks about the meaning of the word ‘platonic’.

The show was a blend of the ever evolving catalog of Cosby’s life and a few new observations that were more like a storytelling session than a standup routine, but still funnier than most contemporary comedy. Of course this is Cosby, particularly his mastery of improvisational humor over a fifty year career that still seems to be ripening, lending itself to the moments in each performance where he inevitably deviates from his routine. In a nutshell, I find this material even funnier than many of his classics sketches – perhaps because I’m married myself now – and maybe because the difference between his embellishment and reality is not such a stretch after all.

“Your wife is not your friend,” he says. “Here’s the difference between your wife and a friend. I was driving home from the airport, 2:40 in the morning. My car breaks down and I call my friend Ed. I wake him up. I say… ‘Ed, I’m an hour away, my car has broken down and I need you to come pick me up’. Ed says, ‘Let me get dressed, I’ll be right there’MY FRIEND ED! You know what happens when I call my wife? She says, ‘How many times have I told you to get that car fixed?’”

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Michael Parsons

Father. Realtor®. Movie nut. After pestering my parents for their commentary on “Star Wars” when I was four years old, my mind went into a creative frenzy. I’d imagined something entirely different than the actual film, which I didn’t end up seeing until its 1979 re-release at the Uptown Theater in Washington, DC. This was my formal introduction to the cinema.

During that long wait, which felt like an eternity to a child, my mind was being molded by more corrosive stuff like “Trilogy of Terror” and “Rosemary’s Baby”, most of which I’d conned various babysitters into letting me watch on television ( I convinced one poor lady that “Jaws” was actually “Moby Dick”).

The folks were pretty strict in that regard, so the less appropriate it was for a kid to watch, the more I was fascinated by it. Horror staples like “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th”, as well as lesser-known low-budget fare like “Madman”, “Sleepaway Camp” and “Pieces” all ended up sneaking their way into the VHS on a regular basis.

Since then, I’ve developed an obsession with the entire film industry. Even though I watch and review a wide breadth of films these days, my appreciation for the campy, poorly lit micro-budgeters still lends itself to my evolving perspective on movies just as much as the summer blockbusters and Oscar contenders. As I recall my trips to the movie theater, I realize that this stuff is about much more than just a fleeting piece of entertainment.

A couple years ago, I was finally given the opportunity to lend my opinion on films to a publication, The Rogers Revue, with a subsequent run at Reel Film News. It's been both a privilege and a gateway to what we’re doing now. Most of my experience has come from interviewing independent filmmakers, who consistently promote innovation. The filmmaking process is grueling and relatively unforgiving.

Fellow film enthusiast Eddie Pasa and I have created DC Filmdom as a medium for film reviews, discussion, and (inevitably) some debate. And so, the creative frenzy continues.

(Michael is a member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association).

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