Saturday, September 10, 2011

Be Yourself: "Bill Cosby: Himself" (1983)

Bill Cosby wrote and directed a concert film that provided enough material to launch his most successful sitcom.

The stage features Cosby, a chair, a microphone, and nothing else. He is caught on film in a Canadian concert, and sometimes acknowledges the audience. While Cosby is alone on the stage, but he populates his routine with more characters than a David Lean film, all of them memorable.

He opens with perhaps the funniest anti-drug and anti-alcohol rant ever done, more effective than the "just ask" ads on airwaves today. He visits his dentist. He and his wife decide to have children, producing four daughters and a son. He covers childbirth, raising these "brain damaged" children, and his parents' reactions. He closes with a riff on living with his own parents, perhaps the funniest twenty minutes ever filmed at a live concert.

Unless you are a toothless test tube orphan virgin, you will find something to associate with during the film, and this is why "Bill Cosby: Himself" is my all-time favorite comedy concert film. Cosby does not tell us how difficult it is to be rich, how tough kicking addictive narcotics is, or how to make up stupid nursery rhymes using profanity. He simply spins his tales, and the audience and viewer is able to find the humor in the universal themes.

I have two sons, ages three and seven, and I sympathized with everything that goes into being a father. I have one sister and two brothers, and sympathized with everything that went into being a bratty sibling. I have been to the dentist, I have been out having fun on the weekend "because I deserved it," and dragging back into work, happy to be alive. Bill Cosby knows his audience is full of pretty average people, and vividly illustrates his routine using "characters" we all know.

A reviewer here once said "The Cos proves himself a master storyteller and a hilarious comic." He is much more than that. In the intervening twenty years since this film was released, his only son was brutally murdered. He has starred in numerous television series, some successful and some not. He has become controversial, speaking his mind on the civil rights movement that he has fought for. He is a master storyteller, he is a hilarious comic, but he is also human. He is one of us. He may have more money and fame, but I would rather have a conversation with Cosby over Chris Rock any day.

"Bill Cosby: Himself" is proof positive that talent will get you everywhere. (* * * * *) out of five stars.