When I was very young indeed, I watched Bill Cosby perform his comedy concert “Bill Cosby – Himself” on Home Box Office with my parents. It made quite an impression on me. The next several weeks at school my friends and I kept doing bits for each other, aided by a cassette recording of the show I had been thoughtful enough to make while it was on. Yes, I am that old, folks. Once upon a time, we had LP recordings of movies, tv shows, and stand-up comedy routines. Some of the really cool ones came with booklets and fold-outs containing pictures of the act or show in question. When those weren’t available, the only way we had to listen to them was to tape them. At this point I would like to offer my sincere opinion that any of you not old enough to have owned a 33 or 45 of “Raiders Of The Lost Ark” or “Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room” just simply missed out. Listening to those recordings forced us to use our imaginations and engage with the story almost as much as books. I almost miss it.
Okay, rambling again…….
Back to Bill.
In 1983, at the age of 10, I was floored by his thoughts on visiting the dentist. That, I could relate to. I slayed ’em in the school yard with my own performance of the art of conversation with half my face sliding off my skull. Oh, sure, I could tell the rest of it must have been funny as well, because my mother cackled all the way through it. My grandmother got practically hysterical during the monologue about children, but it was mostly lost on me.
Flash forward about 4-5 years to 1988-89. Flipping channels, I stumbled upon Cosby’s special again. The dentist was as funny as ever, but suddenly the segment about drinking and drugs resonated with me. Not necessarily because of life experience so much as the fact that I was finally old enough to grasp the concept of what he was saying. I still remember laughing so hard that I ended up wheezing after he thanked the toilet bowl for being cool on the side.
1992 rolled around. My daughter was about 12 months old. This time I found a VHS on my dad’s movie shelf and decided to kill an afternoon with it. As before, what had been funny remained just as fresh and hilarious as I remembered it. Now, however, the funniest bits were his commentary on the ability of small children to seek out and discover cookies and junk food anywhere in the house, and little Jeffery. I laughed about Jeffery’s mother punching his father in the face for at least a couple of days after that.
The summer of 2000 I noticed “Himself” on the program guide and set it up to record. Later that night I re-watched it yet again. Lo and behold, now the best part was Cosby’s description of the change in his wife during the course of the marriage and after the children came. The conniption hit almost too close to home for me. I confess, my own skull has been known to split and let out a green glow………….sigh. Aw, c’mon, admit it. It’s funny because it’s true, you know. I can still hear that stressed, shrill, frazzled voice…..”WHERE did they get the chocolate cake from?” and the stereotypical response, “They ASKED for it.” Then, of course, Bill’s admission — We are dumb, but we are not so dumb. I always suspected that was true, you know.
Now here we are, 2012. None of it is any less funny, but now that I have 2 small kiddos whooping through my house, I find that Cosby’s observation about multiple children being a different level of parenting from having one child to be my favorite part. I laugh every bit as much when I run across it as I ever did, but I do find that the bits about the stories told by his father really make me laugh the hardest. “Uphill. Both ways. In 5 feet of snow.” Bah-hah-hah!
The older we get, the more life experience we gain, the more layers of understanding we have and thereby the more humor we are able to enjoy. I love that a special I first watched with my parents still makes me laugh until I cry. It is a remarkably cool thing that I can still enjoy it with my folks, and see them laughing at things I haven’t even picked up on yet. I look at my kids laughing and see where I have been. Then I look at my parents and see where I am going. Thanks, Bill.