SATURDAY night was amazingly entertaining. As a Christmas present to my in-laws, we purchased tickets to see Bill Cosby: Far from Finished at the Midland in Kansas City, Missouri. We chose the early show at 5:00pm, amazed that the man was putting on two shows in one night. The audience was 95 percent white from our point of view, and it was a packed house, cozy in the old-format theater seating of narrow seats and cramped leg room.
Bill Cosby is 77 years old. As a young man, he dropped out of high school to join the Navy and dropped out of college to become a comedian. He later went on to earn a doctoral degree in education. His acting career began in 1967 on I, Spy, for which he was the first African-American male to win a Primetime Emmy Award. His TV career continued for decades with popular shows such as The Cosby Show, Cosby and Fat Albert.
Donning a burgundy UMASS hoodie personalized with his name and degree, brown cargo pants and slipper-like shoes, he sidled into place on a padded chair draped with another shirt bearing the words “HELLO FRIEND” in rainbow letters. He began with a hello after slipping on the ear-mounted microphone and gave quick directions to the sound man to lower the volume to a level “like we are sitting in someone’s living room” instead of blaring like a rock concert. The personable experience drew the audience into the show immediately.
He invited on stage a special guest, a young woman with deformed legs and crutches. She worked as a clerk at the hotel where Cosby’s assistant was staying. Born in India, the woman had suffered from polio as a child, and was adopted by an American family when she was five years old. She clearly enjoyed her time on stage, emanating an air of confidence, tolerance, and humor as she demonstrated how she took guests luggage up to their rooms as the hotel, and then how she waited tables when she worked at IHOP. Cosby joked about taking her home to see his daughters and talk some sense into them about getting around obstacles in life.
Afterward, he started in on his collection of humorous tales about his wife, family, and his childhood, subtly weaving in social messages as we listened and laughed. Many couples could relate to his quips. Cosby pointed out that the his wife tended to ambush him if she suspected he was enjoying a flirtatious encounter with another woman, waiting until he was almost asleep to prod with the question “Did you enjoy that?”, while he mumbled back, “Enjoy what?” “You know what.” And so an argument would ensue about what exact transgression had occurred. After so many years of marriage, he learned a few lessons.
On a visit to Africa after being invited by Nelson Mandela, Cosby exited a plane into what he referred to as a “gauntlet” of topless native women shaking and singing in greeting. He demonstrated how he kept his face forward and eyes down to the ground the entire walk into the airport terminal. Despite this attempt, his wife still asked if he enjoyed the show, to which he replied “I didn’t even see it,” and went on to say that it wasn’t like he asked the president to line up a bunch of topless women for his greeting party. What really got the crowd guffawing was the next part. With a straight face, Cosby said “What was I supposed to do? Tell them to Stop!” he exclaims, with both hands in front of him as though cupping breasts straight-on. “Can’t you see I’m with my wife?” And the bit continued for a minute with a continued act of getting the topless women to stop shaking their breasts.
The stories of his childhood circled around the changes between the ages of seven and twelve, the attitude towards girls, puberty, and learning the meaning of the term, “out-of-wedlock.” His stories are funny as well as poignant, his facial expressions add depth and character, and his reenactments entertain.
At the end of almost 2 hours of show, he left us with one last story about wives and the control they have over their husbands. He and his wife have been married for 50 years. He has come to an understanding that he does not need to think for himself, but follows his wife’s directions. In his house, there is a magical place known as “Where It Belongs” and if he asks his wife if she has seen an item of his, she replies, “I’ve seen it. I put it Where It Belongs.” Women want everything in its place, including the covers on the “beah-yed.” He finished teasing the woman in the front row who had pronounced “bed” as a word with “three letter and two syllables.”
Great show. If you get a chance to see him live, go. ++++
“I guess the real reason that my wife and I had children is the same reason that Napoleon had for invading Russia: it seemed like a good idea at the time.”