At the Chumash Casino, Thursday, May 11.
by Derek Svennungsen
I’ve spent 85 percent of my life waiting for this moment. Bill Cosby—a voice from my childhood (Fat Albert and the Gang), my adolescence (Jello Pudding and The Cosby Show), and my adulthood (discovering the sublime hilarity of his comedy albums)—live and in-person. This is like meeting magic, or Magic, or the person who invented the Ferris Wheel. Something on the scale of meeting God. Am I overstating the situation? I don’t think so. I’m willing to bet that Bill Cosby is one of the most recognized voices and faces in the world. So it was all I could do not to skip from the far end of the Chumash Casino parking lot, through the throngs of sloe-eyed slotters, and into the auditorium to my seat.
In front of me is an elderly white woman with white-white hair and a back that’s starting to hunch. Next to her is an older elderly white woman with whiter-white hair, a hunchier back, holding a cane. To their right is a black family of four, and to my left, two Hispanic women as excited as I am for Mr. Cosby’s arrival. Slicks and hicks, old folks and kids, hipsters and dips, we were all smushed together to watch this 68-year-old man tell stories. Who else has this type of drawing power? Who else can hit this many parts of our society? No one. And there is something so freaking beautiful in this, that all of us could be in the same room and revel in the same thing. Even before he comes onstage, then, I’m feeling like I’m part of something phenomenal.
There’s no announcer, just a tall, slightly rotund black man in sweats up to his knees, white socks, a garish “HELLO FRIEND” sweatshirt, and white slippers. But I don’t think anyone takes offense to the fact that Cosby looks like he just got up from a nap. He rubs his face and riffs on Mother’s Day and then Father’s Day (“They ask you for money for the ‘present’ that they’re gonna get you. A mug that says ‘World’s Greatest Dad.’ A mug. They get that for Mom, and she’s gonna hit someone in the back of the head with it”). There’s convulsing, jiggling, head shaking. In the aforementioned family of four, the two daughters look like they’re going to kill mom ’cause she’s heaving and screaming and they’re mortified. My ears hurt from smiling so much for so long. And Cosby is up there taking his time and making faces and doing those voices, those voices. A half hour goes by, and I don’t think he’s told a single joke, and we’re all in stitches. Which is why he’s Bill Cosby.
His wife, who must be an absolute angel, takes the brunt of his funning, but there isn’t a person in the auditorium who doesn’t feel like he’s spoken directly to them. Stories about how and why the husband gets a certain side of the bed; the way moms and dads parent; getting old—in other words, real life. And it’s been said before, but here it is: He doesn’t ever resort to gratuitous anything. It’s all in his voice, his face, his pauses, his persona. By the time he was done, having just finished his classic dentist routine (how does he make those sounds?), we couldn’t have asked for more.
I went home and woke my wife and told her, “Bill Cosby told me why I have to sleep next to the bedroom door. I’m on to you, honey.” Thanks, Bill.