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The Great and Masterful Cos

Less angry old man and more a genial curmudgeon, Bill Cosby applies a master’s wit to humorous stories in performance


Far from the “angry old man” depicted by an admiring Chris Rock in conversation with Jerry Seinfeld in the documentary “Comedian,” Bill Cosby, seen April 4 at Caesar’s in Atlantic City, has become an avuncular old man of comedy, now performing mostly seated from a big easy chair center stage.

Cosby’s mind and his comedy writing are as sharp as they ever were, and in some pieces, he is animated and energized by acting out the story. One of the few occasions he got out of the chair, was to tell a story from three decades ago or more, taking his young children out to a Christmas tree farm and getting stuck trying to cut down a tree in the snow with a tiny ineffective saw. Cosby got down on the floor, stretched out sideways to mime cutting the base of the tree, as other events occur around him in the telling.

Just as he did in this story, Cosby does like to play the part of a curmudgeon, though, reveling in a couple other stories involving characters in the small town outside of Boston he’s lived in for many years. He sets these stories up like shaggy dog tales, drawing out the storytelling and language like a jazz musician for minutes on end before delivering the end of the story that is only nominally a punch line. In one, Cosby seeks the secret recipe to his longtime handyman’s renowned turkey stuffing. In another Thanksgiving-related story, he delights in asking his butcher a long tortured question about what part of the turkey is where turkey bacon comes from.

Being 70, Cosby also can marvel at the miracle of erectile dysfunction pills -- “Even in my prime, I was never a 240-minute man” and their pitfalls, like getting stuck in the “on” position -- “There’s no way my wife’s going to drive me to the emergency room. Or pack it in ice.”

In closing, Cosby re-told a “greatest hit,” his 25-plus-year-old routine about going to the dentist [from the "Himself" special], complete with a speech effect mimicking a numbed lip and jaw. Being seated, though, maybe actually made this piece even more effective than it originally was because it put the audience in mind of actually being in a dentist’s chair as Cosby told it, as though he was looking up to the dentist and off to the spit sink on the side.

To see Cosby at work really is to behold a master, because he starts his performance so low-key, on this night bantering about Temple University in the NCAA basketball tournament, but then gets into the rhythm of his stories, where every pause and sound effect clearly has its place, but are all tied together in such a way that they seem like an effortless monologue about friends and neighbors delivered from a rocking chair on a small-town porch.

   

   

     

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