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Bill Cosby's "Far From Finished" Comedy Central special

Sun Nov 17, 2013 6:07 pm

Airs 11/23 at 8PM & it'll be on DVD 11/26: ... B00EYA6VGY ... 0739418442

At 76, Bill Cosby Is Back With First Concert Film in 30 Years

'Far From Finished' focuses on joys and pitfalls of marriage and children

Don Steinberg

Nov. 14, 2013 1:22 p.m. ET

Bill Cosby is 76, and his first concert film in 30 years, titled "Far From Finished," will air on Comedy Central on Nov. 23, 2013. Don Steinberg discusses on Lunch Break. Photo: Erinn Chalene Cosby.

The last time Bill Cosby did a televised concert special, in 1983, he riffed about family, the dentist and people getting drunk. That show, "Bill Cosby: Himself," featured material that helped lead to his TV series about a well-off African-American family. "The Cosby Show," which ran from 1984 to 1992, has been credited with everything from reviving the sitcom to changing America's racial attitudes, paving the way toward the Barack Obama presidency.

Mr. Cosby already had become the first African-American actor to co-star in a TV drama, "I Spy" with Robert Culp in 1965. He also starred in "The Bill Cosby Show," created the cartoon "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids" about his childhood experiences, and later started the "Little Bill" animated series for preschoolers. And sold a lot of Jell-O.

Now, at age 76, Mr. Cosby isn't done. His first concert film in 30 years, "Far From Finished," airs on Comedy Central on Nov. 23. He focuses on the joys of marriage and children, which he pretends aren't really joys.

He jokes that a man's wedding vow is about "how you're gonna die before her, and you want her there to see this death." He suggests that the groom's mother should be the one to walk the bride down the aisle. That way, he jokes: "You can see your whole life. Here comes the woman who brought you into this world, bringing with her the woman who is going to…"

Bill Cosby Erinn Chalene Cosby

And here he stops, as the audience roars.

"No, let me say it!" he implores. He waits a beat. And finishes: "…take you out."

Edited from an interview:

You've been married 49 years now?

Jan. 25, it'll be 50.

Have you been teasing your wife on stage for the whole time?

Well, when you look at it, you're looking at the observation of the husband. So it's not a matter of teasing your wife. It's what you're thinking and what she is thinking. Men are clapping. And the women are laughing.

You still tour rigorously, and now you've done this TV special: Are you looking to do even more television?

Oh, yes. My [production] partner, Tom Werner, called me recently. He said, Lou Scheimer's not doing well. You remember Lou Scheimer? He was the one who came to me after I had done a "Fat Albert" special. [They brought the show to CBS; Mr. Scheimer died last month.] And Ken Mundie was the fellow who animated it after I drew the fellows.

Wait—you originally drew those Fat Albert characters?

Yeah, because I knew what they looked like. You don't get Rudy in the hat from somebody sitting up there in Reseda, California.

So back to your TV plans.

So Tom said, "Look, I think it's time to do something." I've got these books, "Love and Marriage," books about parenthood, childhood. All these short pieces that we can extract and make a TV series, using a style that does not demand that the only way you can get laughter is to have conflict. Not all laughter is from conflict. If you're with friends, and you're laughing about something, there's a feeling that you actually like each other.

In your 1983 TV concert, you talked about family, about the dentist—

Every comedian ever doing stand-up has "flying on the plane" and "going to the dentist." Those things are identifiable because of fear. The reason the dentist became a classic was because of my "rubber lip." You take that out, and you have the same routine every comedian comes out and talks about.

Because you don't just recite funny jokes in your act. You perform funny jokes…

Well, there's no jokes. A joke is: "I'll never forget the day I was born. I cried like a baby." Barrump-bump. In a performance there are characters that I will play. In one routine about a woman having three children, I played the character of the mother, I played the three children, and I played the character of the father.

When you came up in comedy in the 1960s, there were comedians trying to influence politics and race relations. You weren't a political comedian, but you did change things.

There were routines I was doing in those days, working 'til 4 o'clock in the morning in Greenwich Village. I did a routine about slavery. My stuff was all in the storytelling. But I never believed that after laughing at what was said on stage, about what was going on offstage, racially, was going to change anybody's minds. The thing that I do with helping people identify was enough. I felt that if you hear me talk about my mother, and your mother did the same thing, what's the difference? But it still doesn't change anybody's racism.

Really? If people are identifying with you, maybe it does.

No, because racism is a mental illness. I've had guys come up to me, and they'll say to me "My father didn't like black people, but he brought your album home and he played it and laughed and laughed." And some of them say that was the difference. "He was still a racist, but he didn't mind if I had a black friend." So in some ways the laughter works. But not enough of an elixir to stop somebody from thinking that they don't like somebody's color.

"I Spy" showed people across America black and white secret agents working as partners. All those other shows you did—seeing those faces on TV and identifying with those characters had to change people's perceptions.

You know, for a long time movies and TV would go, "Ok, we're going to have the conflict, bring in the Negro!" You'd need to have this racist guy saying things. Then you gotta have the white people reacting. There was a black actor, James Edwards. It was always when he entered, the room stopped, the white people stopped enjoying themselves. Then something would happen to this black person. And at the end of the movie there was a strong feeling of, "Who's to blame here?" There was a routine I used to do in Greenwich Village. I said, "This is absolutely stupid. Black man wasn't bothering anybody. He walked from here to there, and next thing you know something happened."

Ok, now let me hand this to you. In "I Spy," neither one of those two characters ever mentioned their color or ethnicity. For three years Bob [Culp] and I would go any place to save our friend. You knew these guys trusted each other. They enjoyed each other in love and friendship. That was unheard of. I believe it's subliminal but very powerful, man.

Write to Don Steinberg at