WHAT YA GOTTA DO, YA SEE, IS DIP THE SPOON, INTO THE PUDDING, WITH THE VANILLA AND THE CHOCOLATE SWIRL AND MY LOVELY WIFE CAMILLE, YA SEE.William Henry "Bill" Cosby
(born July 12, 1937) is famous for his versatility over his long career; he broke barriers for his fellow African-American entertainers.
Born and raised in the Philadelphia
projects, Cosby attended Temple University as a phys.ed major but eventually dropped out to become a standup comedian in the mid-1960s. He was an immediate success, in part because his material — in sharp contrast to most of the black comedians of the day — was largely apolitical, based instead around Cosby's friends and foibles growing up and the perils of raising his own family of five. Defending this choice, Cosby once noted: "A white person listens to my act and he laughs and he thinks, 'Yeah, that's the way I see it, too.' Okay. He's white. I'm Negro. And we both see things the same way. That must mean that we are alike. Right? So I figure this way I'm doing as much for good race relations as the next guy."
Success in the clubs led to an impressive string of hit comedy and music albums, including the now-classic "To Russell, My Brother, Whom I Slept With" and the, er, genesis of the similarly beloved "Noah" routine ("It's The Lord, Noah.
). This was followed in 1965 by a groundbreaking role alongside Robert Culp in the Spy Fiction dramedy I Spy
. It was the first time a black actor had ever starred in a television drama, and it earned Cosby the first Emmys (three total) a black actor had ever received.
Naturally, in 1969, the next step was The Bill Cosby Show
— no, not that one, the one that featured Cosby as Chet Kincaid, high school gym teacher. No, really, it ran two whole seasons. He even sang the theme song.
The 1970s saw the re-emergence of William H. Cosby Jr., who had gone back to school to earn his doctorate in education. Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids
, a hit (12-season!) animated take on the old routines featuring his friends in the projects, and PicturePages
, short interactive educational skits as part of Captain Kangaroo
, were the most prominent initial results of this new interest. Also included were memorable guest-starring stints on both Sesame Street
and The Electric Company
At this undisputed high point, he was even starring in hit films with Sidney Poitier
: Uptown Saturday Night
and the sequel Let's Do It Again
, made as a rebuttal to the violent, one-dimensional Blaxploitation
films then popular. Somehow, though, while that genre has emerged beloved and even homaged, Cosby's own film career... has not. By the time vanity project Leonard Part 6
debuted in 1987, Cosby was reduced to instructing talk show audiences not
to see it, by way of salvaging his big-screen reputation.
Much better received was his 20-odd-year side career as pitchman for Jell-O pudding. The standard spot featured Cosby mugging shamelessly while surrounded by cute moppets and — of course — lots and lots of chocolate pudding. Not at all surprisingly, they were instrumental in switching his image from young, hip urban dude to goofy sweater-wearing curmudgeon.
This is how the current generation (or two) knows him best: as Cliff Huxtable in the classic Sitcom The Cosby Show
, which lasted from 1984 to 1992 on NBC
and was again based around his old routines, this time those featuring his own family. At loose ends (largely due to by-now hopeless typecasting as that same curmudgeon) once it left the air, he took on the TV equivalent of odd jobs, hosting Kids Say the Darndest Things
and the 1992 revival of You Bet Your Life
. He also dabbled in detective drama (the Bill Cosby Mysteries
, natch) for the ABC Mystery Movie
revival, and created the animated Nickelodeon
series Little Bill
His last fling at prime-time television was the 1996–2000 sitcom... wait for it... Cosby
, in which he played a lovable elderly
curmudgeon in a scenario loosely based on the Britcom One Foot in the Grave
. However, the episode most remembered by fans was a fourth-wall destroying
episode in which Cosby's character dreamt that he was Alexander Scott from I Spy
(complete with guest appearance by Robert Culp
), and Cosby's wife dreamt that she was a character in The Cosby Show
At last notice, he is participating in the development of a modernized revival of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids
Cosby's diverse range of material has netted him four Emmy Awards and nine Grammy Awards for his many albums... and a Razzie, for Leonard Part 6
. He has written best-selling books, hosted comedy festivals, and — most recently — campaigned publicly against what he perceives as a lack of ambition and drive within the African-American community. This last role has earned him considerable controversy, mitigated somewhat by sympathy after the murder of his only son, Ennis, in 1997.
In November 2013, Cosby did his first standup special in nearly 30 years, Far From Finished
, which aired on Comedy Central
. To date, this has been his last hurrah.
Starting in 2014 Bill Cosby came under fire after a string of sexual assault allegations (including drugging and rape). As of December 2014 Cosby had been accused by over 27 unrelated women. Cosby has yet to be convicted, but the allegations have doubtless had a large impact on his career, and the public's perception of him.
Tropes present in Cosby's work:
- Alliterative Family: See Theme Naming below. Cosby named all of his children with E-names.
- Aluminum Christmas Trees: A lot of people thought the "Chicken Heart Story" was a fakey Lights Out episode that Cosby made up for the routine. There was indeed an actual episode of Lights Out called "The Chicken Heart" and it actually was surprisingly rather creepy. Be sure to have your Jell-O prepared!
- American Accents: He has some traces of an urban Philly accent, most notably in how a lot of his "th" sounds change to "f" (e.g., "bafroom").
- American Football: When Cosby was still attending Temple University, he played fullback for their football team. However, he admits that all of the squads he played with were terrible.
- "Did you ever make your mother so mad that she forgot your name? 'Come here, Roy—uh Ralph—Roquefort— Rutabaga—what is your name, boy? And don't lie to me, 'cause you live here and I'll find out who you are! Take a stick and knock your brains out!'"
- Later in the same skit: "I used to think my father was an idiot because the man could not complete a full sentence... Now I understand ... had it've been a grown person, you'd have cursed: 'What the foul filth foul foul filth filth filth foul foul! And you're filth and foul!' But you talk to your child, you censor yourself, and you say, 'What the... Get your... I'll bust... Get outta my face!'"
- Answers to the Name of God: Inverted:
It was because of my father that, from the ages of 7 to 15, I thought that my name was Jesus Christ, and my brother, Russell, thought that his name was Dammit. "Dammit, will you stop all that noise?" And, "Jesus Christ, sit down!" One day, I'm out playing in the rain, and my father yelled, "Dammit, will you get back in here!" I said, "Dad, I'm Jesus Christ!"
- Berserk Button: African-Americans who freely use the "N word", idolize rappers and proliferate bad stereotypes; basically those who he feels have completely squandered what the African Americans (including himself) fought so hard for during the American Civil Rights Movement.
- Big "Shut Up!":
- Blazing Inferno Hellfire Sauce: The "Chinese Mustard" routine about the time when he took a girl to a Chinese restaurant as a teenager. Being broke, he attempted to get as much as he could for his money and dunked his entire egg roll in the mustard. His description of his reaction on biting into it is priceless.
- Brick Joke: "Natural Childbirth":
described what labor pains feel like. She said, 'Take your bottom lip and pull it over your head.'"
- Bring My Brown Pants: "Grandparents":
And mothers are always more interested in the condition of your underwear than your body if you're ever in an accident. And they tell you that; "I hope for my sake if you're ever in an accident, you have on clean underwear." Well, I thought that's what an accident was! Look; you're driving a truck. Here comes another truck, gonna hit you. Now, whether you hit the truck or not, you're going to have soiled underwear. Because first you say it, then you do it! Now comes your mother to the hospital: "Did he have on clean underwear?" "Yes, we found it in the glove compartment."
- Contractual Purity: In Far From Finished, he talks about a few of the reactions he got when telling people he was getting a special on Comedy Central. One grown man burst into tears and shouted "Mr. Cosby's gonna swear!", apparently having his childhood destroyed by the mere thought of it. Another guy was also really hoping and expecting him to swear to a creepy level. He doesn't actually swear in the special, perhaps because of one or both of these reactions.
- Cool Car: Played simultaneously for laughs and drama in the titular story of the album 200 MPH which, for bonus points, is a true story about his brief ownership of a Shelby Cobra Super Snake CSX 3303. Among other things, he describes it as trying to kill him while he was idling it in his own driveway.note
- Demon Head: His wife when he feeds his kids chocolate cake for breakfast.
"I've always heard about people having a 'conniption', but I'd never seen one. You don't wanna see 'em. My wife's face...split. The skin and hair split and came off of her face so that there was nothing except a skull. And orange light came out of her hair and it lit all around. And fire shot from her eye sockets and began to burn my stomach."
- Epic Rocking: Yes, he actually played this trope straight with the Badfoot Brown pair of albums; the former contains one song per side: "Martin's Funeral" on the first and "Hybish Shybish" on the second. Cosby wrote and played electric piano on these two songs.
- The Eponymous Show: A trademark, epitomised by The Cosby Show, of course.
- Fake Rabies: "Roland and the Rollercoaster" deals with his crazy friend Roland, who used to do things like keep soap chips in his mouth. When people think Roland's head has been turned around by the roller coaster (due to Roland wearing his clothes backwards), there is a throwaway line from someone seeing Roland: "And he's got the rabies!" It's a good Brick Joke as it usually takes the audience a few moments to remember the soap chips in the mouth (which was mentioned early on in a fairly long story).
- First Gray Hair: In Time Flies, he points out that he didn't mind the hair on his head turning gray, because he thought it made him look dignified. His pubic hair, on the other hand...
- Flanderization: The most popular media portrayal of Cosby (thanks to The Simpsons and Family Guy) is that of a gibbering, crazy old man.
- The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: The "Chicken Heart" story of the radio program Lights Out ends with the titular monster paying the audience a visit. "It's in your home state!" *bump-bump* *bump-bump* "It's outside of your door!" *bump-bump* *bump-bump* "And it's going to eat you up!" It scares Little Cos badly enough to both smear Jell-O all over the floor and set the sofa on fire.
- Gargle Blaster: The "Fernet Branca" routine. After mistakenly ordering a revolting dish of barbecued sparrow in Italy and forcing himself to eat it, he develops a roaring case of indigestion. He takes a drink of Fernet Branca (a liqueur with an intensely bitter flavor) to settle his stomach, with the following results:
Cosby: The bird saw what was coming and started running...and I started running!
- Grey Goo: Mentioned in a retelling of the old radio serial Lights Out and its "Chicken Heart" episode. The routine is probably far better known than the original audio drama.
- Happily Married: Bill and Camille, since 1964.
- Hilariously Abusive Childhood: At least according to his act. Dunno whether it actually was.
- Indecipherable Lyrics: Much of Cosby's forays into music have consisted of him doing this, including the theme song to his own The Bill Cosby Show as well as his Quincy Jones collaborations like "Hicky-Burr."
- Inflation Negation: Cosby has a stand-up routine in which he says that grandparents will give you money; all that you have to do is listen to a story about how much the money used to be worth. He quotes his grandfather saying that he once had 50 cents and bought "a house... and a car... and put 17 cents in the bank."
- Insane Troll Logic: "Chocolate Cake for Breakfast," wherein, having been woken out of a sound sleep to go feed the kids breakfast, he gives his kids the chocolate cake they clamour for after rationalizing that it's healthy for them — because, after all, it has wheat and eggs and milk. And when his wife demands to know why they are eating it for breakfast, his kids pipe up, "We asked for eggs and milk! AND DAD MADE US EAT THIS!!!" So his wife sends him to his room. Which is where he wanted to go in the first place.
- Ironic Echo:
- In the second part of the "Noah" three-part routine:
Noah's neighbor: Listen, what's this thing for, anyway?
Noah: I can't tell you. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!
Noah's neighbor: Well, I mean, can't you give me a little hint?
Noah: You want a hint?
Noah's neighbor: Yes, please.
Noah: How long can you tread water? Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!
- In the third part, when Noah's griping at God about all the hassle and ridicule he's gone through:
God: How long can you tread water?
- Ironic Echo Cut: In "Driving in San Francisco", after stopping on a hill so steep that he's afraid he'll roll backward as soon as he lets go of the brakes:
Cosby: Well, I don't want to let [the guy behind me] know I can't drive, so I say "Come around, idiot, come around!" but he can't hear me because he's busy telling the guy behind him, "Come around, idiot, come around!"
- Irony: Several times on the Revenge album:
- In the title track, Bill plans to hit Harold with a snowball, but Junior Barnes hits him with a slushball instead (prompting Bill to complain in much the same way Harold always does). Bill ends up saving a snowball in his freezer, but when he goes to use it against Junior Barnes in the middle of July, he discovers his mother had found it and thrown it away. (Undaunted, he spits on Junior Barnes instead.)
- In the second half of "Buck, Buck", Bill is taken in by a prank involving a statue of Frankenstein's monster. When he tries to help play the same prank on Fat Albert, it backfires on him: "I forgot I was behind him." Cue Fat Albert (described minutes earlier as weighing 2,000 pounds) trying to run away...and so terrified he doesn't even realise he's trampling Bill into the ground in the process.
- Then, they take Bill to the hospital and put him next to "a wino who was run over by two kids." In the previous track, "9th Street Bridge," Bill and Harold ran into a wino in the dark, mistaking him for a monster and trampling him as they ran away.
- Also in his first album (Bill Cosby Is a Very Funny Fellow...Right!): His football coach's pep talk prompts them to "really wanna smash together"; they run out and the door is locked.
- Jump Scare: "Well, listen, man. When the nurse leaves, I'll talk to you about that ice cream later... cause we're gonna eat a MESS of ice cream, Jack."
- Kids Shouldn't Watch Horror Films: His "Chicken Heart" routine. It culminates in him smearing Jell-O on the floor to trap the giant heart and setting the couch on fire, which his father slips on, breaking his arm.
- There's also the incident with the wino after they spend all night trying not to watch Frankenstein.
- Lamaze Class: The "Natural Childbirth" routine. Cosby seems to enjoy his role much more than his wife does, even doing "macho breathing" along with her and cheering, "Push 'em out, shove 'em out, waaay out!" Trying to apply this approach in the delivery room of the hospital, however, was rather less successful.
- Manipulative Editing: The album version of Himself is seriously chopped down from the actual performance. The entire skit on drugs is removed, and many of the other tracks are abridged. But perhaps the most egreious edits are: at one point, a flubbed line about "brain damage" (see below) is re-dubbed, and in the "chocolate cake for breakfast" skit, his accidental reference to being awakened at 4 AM instead of 6 has the correct time of "6 o'clock in the morning" looped in.
- MD Envy: In a skit from Wonderfulness describing the day he had his tonsils removed, the young Cosby addresses an orderly: "Hey, you! Almost a doctor!"
- "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer: Bill got annoyed with people constantly asking him if he really played football in college. He eventually created a whole routine about a Curb-Stomp Battle that Temple was on the receiving end of against rival school Hofstra just to prove he really played.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: In Himself, Bill suggests this is the attitude many fathers take towards things they don't want to do.
"Fathers are the geniuses of the house. Because only a person as intelligent as we could fake such stupidity. Think about your father! He doesn't know where anything is! You ask him to do something, he messes it up! ... That's a genius at work! Because he doesn't want to do it! And he knows someone will be coming soon to stop him from doing it!"
- One-Hit Wonder: In 1967, he had a #4 pop hit with "Little Ole Man (Uptight — Everything's Alright)."
- One-Winged Angel: Played straight:
"I've often heard of people having a conniption, but I'd never seen one. You don't wanna
see 'em! My wife's face...split. The skin and hair split and came off of her face so that there was nothing except the skull! And orange light came out of her hair and it lit all around! And fire shot from her eye sockets and began to burn my stomach! And she said, 'Where did they get chocolate cake from!?!?
- Precision F-Strike: Known for being very clean in his comedy both in the content and the language, but he will occasionally swear to emphasize a point. From "Himself":
"I asked a friend, 'What is it about cocaine that makes it so wonderful?' And he said 'Well, it intensifies your personality.' To which I responded, 'Yes, but what if you're an asshole?'
- Cosby also says "shit" at one point in that same skit, which is perhaps the only time he ever said that word onstage.
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: As part of his "Natural Childbirth" routine, when he talks about his wife actually giving birth:
- Recorded and Stand-Up Comedy: Which eventually turned into "sit-down comedy", as Cosby took to performing while seated in a chair.
- Revisiting the Roots:
- The Cosby Show was filmed in studios in Brooklyn and Queens, more closely matching the location of the story, rather than NBC's typical Los Angeles locations, on Cosby's insistence.
- My Father Confused Me — What Must I Do? contains a number of obscure routines which seem to delve into issues a bit more oriented to black life, including one about "dudes on dope." One telling example is an early version of "The Dentist" delivered quite differently than his more well-known Himself version.
- Role Ending Misdemeanor: In 2014, Cosby planned to return to NBC with a new sitcom. Once the project seemed to be heading to greenlight stage, over a dozen women came forward claming that Cosby had raped them years ago. The once devout fan base of Cosby began turning on him, and NBC, overwhelmed by public pressure, canceled the sitcom project before it could even reach development stage. Local stations and TV Land also began pulling reruns of The Cosby Show from the airwaves in response to the allegations, with the latter going as far as removing any mention of the show from their website.
- Running Gag: Throughout Bill Cosby: Himself, his kids answering nearly every question with, "I don't know." He refers to it as "brain damage".
- Secret Weapon: Buck Buck, a game about who can get dogpiled longer without falling down. Bill and his friends had crazy endurance, and so did the kids from "the rough part of town", (to the point of no-selling it)... thing is, those kids didn't have Fat Albert.
- Shoot the Medic First: The punchline to his "Medic!" routine on I Started Out as a Child.
- Shout-Out: A meta example. In a skit on Bill Cosby: Himself, Cosby uses his Mushmouth voice for a dentist patient who has just taken Novocain.
- Soundtrack Dissonance: The opening segment of Bill Cosby: Himself, on the original release, was a parody of Grover Washington Jr.'s "Just the Two of Us" sung by Cosby himself, titled "Just the Slew of Us". On the original VHS and 1990s cable releases, it was replaced with a slow, somber ballad called "It Was a Good Idea at the Time".
- Stop Being Stereotypical: In recent years he's been very outspoken about negative issues in the black community, including high rates of imprisonment, absent fathers, drugs, anti-intellectualism, etc.
- Suddenly Shouting: In "Bill Cosby: Himself", Cosby discusses having to make breakfast for his children at 6 AM. He randomly shouts certain words:
: So I got up. Needless to say, I was angry. And I went downstairs without putting on my robe. Standing there in my pajamas, and I'm talking to myself. I said, "Get these, go down and cook breakfast, but it's six o'clock in the morning", and I slam the pans down. Blam!
On the stove. I slam them down and go to the refrigerator and look around and I get to the damn bacon
and the sausage
, cooking breakfast, six oblam!!!
in the morning, and I grab the- you have to be careful with eggs. Got
! to have to cook breakfast
- Take That: In his "200 MPH" routine, he talks about when he bought a custom Cobra sports car from Cobra founder Carroll Shelby, that would go over 200 miles per hour. After a nearly lethal test drive that thoroughly unnerved Cosby (the engine was so powerful that Cosby felt as though he was taking his life in his hands when he drove it), he got as far away from the car as he could, and told the dealer, "Take the keys and this car, it's all paid for, and you give it to George Wallace."note
- Theme Naming: Cosby gave all five of his kids names beginning with E, supposedly for "excellence".
- This Is My Side: Figures prominently on the title track of To Russell, My Brother, Whom I Slept With. Even after Dad orders Bill and Russell to get out of bed and stand in their room for the rest of the night, Bill warns Russell not to move onto his side of the floor.
- Unishment: The "Chocolate Cake for Breakfast" routine. Bill screws up making breakfast so badly that his wife sends him to his room. Seeing as how it was 6 in the morning, and she had woken him up to make breakfast in the first place, Bill was more than happy to go. In fact, Bill even suggests he did that on purpose.
"So you see, we are dumb, but we are not so dumb. It takes great courage and work to keep from working."
- Vocal Dissonance: Whenever Cosby does a lower-pitched voice in his stand-up act, since it contrasts with his usual higher-pitched voice. An example is the dentist in the "numb mouth" sketch.
- When I Was Your Age:
- During Himself, Bill mentions that his parents have now become grandparents, and his father will willingly give out money to his grandchildren — but when Bill was his children's age, in response to any request for funds, the same man "would tell [Bill] his life story. And this man never told a happy story. For 50 cents, there never was happiness!" Among other things, Bill recalls his father saying something along the lines of the usual: "I had to walk five miles to school! Uphill! Both ways! In 5 feet of snow! And I was thankful!"
- Also, no matter how his father suffered, he'd always say, "And I was thankful to get it!" For 30 years, Bill claims his father told him, all he had to eat was dirt. "And I was thankful to eat that dirt!"
- At another point, Bill recalls asking his father for a dollar for his school picnic. His father replied by explaining how he once killed a grizzly bear with his loose-leaf notebook.
- Zany Scheme: During his "Street Football" routine:
Here's a guy with an ingenious mind. He'd call a football play like this...."Now, listen to this, now. Uh, Arnie, go down, uh, ten steps and cut left behind the black Chevy. Filbert, you run down to my house and wait in the living room. Cosby, you go down to 3rd Street, catch the "J" bus. Have him open the doors at 19th Street. I'll fake it to you." They always have one fat kid they never throw it to, says, "What about me?" He says, "You go long."
NOW YA SEE, THIS IS THE ENDING OF THE PAGE WITH ALL THE TROPES ABOUT OL' ME.