Thank goodness Bill Cosby “started out as a child.” We’ve been belly laughing about his inner-city Philadelphia childhood days since he began comedy routines in 1961 as a bartender-cum-comic at the Cellar, where he worked while attending Temple University in Philadelphia on a track and field scholarship. As with many comedians, Cosby was considered a class clown and always had an ability to make those around him laugh. He left Temple and started the club circuit in the early sixties, cutting his first album in 1963: Bill Cosby Is a Very Funny Fellow … Right! (1963). He won a Best Comedy Album Grammy Award for that and his 1964 record, I Started Out As a Child, and then just kept getting that award for new albums until 1969.
Some people wondered why, during a restive time like the sixties, Cosby didn’t get into any racial humor like his black colleagues, Dick Gregory and Richard Pryor. He found himself defending his choice of material often with black activists who wanted him to use his celebrity for racial activism. He said, “A white person listens to my act and he laughs and he thinks, 'Yeah, that's the way I see it too.' Okay. He's white. I'm Negro. And we both see things the same way. That must mean that we are alike. Right? So I figure this way I'm doing as much for good race relations as the next guy.”
Indeed, anyone who didn’t come away from a Cosby routine about Fat Albert (Hey, hey, hey!) and Ol’ Weird Harold with fond reminisces of their childhood, probably never participated in a good snowball fight or scared themselves to death at a horror movie. Activist or not, Cosby was an important figure in black history: first black male star on television with I Spy, then an animated cartoon called Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids and an unequivocal influence with his top-rated sitcom, The Cosby Show, in the eighties. Cosby was also a spokesperson for children with shows like Fat Albert and The Electric Company.
Cosby was considered a master of the anecdote, from his childhood and his own marriage, which became extremely popular as material for stand-up comics. His stories weren’t complete without using a variety of voices and facial expressions. Here are some examples:
It was because of my father that from the ages of seven to fifteen, I thought that my name was Jesus Christ and my brother, Russell, thought that his name was Dammit. "Dammit, will you stop all that noise?" And, "Jesus Christ, sit down!" One day, I'm out playing in the rain, and my father yelled, "Dammit will you get back in here!" I said, "Dad, I'm Jesus Christ!"
I love it when mothers get so mad they can't remember your name. "Come here, Roy, er, Rupert, er, Rutabaga... what is your name, boy? And don't lie to me, because you live here, and I'll find out who you are.”
My father established our relationship when I was seven years old. He looked at me and said, "You know, I brought you in this world, and I can take you out. And it don't make no difference to me; I'll make another one look just like you."
My mother comes in my room and says, "Just look at this mess! This is a pig sty!" Now, I've already been in the room five hours, and she wants me to LOOK at it.
[referring to mothers] When they ask you a question, you try and answer, they tell you to shut up! "Day and night, night and day, work my fingers to the bone, for what?" "I don't..." "SHUT UP! And when I ask you a question, you keep your trap shut! Think I'm talking to hear myself talk? ANSWER ME!"
I asked my father for a dollar for the school picnic; he told me how he killed a grizzly bear with his loose-leaf notebook.
Whenhis wife sees that he has given the kids cake for breakfast] I've always heard about people having a conniption but I've never seen one. You don't want to see 'em. My wife's face split. My wife's face split and the skin and hair split and came off of her face so that there was nothing except a skull. And orange lights came out of her hair and there was glitter all around. And fire shot from her eye sockets and began to burn my stomach and she said, "WHERE DID THEY GET CHOCOLATE CAKE FROM?" And I said, "They asked for it!" And the children who had been singing praises to me... LIED on me and said, "Uh-uh! We asked for eggs and milk... AND DAD MADE US EAT THIS!" And my wife sent me to my room... which is where I wanted to go in the first place.
My wife and I were intellectuals before we had children. We were very, very bright people. My wife graduated from the University of Maryland, child psychology major with a B-plus average, which means that if you ask her a question about a child's behavior, she will give you at least an 85 answer. I, from Temple University, physical education major with a child psychology minor, which means that if you ask me a question about a child's behavior, I will tell you to tell the child to take a lap.
[After a birth contraction] Then my wife stood up... in the stirrups, grabbed my bottom lip... and said, "I WANT MORPHINE!" I said, "But dear... ”
[He imitates Lamaze breathing]
She said, "YOU SHUT UP! *YOU* DID THIS TO ME!" And on the next contraction, she told everybody in the delivery room that my parents were never married.
In the hospital room after the birth of their first baby] ... and I looked at it... and it wasn't getting any better. So I went over to my wife, and kissed her ever so gently on the lips, and I said "I love you, very very much dear. You just... had... a lizard." I mean, because the thing changed colors like, five times! And I said to the doctor, "Can you put this back? Cause it isn't finished cooking! It needs to cook two, three months!" But the hospital made us take it home.