Bill Cosby has been many things in his 75 years on Earth. Sunday afternoon at the Baton Rouge River Center Theatre, the TV star, comedian and author most of all was a storyteller.
During a two-hour show that ranged from raising children to being raised in World War II-era Philadelphia to the Bible’s story of Adam and Eve to dining in Baton Rouge, Cosby told rib-tickling, detail-rich, wise stories. Funny facial expressions, voices, lively gestures and physical comedy all came into play.
If a story needed it, Cosby played multiple characters. During an account of a misunderstanding between himself at 16 and his mother, Anna Cosby, the comic played himself, his mother and father, his friend the Jackson boy and, the source of the misunderstanding, his well-intentioned grandfather.
One section of the story featured a laugh-inducing sequence in which no intelligible words were actually spoken. Cosby portrayed himself as a teenager sitting in his room, listening to the muffled conversation his mother and father were having downstairs.
Like a great jazz player improvising wordless musical dialogue, Cosby reproduced his parents’ obscured communication by making sounds that approximated words. Even without words, the conversation’s deeper meaning somehow was communicated.
Technically speaking, the 75-year-old Cosby doesn’t do standup comedy these days. He spent his two-hour show seated in a simple chair placed beside a small table. Although he doesn’t pace the stage floor like Chris Rock or other younger comics he’s influenced, Cosby’s comedy and storytelling are extraordinarily fluent.
Cosby walked on the River Center stage at 2 p.m., dressed informally in a white LSU shirt and black slacks.
“I want all of you to thank your pastors for letting you come here this Sunday, and for letting you miss that third sermon,” he said.
Zeroing in on something dear to Baton Rouge, the comic told his audience that he knows how the LSU Tigers football team won its Saturday game against South Carolina’s Gamecocks. A master of the delayed punch line, he didn’t reveal the secret behind the victory right away.
First of all, Cosby mentioned the meal he’d had Saturday in Baton Rouge. Red beans and dirty rice, sausage, a corn muffin, crawfish pie. Or was it praline fish pie?
Cosby thought he’d had enough of the rich, voluminous servings of Louisiana food, but then his taste buds demanded that he keep eating.
“I sopped and mopped and ate some of the paper,” he confessed.
And then he went to sleep, for a long, long time. He didn’t awaken until they woke him up to do Sunday’s show at the River Center.
So, if the visiting Gamecocks players ate the way visiting entertainer Cosby did, they, too, could be rendered unconscious for hours. The food in Baton Rouge has anesthetic powers, Cosby said.
“This entire city is dangerous!” he said. “And the food has ether in it.”
Cosby also condensed the challenges of being a parent into masterfully shaped anecdotes.
“Mothers are like lawyers,” he said. “Better yet detectives. They ask you questions that they already know the answers to.”
And mothers never forget an offense, especially his mother.
“You could do something in July and she would get you for it in September,” he said.
After being on stage for more than 90 minutes, Cosby asked the audience up front what time it was. And then he told one more story, maybe the best of the afternoon. A national treasure, his comedic genius remains undimmed.