There's no such thing as interviewing Bill Cosby -- you simply experience Bill Cosby. Everything he says or does is either a comedy bit or a life lesson. When calling the 77-year-old comedian, who will perform two shows on Saturday at The Paramount in Huntington, he was grappling with some technical difficulties.
"I'm having ph-o-o-o-o-ne problems," Cosby says in his signature tone. "Verizon and other associated facilities cannot figure out why the line is dropping calls. The problem is underground somewhere. Maybe some animal is chewing on the rubber and likes the smell of it."
And so the adventure begins.
The way you approach stand-up is different from any other comedian. How did you develop your style?
I started out different. I was given the great fortune of a scholarship for track to Temple University. They put me in remedial English where I wrote two compositions. The professor read both papers to the class. All I was doing was writing so that the reader would understand what I felt, tasted and smelled plus my facial reactions and fears. This opened up a feeling that I can do things that authors are doing. Many of these things turned out to be the funny stories that you guys heard on my albums. My first album, "Bill Cosby Is a Very Funny Fellow ... Right!," was mostly written in the classroom at Temple University. God bless that professor who read my papers out loud because I don't think I would have been motivated to continue on. He said to the class, "I want you all to know that this is what I'm looking for."
What made you always work clean?
BEATINGS! If I used profanity my mother would rip me apart in the house, man. I didn't have a choice. I used the word "hell" one time in a routine. I was performing at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia -- sold out -- this was big time. Aunt Lil and mom were sitting in the fifth row. After the show, I went backstage and there was my mother and Aunt Lil saying, "We need to talk to you!" Don't forget I'm still living in the house with her. I got $7,500 for that night and I'm giving her the check. She punched me on the chest and said, "You will keep your nasty mouth to yourself!"
You sit down in a chair on stage when you do your comedy. How did that start?
The day sitting down was born was at Harrah's in Lake Tahoe sometime in the '70s. I walked out and it was a dinner show -- 750 people were sitting down eating. I got a chair and sat down, not to mock them but to join them. I even added a table after a while.
You are known as a comedy legend. Does that put pressure on you when you go on stage?
Before I was a legend I was "Who is this guy?" My theory was to go out, plant my feet and when I leave the stage they will want to know, for a good reason, who I am. I consider myself to be like John Coltrane. I'm going to give you everything I have and when I leave I know that I will have put it all together. That's the part that comes with experience.
This year you celebrated 50 years of marriage with your wife, Camille. What inspiring marital advice can you give the young husbands of America?
Let's pretend that you have climbed past Mount Everest searching for truth. You come to this place. The wind is blowing, it's cold and there's a cave. You enter the cave. Inside there are torches lighting the way. All the way in the back you can see him, there's Bill Cosby sitting in his chair. You say to him, "I have come for marital wisdom." Cosby responds, "DO WHAT YOU ARE TOLD!" and the lights went out.
At what point did that wisdom kick in for you?
In the 49th year.
Because your family is so involved in your act what is their reaction to the material?
The kids come up to me and say, "Dad, we heard you are using stories about us in your act and people are laughing." I say, "Yeah." They say, "We want more money." So I have to give them more money. My wife wants even more than the children, and she also requests that I ... "DO WHAT I'M TOLD!"
I heard that you were going to return to TV. Is that true?
Yes, that is going to happen and it's going to be absolutely brilliant. I think time has come for us to have a half-hour family show that's not corny or stiff but loose and funny where people can understand what we are doing. It's like I said in Fat Albert, "If you pay attention, you just might learn something."
You and Jimmy Fallon seem to have a great rapport. How do you guys click?
I love working with Jimmy. When I stand and I turn my back to him he knows that I know it's OK to imitate me because we are working to make the audience laugh. The audience loves that because it's all ad-lib. We are winging it from the time I step out there. I feel comfortable, and so does he. We respect each other, and we respect the audience.
WHEN|WHERE 5:30 and 8:45 p.m., Saturday, The Paramount, Huntington
INFO $59.50-$99.50; 800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com
Perplexed by the 'Dad' label
Bill Cosby's most beloved character throughout the course of his career remains Dr. Cliff Huxtable from "The Cosby Show," an obstetrician who raised five kids in a Brooklyn brownstone and offered calm, fatherly advice delivered with a warm sense of humor.
"Essentially, Cliff Huxtable was a fellow that the audience loved," Cosby says, "but I was just using things that made sense to me."
Although he was crowned "America's Dad" by the media, Cosby was puzzled by the label.
"I rejected being called 'America's Dad' because I felt that's a TV dad, but in real life I don't know how Cliff maintains a sense of humor in tragedy," says Cosby. "Plus, keep in mind we paid the actors who played my children to do what they were told."