Bucking the critic’s ethos, this one was just for me.
Onstage was a performer who’s not new. Not hot. Not trending on Twitter.
Onstage was Bill Cosby.
Sure, his legend precedes him—notably, I Spy and The Cosby Show (the latter responsible for my biggest professional near miss, when I reported from the series’ Queens, New York, set in 1986 and almost got to interview Cosby before a studio security guard thwarted me from following the star into the men’s room.)
And it’s a vintage Cosby routine—about trying to talk to his dentist while numbed up with Novocain—that I refuse to listen to while driving because I laugh so hard that tears cloud my eyes and I can’t see oncoming traffic. (Find it on the DVD, Bill Cosby: Himself.)
Even so, anticipating seeing the 77-year-old Cosby last week during one of his periodic drop-ins at TI—and after catching some of his more-laconic-than-usual late-night appearances with Jimmy Fallon in recent years—I worried that his standup reflexes would have slowed considerably.
Silly me. Cosby is Cosby-ier than ever.
Delivered in one of the most-caricatured styles in American comedy history (Fallon’s Cosby impression is one of the best), this icon’s rhythms are still comforting in their warmth and familiarity. Ditto his material, which, though tweaked over the years, remains squarely in his parents-and-kids/husbands-and-wives/battle-of-the-sexes wheelhouse.
Yet what is even more retro-assuring about Cosby is his direct, no-fuss approach to comedy. Once it was merely a trademark for him. Now it’s a lifeline for us—back to the basics of being entertained in an era when noise, tricks, affectations and spectacle so often gum up the purity of performance.
There he was, on the stage that mostly hosts the frenetic acrobatics of Mystère, in his signature setup: Cosby plopped on a chair (and wearing a shirt printed with “Hello Friends” in rainbow letters), a monitor above him enlarging his famous mug—mock-exasperated from his observations of human behavior one moment; twinkly with the mischievousness of a big kid the next.
One spotlight beamed down, enveloping him like a campfire glow, with all of us gathered around him like children enthralled by a master storyteller.
So easygoing. And utterly relatable. No compulsive pacing around the stage. No high-tech touches, or music or video. And—true to his career-long philosophy—no profanity as a cheap crutch. Just a man: endearing and conversational, drawing us into his avuncular orbit.
Then leaving us with a full belly of laughs.
Strip reviewers live in a cacophonous bubble that can take its toll. (Let’s just say I have a cache of Excedrin Migraine in my medicine cabinet for post-show purposes.) Every so often, a performer reminds me of how remarkably simple and thoroughly satisfying entertainment can be in the hands of someone who doesn’t need more than his talent.
He sits. He talks. He makes us happy.
No, Bill Cosby is not The Next Big Thing. He’s not even The Last Big Thing.
He’s just The Lasting Thing.
Bill Cosby next performs at Treasure Island on Sept. 26. TreasureIsland.com.
Got an entertainment tip? Email Steve.Bornfeld@VegasSeven.com.