After I finished Kelefa Sanneh’s Bill Cosby profile a few Mondays ago, I watched Cosby’s classic standup film, Himself (1983), referenced frequently throughout the piece. Though Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy are commonly touted as disciples of Cosby, the major comic I most saw in his performance was Dave Chappelle— the long pauses, the family anecdotes and the relaxed, seated body positioning. You can even see the DNA of Chappelle’s trademark impishness in Cosby’s delivery, especially in this anecdote about deciding to start a family. It’s often said that Cosby is a storyteller above all else, and the same could be said of Chappelle. Neither seems to deliver a steady stream of jokes, but rather gets you caught up in a story that leaves you chuckling despite yourself.
Still, not everyone likes the early iteration of that style of delivery. While watching Himself, I texted with a friend about the clear Chappelle/ Murphy/ Pryor similarities I noticed in Bill’s standup. “Cosby?” he asked. There were four additional question marks in the original message, he was that incredulous. I confidently doubled down in the affirmative. Intrigued, my friend cued Himself up on YouTube and attempted to watch along with me. He lasted only a few minutes. “It’s quite bland,” read my last text of the evening.
I suppose I can understand his complaint, but the mundanity is the point. This is the stuff of proto-Cliff; effortlessly riffing on child-rearing and wedded bliss, just without the punched-up energy of a 3-camera sitcom environment. The Cosby Show was still a fuzzy idea when Himself was shot, and the eventual marriage of Cosby’s family man schtick with Pryor’s witty raunch, championed by comics like Chappelle, Bernie Mac, Chris Rock and possibly even Louis CK, was still about a decade away. Considering that, Cosby’s sprezzatura, punctuated by goofy imitations, looks more like a blueprint than anything else.
Whether you’re feeling it or not, it’s neat to see this comma in Cosby’s career; post-Uptown Saturday Night, but pre-Huxtable. He’s just a comedian, and I can dig that.
(Also check out this excerpt from Cosby: His Life and Times by former Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker.)
Hi, I wrote a thing.
You don’t come to live here unless the delusion of a reality shaped around your own desires isn’t a strong aspect of your personality. “A reality shaped around your own desires”—there is something sociopathic in that ambition.
Zadie Smith on Manhattan, The New York Review of Books
I read this last night on my iPad mini while sweating on an elliptical machine in a midtown Blink location, listening to Beyonce. Terribly meta, wonderful read.
Me as a song, as of Tuesday, October 7, 2014.
"There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job’." And with that, J.K. Simmons and Damien Chazelle’s critically acclaimed Whiplash grabs a hold of the audience and never lets go. The film, starring The Spectacular Now's unbelievably talented Miles Teller, revolves around a young musician who joins a jazz band with a drill sergeant for a conductor. The film was acquired by Sony Pictures Classics and opens on limited release in the US on October 10, 2014.
More fuel for my Miles Teller addiction. I’d watch him eat cereal on loop for six hours, he’s that good.
My wife is beautiful, though she’s not known as a beauty. People only allow you to be known for one thing.
Last week Aisha Harris of Slate ranked Beyoncé's ten greatest live performances (the ideal partner for a mid-afternoon snack, I might add). Though there were many spirited and commendable inclusions, conspicuously missing was this AOL Live performance of “Me, Myself and I” from 2008.
What this rendition lacks in Beyoncé's now-signature superhuman precision, it makes up for in its rawness, a term not typically associated with Beyoncé. No kicky choreo, no LED graphics, no C-3P0-inspired Balenciaga leggings. She’s pared down. Scrappy, even. It feels spontaneous, even though we all know it’s not.
Though “Me, Myself and I” is one of the better R&B songs of the 2000s, it’s about a woman finally coming to terms with her no-count man— hardly anything to smile about. Still, through sheer will and a lot of grownup lady two-stepping, Beyoncé's turned it into a triumphant anthem, something a resilient heroine would tear up in the third act of a chitlin circuit play. And I mean that as a compliment of the highest order.