November 6, 2003

Bill's Comedy Basics

Print More

For years, I had eaten (maybe inhaled is the better word) his Jell-O with reckless abandon and relied on reruns of his namesake show to get me through sleepless nights, but last Friday, I saw Dr. Bill Cosby perform live in all his animated glory. Sponsored by the Cornell University Program Board (CUPB), An Evening with Bill Cosby was two hours of classic Cosby standup. Decked out head to toe in signature Cornell red with our school logo proudly emblazoned across his chest, Cosby proved to be just what the doctor ordered, kicking off Parents’ Weekend with a healthy dose of his wholesome, family fun.

No stranger to success, Cosby’s comedic career spans more than thirty years. With hits in practically every medium of entertainment, he remains today a key figure in popular entertainment and culture. Cosby’s performance career started in stand up comedy, where initial success eventually fueled his transformation into a prolific entertainer with nationwide popularity. With hit shows, numerous comedy albums gone platinum, and several best-selling books, Cosby has also garnered critical praise. His wide collection of awards includes multiple Emmys, Golden Globes, and Grammys.

The secret behind Cosby’s popularity lies in the wide appeal of his comedy. Cosby’s humor transcends social barriers and backgrounds and instead references the human experience. It is this simplicity, this sense of normalcy that endears him to our hearts because Cosby glorifies things we usually take for granted, so that even the mundane ritual of going to the dentist can unite us as a common experience.

Meshing well with Parents Weekend, Cosby’s program revolved around a theme of “growing up.” Childhood, adolescence, puberty, and eventual adulthood were all major topics that he covered, paralleling his personal saga of growing up with broader lessons for the audience. Smoothly transitioning from one subject to the next with polished storytelling, I barely registered how Cosby had progressed from a vivid description of his adolescent antics to a typical portrait of relationship angst between the sexes.

Supplementing his humorous anecdotes with animated movements, Cosby maximized his space and frequently traversed the stage. Still amazingly spry, his stories were often flavored with exaggerated reenactments of described events for added emphasis. Cosby’s energy was infectious and the audience responded to it immediately. His enthusiasm for his subject fostered an atmosphere of familiarity and comfort, eventually resulting in unabashed explosions of laughter from the audience and cheers of agreement for specific issues.

Cosby’s talent as an expressive performer enables him to convey a variety of messages through mere nuances of body language. His calculated use of trademark facial expressions alone incited laughter and applause and effectively animated many of his stories. Cosby is not a comedian restricted by words and will often resort to alternative modes of humor to make his point. By imitating the muffled sounds of an argument between his parents, Cosby is able to impact the audience far more than an articulated joke ever could.

For me, the two hours passed with delightful ease, a trip down memory lane for times gone by. The nostalgia that Cosby invoked was not, thankfully, of the stereotypically mournful variety but a reaffirmation of the solidarity between all those present. Whining to our parents for that toy we couldn’t live without. Wondering why the dentist needs to make small talk while haphazardly jabbing sharp, metal devices into your mouth. Dealing with the ambivalence inherent in all relations with the opposite sex. These incidents and others of slight variation are all tidbits of everyday angst we can all relate to, frequently occurring events that we tend to forget are so wide spread.

A powerful reminder that humor does not have to be restricted by the risqu