“Hello friend”

Bill Cosby still building after five decades

Written by Karen Long

Bill Cosby

Bill Cosby

If you’re old enough to read this you have a memory of Bill Cosby. It might be from the I Spy series of the ‘60s, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids of the ‘70s, The Cosby Show of the ‘80s, Kids Say the Darndest Things of the ‘90s or one of the several titles added to his catalog of best-selling books in the ‘00s. Cosby’s trademark whimsical humor and family-friendly material have put a smile on all our faces, delivered through LPs, TV series, films, stand-up performances and books.

It’s easy to forget that the Emmy and Grammy winner was a trailblazer in ‘60s television and stand-up comedy, breaking the color barrier in fields where there were no black role models.

Where did he find his inspiration? In a telephone interview given in his low and sweet-as-molasses voice Cosby said, “When I was a child, I loved listening to all of the funny people on the radio…Jack Benny, Jimmy Durante and a couple of variety shows… and I liked Bob Hope.”

His Very First Venue

Listening to those radio comedians moved the young Cosby to write a manuscript of his own material, which he tried to sell — but found no takers. Then he discovered an innovative way to get his stand-up comedy in front of an audience.

“So, I found that the best way to do this was while bartending — to perform it. And that’s when a couple came and asked me if I wanted to go up and audition for this coffee house in Greenwich Village.”

That was the Gaslight Café. “It was 60 dollars, six days a week… I enjoyed it because we worked from 8:00 to 4:00 in the morning and I could go upstairs and rewrite, come down, perform, go back upstairs and rewrite.”

Is that what he would call his big break? Not at all: “That happens as you go along. I’m still in school. Things build.”

“You have an art and it’s what you love to do, and you continue to write. Continue to write, continue to work on — maybe the same idea but you turn it around.”

This artist has at least five ideas that he’s turning around right now, two of which are revivals of his earlier animated programs.

One is Little Bill, a show for young children, and the other is Fat Albert. “Fat Albert was based on my years pre-puberty, and now we’re doing it for today’s families.”

The Not-Tour Tour

On billcosby.com you can scroll through a lengthy list of concert dates that stretches through December 1 in Boston. But don’t call it a tour.

“I don’t tour. I toured waaaay back in the 60s, when we would get on a plane and go 12 days in a row. That’s a tour. For me, this is what I do for a living. This is what I do to flesh out things… I work Friday, come home Saturday. Go out again next Friday, work Saturday, come home on Sunday.”

Just like those nights back at the Gaslight Café: perform, rewrite, perform, rewrite.

On June 21 Cosby takes the stage of the Orpheum Theatre for the third time in the last decade. “Bill Cosby will go down in history as one of the greatest entertainers of our time,” says Orpheum President Jennifer Wright, “and we are pleased to be able to bring this level of quality performance to Wichita.”

The comedian describes the beginning of the show,“I come out from behind the curtain and then I go to that table and sit in the chair. There’s a sweatshirt that says, hello friend, and that’s what I mean to do: Mean to talk to them and entertain them so that they smile, they laugh and they feel very, very good and we’re having fun.”

more info • • •

Bill Cosby at the Orpheum Theatre
Friday, June 21, 8:00pm
tickets: $49.50 - $69.50
wichitaorpheum.com

 
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