Bill Cosby still himself at Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center
The comedy of Bill Cosby has - and always will -reflect his life story.
From growing up as one of the "Cosby Kids" in Philadelphia, raising five children with wife Camille, to becoming a grandfather, the legendary comedic entertainer relies on personal experience to connect with his audience. "Bring your mother, father, sister and brother and in my show I'm really talking about them and they realize I'm talking about them when they look at each other and laugh," he said during a recent phone interview.
For example, the 76-year-old is baffled by the concept of native northerners like himself wintering in Florida.
"I don't understand people who make their money [here] and become snowbirds to wear Gucci shoes," he quipped.
On Sunday, Cosby brings his familybased, observational comedy act to the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center. His stand-up routine is part of Mahaiwe's annual gala celebration to raise money for the historic theater.
The 7:30 p.m. event will also pay tribute to Louis J. Allegrone, president of Allegrone Companies of Pittsfield. The fourth-generation family-owned business completed renovation of the Mahaiwe in 2005 and is restoring two historic commercial/ residential buildings in downtown Pittsfield.
Cosby developed his standup style on the club scene in the 1960s, garnered a comedy album deal after appearing on "The Tonight Show" and made his acting debut a historic one.
The former navy serviceman broke network television's color barrier becoming the first African-American to co-star in a series, "I Spy," with the late Robert Culp from 1965-1968.
Cosby continued to making television with his Emmy Award-winning cartoon "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids," based on his childhood in Philadelphia. The animated weekly-show launched Cosby's career of producing several educational, as well as entertaining, programs.
Cosby's ultimate tribute to the American family was "The Cosby Show" that ran eight seasons on NBC from September 1984 to April, 1992.
The half-hour sitcom about the Huxtables, an upper-middle class black family, mirrored the make-up of Cosby's own household at the time of four daughters and a son.
"The Cosby Show" dominated the television ratings and helped pave the way for other African-American centric shows such as "In Living Color" and "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" which helped launch Will Smith's acting career. Yet, Cosby is most proud of his bread and butter - standup comedy.
In 1983, "Bill Cosby, Himself" became the standard by which comedy concert movies are measured.
Filmed in Ontario, Canada, Cosby sat alone on a barren stage, clutching the microphone, occasionally flashing that trademark big smile of his, as he hilariously put into perspective the American family based on his childhood and being a father.
Cosby recalls how the concert movie earned him big praise from another American comedic icon, Jerry Lewis.
"I remember Jerry Lewis was trying to get my phone number and when he did he called me and said the film was one of the funniest things he'd ever seen," he said.
Cosby's current standup performance is a mix of classic material as well as more recent observations such as being a grandfather, building off his famous routine about the "Curse of Parenthood."
"Why do your parents keep begging for grandchildren? Because they want you to have the curse too," he said. "As a grandparent, you're also wishing to get small children who behave the way you dreamt about when you and your wife raised your own."
Cosby's humor also delves into various stages of adult life in America without using adult language.
He lets the content, not the words, and his expressions on stage generate the laughs and smiles from his fans.
"When you lean on bad words - profanity it can cause people not to focus on the story," he said. "You really don't have much to talk about when you use foul language."
A transplanted New Englander, Cosby aligns himself with other "clean-cut" comics such as Rita Rudner, who played the Mahaiwe in August. Rudner, 60, has also made a career of turning family experience into a very funny stand-up act that has become a staple on the Las Vegas strip.
Cosby wondered what would happen if the two performed a duet.
"I think if you had both of us together we would act like mates - finishing each other's sentences," he said.
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