Bill Cosby's body of work is more recognizable and respected than most. You could say he's a bit of a legend--not every day you can talk to one of those. We're not bragging, OK, maybe we are a little, but with an upcoming show at the Cerritos Performing Arts Center on June 9th, we obviously jumped at the chance to talk to him. Aside from the obvious, we know that Mr. Cosby is ever the professional and a prompt man so when you're about to phone him, a word to the wise: Try your best to calm your nerves and call him two minutes early.
This iconic jack-of-all-trades has entertained generations of fans through his comedic works, with best-selling books, and with a plethora of TV roles and probably most notably as the dad we all wanted, Dr. Huxtable on "The Cosby Show." During our conversation with The Cos himself, we came prepared with a list of questions but we pretty much threw them to the wayside once that familiar voice started talking and indulged in a conversation that covered his past as well as topical media interests. Being that Mr. Cosby has one of the most interesting minds to pick as well as the fact that he is one of the best story tellers of our time, we pretty much just sat back and soaked it all in. Trust us, we're still giddy.
OC Weekly (Ali Lerman): If you could go back and give yourself advice as an up and coming comic, what would you tell yourself?
Bill Cosby: Well I already did it! It's on page 153, paperback, and it's called Cosbyology. Now listen, about four years ago, I met a nine-year-old male who did for me one of my performance pieces that I put on records called, "Monkey Bars." I met him with his family backstage and he performed it for me so without asking I said to the parents, "We're going to put him on the stage." They said, "Oh really?" I was like, "Yeah, yeah." So I go out and talk to the audience and then I brought him out and I sat while he performed the piece. He got the laughs and then I did my show. When I came off I called a friend of mine named Jimmy Heath who is a composer and said to him, "Jim, do you have any recordings of yourself when you began to play with bands in the early parts of you career when people began to offer you jobs?" He said, "Yeah I've got some tapes." I said, "I want you to go back and listen to yourself and you tell me if in the solos that you're playing, if you can judge that kid according to your ear listening as a professor. Not as in, what would you tell that young fellow what to do, but do you hear what this fellow is trying to do as a person who is talented?" So he did and he called me back and he said, "I listened." I said, "What did you hear?" He said, "Whoaaa! I heard this young man and I would be more than happy to give him some information if he wanted to call me but, he's going to be just fine." So when I heard this young man do my material "Monkey Bars" I thought, that's a good writer and these albums were in the first years of my career.
And they're timeless really because people still praise them. Do you have a favorite bit that you've written?
No. Favorite is not my word. These are things that I thought of and when I thought of them, I liked them because they made me feel good and I thought they were funny. So I had to give them to an audience. These things are gifts that I have and I perform them to give them to the people in the audience.
It must be an incredible feeling to know that so many people mention you when they talk about people who've inspired them.
It's a very good feeling to hear people say that they planned moments to listen to a performance on record or a DVD. And the identification with them is a lot stronger than they think because I did the same thing with Jonathan Winters. And I had no intention of getting into show business. So when they say, you inspired us, I'm identifying all the way! I know exactly what they're talking about and I'm happy to have done it!
Let's get off topic since I know you are a big fan of sports as am I. Do tell, any thoughts on athletes coming out?
Well for instance, today in the sports world we have had two males say that they are gay and according to ESPN they are getting, "great support."
Now I'm trying to understand what the "ummm well" is about.
Well it's just that Chris Broussard guy from ESPN seemed like he had a big issue. Although, I realize that everyone is entitled to their opinion...
Yes true. But with that, the question is, as a parent when can you sit with your child who has declared that he or she is gay? At some point they're talking about sex and being gay is more than having sex or wanting to be with another person. I mean, these people are sort of having a problem because they are imaging that they don't want to be touched by them or something and they're acting like a gay person doesn't have respect for them! The thing that the media is putting out there is that there are parents that find out, and then the media goes to these parents to say, "Your child is gay." Then these famous parents have a statement saying something like, we respect it and so forth and so on.
And even politicians have come out against gay people and then found out that their own child comes out to say they're gay! Then the politician has to turn around and say that they love the child very much. You know, it's quite interesting. But the question that's not answered is, does the grown person know when and how this occurred? Was it before puberty or after? I just find that it's still in this position of, if you take the sex out of it, when did this person become a "non-heterosexual?"
Some might say they've always known but let me ask you a follow-up on that. What if the media didn't act like such vultures and stopped highlighting preference? I mean, it really isn't any of our business who anyone lays down with behind closed doors anyway.
I think that you are correct and I know that Mrs. Cosby keeps saying, "Who cares?" And that is how it should be! Who cares? I mean, nobody jumps around saying, "Hey! I'm heterosexual!" So the choice of whether or not someone wants to play with somebody on a football field or in basketball is theirs. But I think a great deal of it has to do with the pressure that is stated in the humor or in the weakness of it all.
Agreed. The press has to get their story right? It's the same reason they rushed to find people crying in front of where their homes once stood in Oklahoma to ask them how they feel? You know how they feel! It's deplorable.
Oh yeah! An interview where you provoke and get deep into somebody crying about something shows the real emotion. But now they also like to turn it around and say, just because he was crying doesn't mean they were telling the truth.
So true. Let me first say that I've never heard you say this but, regarding female comics, do you happen to have an opinion on comedians being funnier because they are a particular gender?
I don't know what you are referring to. What makes you ask that?
The short version is that Jerry Lewis has now mentioned a couple of times that female comics aren't funny. He's not the only one who's said it, but it's made the news once again. So do you have an opinion on female comics?
No. As a matter of fact about forty years ago, I had a variety show and I had a staff of about six or seven writers. There was this one woman and I pulled her aside because I wasn't in charge of the writers. I said to her, "I'm looking for you to bring up a female view point of something interesting." And she was not able to do it. I think she was brought up in a time where there was some kind of a block or something. I have always enjoyed listening to females viewpoints.
I've always felt that you've had a lot of respect for women because of the way you talk about your wife. I think we all know Mrs. Cosby is the one who really wears the pants in the family.
[Laughs.] Well I also have four daughters!
OK, let's lighten this up. If you had a dollar for every time someone mentioned Jell-O Pudding Pops daily, how much money do you think you'd have?
Ohhhh Jell-O Pudding Pops! I'd have pretty close to $2,000 dollars. That's a lot of people a day! You can make them at home you know.
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As a fan of on-line shopping, I will be looking into that. I'm glad you're making your way back to Orange County as well.
In terms of my performance at the Cerritos Performing Arts Center, by the time I get the audience in there, those people are fans. If they've never seen me in person, for sure they've seen "Billy Cosby: Himself." Then they know that, "Dad is great, give us the chocolate cake!"
Bill Cosby performs at the Cerritos Performing Arts Center on June 9th, 12700 Center Court Drive Cerritos, CA 90703., (562) 916-8501. For tickets go to www.cerritoscenter.com. For more info, visit www.BillCosby.com and follow him on Twitter: @BillCosby.