When Bill Cosby returns to the UT stage Sunday night, his reputation will precede him. The legendary comedian has been to UT many times. He has a UT sweater. He has UT socks. He is an honorary member of the football team and the women’s track team. But Bill Cosby’s career has not been a 100-meter dash. With a legacy in show business that spans five decades, Cosby has proved to be more of a long-distance runner.
The comedian, now 75, has a gruff and grandfatherly manner that accompanies his slow-spoken but sharp humor. Unlike many comedians today, who Cosby said concentrate too much on getting to the punch line fast and delivering comedy quickly, Cosby eases slowly into funny.
“You can’t get a fast food performance here,” Cosby said. “You are going to marinate, to smile and forget about ‘Is this hip or not?’ You are going to get lost in a world of smiling, in identification. Forget about being hip.”
Based on his body of work, Cosby has never been very concerned with being hip. From his early stand-up career to his time on the popular sitcom, “The Cosby Show,” his subject material has concentrated on family, the follies of young adults and raising children, not exactly edgy stuff. But what Cosby’s material lacks in trendiness, it makes up for in timelessness. His fan base spans over three generations, and his comedy has earned him legendary status in show business.
Cosby, however, is not entirely comfortable with his iconic position in the world of comedy.
“Many people will say, ‘You’re a legend,’ and I say, ‘Okay, 40,000 fathoms under the sea is a legend,’” Cosby said. “It’s brand new for me, so I feel that it means old. Old and museum-like, like a ghost.”
He is coming to terms with the label of “icon” or “legend” as he recognizes what it means to be respected and appreciated for one’s work. However, he wants to distinguish the notion of legend from the notion of relic.
“I don’t want [people] to think that because I’m 75, that [they are] going to get a crotchety [performance],” Cosby said. There is a difference between old and timeless, and while Cosby described his performances as something the audience may have seen in their childhood with their parents, his comedy is still on point and relevant.
Although his work stays true to time-tested subjects, Cosby has had no problem staying current in today’s world of social media and constant digital news. He has embraced social media on almost every platform.
Unlike many members of his generation, Cosby has a Facebook page, a Twitter account and a YouTube page, in addition to his website. He is active on all of these sites, posting comments, videos and pictures, although much of the time the exact same thing is posted on all four media portals.
“In show business I have to find the people,” Cosby said, explaining why he chose to venture onto so many social media sites. “I have to tell the people where I am and then hope they remember the icon part without seeing the ghost and get excited.”
On Sunday Cosby returns to Austin to perform his stand-up act at Bass Concert Hall. The audience might see an icon, a man with a killer sense of timing and a knack for storytelling, or they might see a ghost, the man who used to be on “The Cosby Show” and “Fat Albert.” One thing is certain: They are going to see a man dedicated to performing who has given no indication of stopping any time soon.
“Fifty years. Wow,” Cosby said about his career. “But it could very well be 80 years. If I am still thinking and if the timing is still there ... it has to go somewhere, and until I am taken or stopped by Mrs. Cosby, I accept speaking and performance to cause laughter and entertainment.”
Printed on Friday, October 26, 2012 as: Cosby hits fresh, new punch lines