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.
Black women should have equal opportunity to be inappropriate and irresponsible. Where are all of the black female nerds, stoners, slackers and weirdos? We can’t all make wise choices and know the answers to the important questions.
I’ve been asking this since I saw Superbad on opening day. It felt like two white guys had been spying on me and decided to write a screenplay about it.
The creamy lips, the oily eyelids, the violent perfume—and in her voice the tropical l’s and r’s. Her presence, her singing created a large, swelling anxiety. Long red fingernails and the sound of electrified guitars. Here was a woman who had never been a Christian.
we’ve come so far, beyond where we feared we’d stop