Bill Cosby -- Concert Review
LAS VEGAS -- The first thing Bill Cosby talked about Friday at Treasure Island in Las Vegas was that he'd just read the latest unemployment figures. Veteran Cos watchers likely wondered if he was going to break with his tradition and do some topical material.
But no; it was, like most everything he says onstage, a setup.
"I want to thank to you all for coming," he said, "because you guys don't have any money."
From there, he got into a brief bit about how bosses are forcing wage reductions and that if people work for half-pay, the things they buy should be half-price. A good line, but again, a little out of the master storyteller's wheelhouse.
Not to worry: It fed into a yarn -- probably more than three decades old -- about one of his kids asking, "Are we rich?" His reply? "Your mother and father are rich. You're not contributing. As a matter of fact, you're a debit.
And just like that, Cosby and his crowd were nestled into their respective comfort zones. Going on a half-century as a stand-up, he's not about to make a left turn into political, societal or, for that matter, blue material. Instead he went on about women and wives, parenting and grandparenting, youth and aging -- exactly what the near-sellout crowd paid to hear.
He sat in a chair, dressed in a long-sleeve T-shirt, sweats and Crocs and flanked by a small table, bottle of water and a box of Kleenex -- looking less like a comic than a favorite uncle holding court at Thanksgiving. Often meandering, sometimes rambling, Cosby moseyed through anecdotes and stories -- he doesn't tell jokes with an impressive ease that must be the envy of his fellow comics. He employed his trademark pregnant-pause delivery, exaggerated facial expressions and one-man dialogues.
There weren't many double-over knee-slappers during the show, but grins and laughs were near constant. His best lines generally were tied to his faux indignation about wives and marriage: "Chess isn't about war; it's about husband and wife," Cosby said. "The queen flies all over the place; the king cowers trying to stay out of check." He noted that a groom gets to surround himself with his best friends because "it's the last time he'll ever see them." After a deserved laugh, he added, "Unless they're pallbearers."
Those and many other zingers about coupling had men and women throughout the 1,500-seat hall turning toward each other with knowing looks.
Cosby mastered comic timing decades ago, but his tactic of extending a pause to the point of belaboring it can be distracting. It's a major part of his shtick, though, and he uses it to his distinct advantage. How many other comics can get three big laughs from a single punchline?
Example: He related a story about buying a pinata for his grandchild's birthday party. As the kids beat it into submission, everyone noticed a lack of sugary payoff for their efforts. He noted how embarrassing his oversight was. Then came the kicker: "How could you sell a black person a pinata" (long pause, as the crowd giggled with recognition and anticipation) "and think" (longer pause, more laughs) "that they'd know?" (Guffaws and applause.)
Those bursts of words are easily mocked, but they're also genius. And he did it all night.
It would have been great fun to hear Cosby recite a routine from his catalog of classic LPs -- six platinum, three gold, seven Grammy winners -- but there was none of that; not even a trip to the dentist bit. Instead he spent nearly 100 minutes entertaining a crowd like they were family. And they lapped it up.
Yes, Cosby turns 73 this month, but he can still bring it.
Those who whine that comedy can't be pure unless it's rooted in anger or socio-geopolitical "importance" should get off their soapboxes and play a Bill Cosby album -- or better yet, see him live. It's about the laughs, not how they are earned. And very few have earned more than Cos.
Venue: Treasure Island, Las Vegas (Friday, July 2).