Bill Cosby Himself

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This concert film, which holds a camera on a mostly-seated Cosby at all times (disregarding the audience) and has a strange backdrop that keeps changing color, has some fine moments — “Chocolate Cake for Breakfast,” “Dentists,” and a terrific one-way conversation between a drunk and a toilet: “Thank you, toilet bowl…thank you for being so cool on the side…only you understand me, toilet bowl…” But it’s clear that Cosby has lost something vital to his original appeal. In his early work, he turned childhood memories into surreal magic, and “Chicken Heart,” though it owes its inspiration to the Arch Oboler program, bids fair to being Cosby’s true tombstone piece.

But here Cosby’s a father of five, and he breaks faith with those who enjoyed his raps about being a kid. Now he’s a baffled parent trying to make sense of children who, he keeps repeating, have “brain damage.” So a lot of the material comes off as mean-spirited (and in hindsight chilling, as when his furious wife demands that he “kill the boy” — Ennis, shot dead in 1997). The audience stiffens with embarrassment when Cosby admits he wanted his first child to be a boy (“May your foist child be a masculine child,” eh, Luca Brasi?) and was disappointed when it wasn’t. (It’s jock thinking — he wants a football hero, not a son.)

Earlier, Cosby makes fun of druggies, clearly considering himself superior to them — unlike Richard Pryor, who made us see the humanity in junkies, because he was one. Cosby’s bit about the drunk and the toilet plays nicely, because he gives the impression that, like many of us, he’s been there. But too much of the film is Cosby passing judgment, as if comedy weren’t good enough any more; he also has to tell us a thing or two. As he later did on his smash Cosby Show and in his dotage as a sermonizing lecturer on black responsibility, he turns himself into a flatulent moralizer dedicated to our improvement. The tone becomes didactic and insulting.

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Explore posts in the same categories: comedy, concert film, overrated

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