Bill Cosby took the sold out crowd at Centerstage for a ride Friday night. As the elder statesman of comedy told meandering stories about his childhood and adolescence, he took off his shoes, crawled on the floor, knocked over a tissue box and just when you thought he forgot where he was going, you were there. And yes, getting there was half the fun.
Much of the power of Cosby's act can't be transcribed. He's still the man who was known around Richmond before his career took off as "the guy with the faces." Cosby's facial contortions convey sadness, joy and fear more than his words ever could. When he does use words, he doesn't have to say much to get a laugh. An example from Friday night: "When you have a lot of brothers and sisters ... There's always one you hate." That one killed.
Cosby stories about his younger days were as humorous as they were suspect. He admitted as much after a lengthy tale about an attractive young girl named Bernadette, with whom he spent an afternoon with after taking a cologne bath (it was his fourth). To make a long story short, Bernadette's father wasn't impressed and Cosby abandoned his pursuit of her along with some prized Miles Davis records he brought along for the occasion.
"Doug told me that story," Cosby said, referring to former governor L. Douglas Wilder, who was in the audience. "And I took it!"
"It's true! He remembers everything!" Wilder said to an observer.
In the twilight of his career, Cosby has regressed thematically. After becoming famous for his animated stories about growing up in Philadelphia with his pet rhinoceros, the imminent threat of the chicken heart and a kid named Fat Albert, Cosby shifted his focus of his material to parenthood in the 1980s. That ultimately led to the "The Cosby Show," which cemented his presence in popular culture as America's father. Now the comedian has returned to his roots and is talking about being a kid again. Indeed, the title of his latest book is "I Didn't Ask to be Born, But I'm Glad I Was."
Cosby picked the only person who could possibly open for him to do the job -- himself. The comedian strode onstage after several minutes of Cosby interviewing people in a studio setting, making fun of them and making them laugh, along with the audience.