We recently had the opportunity to interview the great Bill Cosby, and we asked him about his upcoming show at Kupferberg Center for the Arts in April, why he has had such a successful and long career, as well as what he feels is important for families as our local communities begin to rebuild after Sandy.
Leni Calas: Through our volunteer efforts, we’ve seen entire communities wiped out as a result of Sandy. You’re an authority on parenting and by many people’s standards incredibly well respected. In your opinion, how does a family unit play a part in the rebuilding effort in urban parenting communities?
Bill Cosby: There’s a need to readjust and count on each other. A simple thing like your children, parents, friends, elders – you’ve all got to get a restructuring of responsibility for things that are required to survive. I think the readjustment in ones mind to keep from being so depressed that you don’t want to think about patience, and I mean patience as in time; things take time. And I think there’s a great deal of anger management that one has to apply to oneself.
LC: That’s an interesting point. This next question is slightly in a different direction, but still about community and parenting. My impression is most men aren’t afraid of anything, except their mothers. I was wondering if you knew of any specific roles mothers could play- since we are a large group of mothers- not only in under-served communities but also in times of stress.
BC: You look at your mother because most of us spend more time with mom. This is a person who, generally more than a father, picks us up, clothes us, feeds us, and solves our problems, and in that you look at a father and he is a different kind of strength. She will take on many roles, especially if she is a single parent, as well as the grandmother, as well as the aunt- they all pitch in.
LC: Moving on to something more lighthearted- I have some questions about your upcoming performances. You’ve done so much with your life, in your amazing career, I was wondering if there was anything you would’ve liked to do that was completely different or if there was something else you really wanted to do?
BC: In retrospect, I think that my life has almost identified what I would do, and if I followed my strengths, I would be this or I’d be a school teacher. The reality is that [if I were a school teacher] I would be retired, and that makes me very happy to be in “show business.”
LC: That leads me to my next question: you’ve spanned so many generations, how do you think that you continue to be relevant and draw audiences and have people wanting to hear what you have to say and are interested in seeing you perform?
BC: [I've made] a genuine attempt to make the reader feel the experience I was going through, like when I pulled my own tooth.
I was in freshman remedial English, and the professor read it to the class, and my second one was an attempt at identification, not something we can all identify with, although the title of it was “Procrastination (The Perfect Point).” I was just writing about how I didn’t want to get started with my studying assignments and the professor also read that. I received A’s for ideas and C- for the mistakes in grammar and syntax. That gave me the confidence to continue writing what I thought and also the confidence to dig “deeper” into finding things more complex to write about. And then I began to simply. But the reality for me was the connection with having the reader totally understand the picture I was drawing.
LC: My next question is again about your career – comedians now are using the internet to parody themselves and do experimental work. Do you have any desire or plans to do work like that?
BC: I’ve done that. If you play my albums you’ll see I’ve parodied, and played a pun of a “60’s human being” playing Noah and having a conversation with God about building an ark. The internet is something that becomes very important and you write whatever you want in any style- there’s no bad marks for grammar or structure. That’s what the internet is about. It’s about having freedom, and it’s also about the fact that you don’t have to fact-check. You can let it fly. It’s an unstructured suit; an unstructured floppy hat.
In 1967, I think, I did an article for Playboy- it’s called “The Regular Way.” I wrote the piece on purpose and it was telling a story. The flow, punctuation, everything was unstructured- not a free form ad-lib, but an unstructured thinking and storytelling on paper. I think that piece happens to be a wonderful piece of a boy moving through puberty. I did it at a time where it’s almost as if I broke a window and ran because what you said in those days and what was meant, it was sort of avant garde.
LC: You’re the original risk taker.
BC: The thing I like about that is in order to be a risk taker, you have to really believe that whatever it is you’re risking has to be done because it’s something useful.
LC: You’re coming to Queens in April- can you give us a preview of what we can expect from your show?
BC: Well, the only thing I can say is the first ticket buyers will be people who know me from performing, and others will be attending because they want to see Bill Cosby from The Huxtables, and then some from ISpy, etc. The main thing is I come out and sit down, and I begin to tell stories. The aim is to cause good, solid laughter, and we are going to have FUN.
A special thank you to Mr. Cosby for speaking with us, and for such an insightful interview.