Last week Aisha Harris of Slateranked Beyoncé's ten greatest live performances (a perfect mid-afternoon snack diversion, 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 raw quality, 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.
"Me, Myself and I" is one of the better R&B songs of the 2000s, but it’s about a woman finally coming to terms with her no-count man— hardly anything to smile through. Still, through sheer will and a lot of grownup lady two-stepping, Beyoncé's turned it into a triumphant anthem, something a heroine would tear up in the third act of a chitlin circuit play. And I mean that as a compliment of the highest order.
Publishers are like, ‘We don’t know who your market is, we don’t know who we’d sell your book to,’ and I’m like, ‘What do you mean? Like… People with reading skills?’
After I finished Kelefa Sanneh’s Bill Cosby profile Monday night, I watched Cosby’s classic standup film, Himself (1983), which was 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 you get caught up in a story that makes you laugh anyway.
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 more question marks in the original text message, he was that incredulous. I confidently doubled down in the affirmative. Intrigued, he found it on YouTube and attempted to watch along with me. He lasted only a few minutes, though. “It’s quite bland,” read my last text of the evening.
I suppose I can understand his complaint, but the mundanity is the point. The everyday is Cosby’s bread and butter. This is the stuff of proto-Cliff; effortlessly riffing on marriage and child-rearing, 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 yarn 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. When you consider all that, Cosby was kind of cutting edge.
Whether you’re feeling it or not, it’s neat to see this comma in Cosby’s career; post-Uptown Saturday Night, but pre-Cliff Huxtable. He’s just a comedian, and I can dig that.
(To my friend’s credit, he pointed me toward this excerpt from Cosby: His Life and Times by former Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker. Helpful stuff. I’ll have more on that next week.)
HOW did I miss this two months ago? What’s wrong with me?? This is the fall anthem. This will change the way I walk down the street. This will make me revisit Peter Gabriel.