The Arkansas Times recently spoke with legendary comedian and actor Bill Cosby in advance of his April 1 performance at Robinson Center Music Hall.
Arkansas Times: How would you describe the style of your humor?
Bill Cosby: A friend sitting with friends. Storytelling. Identification, and being very, very specific about making the listener see and understand exactly what I’m talking about.
How has your style changed over the years?
In my young years, in my 20s, 30s and 40s, I would go out and plant my feet to destroy. I’d just not let them breathe. Now, it’s the appreciation, it’s like — the difference between eating great barbecue with the fingers and the sauce and mixing the coleslaw with the French fries and the beans, and the meat at the same time for flavors. Now it’s gourmet time, and there’s an appreciation of getting the tastes for everything, and maybe taking longer to eat, but tasting more. So there are smiles and then there’s conversation. There’s reality, there’s laughter and there’s a lot of face hurting. Because the people are laughing, and laughing hard.
You were a young man when the Little Rock Nine were sent to Central High School. What do you remember about that event? How did it make you feel?
I do think that, when one looks at those photographs, of those angry people … when I look at them, and their faces, where they’re yelling at those children, I see an anger that, although controlled, if not controlled, could really and truly do bodily and physical harm. Because they’ve been taught something, and they’re sick. [Now,] one can see that publicly, in voting, that the numbers have changed. But there’s still this sickness, so that we have the youngsters who have come along … in politics that are still trying to take away the voting rights of black people while looking like they are not really aiming at them.
It’s going on 10 years since your "pound cake" speech. A lot of people loved and a lot of people hated what you had to say in 2004. Would you make the same speech today?
There’s a fellow, his name is Earl Lloyd, who wrote a very wonderful book [“Moonfixer: The Basketball Journey of Earl Lloyd”]. He tells a story that goes with my pound cake story. As a kid he came home, and his mom says, “Where have you been?” She says, “You’ve been out there with those boys,” speaking of the boys who stand on the corner and do nothing, then go off and do something, and get into trouble. She says, “I don’t want you with those boys.” And he says, “But mom, I wasn’t doing anything.” Mom says, “If you’re not in the picture, you can’t be framed.” You want to save your child’s life then you teach your child: ‘You leave those things alone. You are more valuable than a slice of pound cake.’ Now anybody who doesn’t like that, I just feel sorry for them.
Your business is understanding how to make people laugh. So who are some people — or movies, shows, whatever — that make you laugh?
I will take everything you just asked and change it. I just had a laugh yesterday … that was so hard that tears ran, that the left and right side of my body burned. Well, it was because my grandchildren, three of them, had come to the house and they wanted me to be the monster. So it’s after dinner, and here they come, and all I do is just walk. I don’t walk like Frankenstein or anything, I just walk, and they run.
So this particular evening, I was just walking around, and I went upstairs. This one granddaughter, I guess she had just totally forgotten, and she came out of the bedroom and turned around, and she turned and saw me, and lost all vocabulary. I think, had she been a paramecium, she would have split. Her left leg was going left, her right leg was going right. And I lost it. I lost it, and, last night, while sitting in the bed, my wife is sitting across from me in our bedroom. And I started to describe it to her, and lost it again, and my wife started laughing, and our daughter started laughing. There was a confusion of whether they were laughing at me, just laughing, or whether they really saw the picture. Either way, it was one of the best ones I’ve had in quite a while.
Bill Cosby will perform at Little Rock’s Robinson Center Music Hall, April 1 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $34-$81.