Monday, January 14, 2013

Bill Cosby

In a contemporary comedy landscape where performers rely on shock or obscenity for laughs, the septuagenarian Bill Cosby inspires hope in the simple power of a story. On Saturday, January 12 at Western Michigan University's Miller Auditorium, Cosby related stories ranging from gender differences in Genesis to his skepticism on patients self-medicating marijuana, eventually touching on the mutually insulting names of characters in the Lone Ranger television series. Simply put, Cosby didn't disappoint in a scattered show marked by superior storytelling.

Cosby demonstrated that stand-up comedy is fundamentally social storytelling--walking into an auditorium of strangers and creating laughs inorganically. It requires the comedian to instantly form a rapport with the audience and connect personal observations with the audience's diverse experiences. Perhaps the most adept skill Cosby displayed was his nuanced reading of a mostly older audience who brought young children. His material was offensive to none while humorous for all, particularly his observations on family dynamics that cut across socioeconomic lines. Reading a room is no easy task, and even at 75-years-old, Bill Cosby is still one of the best in the business.

Unfortunately, Cosby showed signs that he's aging. At times he would begin a story, or at least signal a shift in comedic material, without following through. He spent the entire performance seated in a folding chair, which is in stark contrast to some of his earlier and more active stand-up comedy specials. But it's certainly not unreasonable for a senior citizen to want to spend the better part of 90 minutes seated, and as a 22-year-old who occasionally drops a story thread, it is difficult to criticize Cosby.

The audience cherished the opportunity to see the 75-year-old comedian ranked eighth on Comedy Central's "100 Greatest Stand-ups of All Time." After taking his final bow, Cosby returned to the stage to thank the audience once again and praise the Kalamazoo Promise.


  1. Good analysis of what makes a good comic and how Cosby has remained entertaining through different generations of audiences.

  2. I really enjoyed this article. It's nice to know that one of the greats is still going even at an old age. I heard about the show pretty last minute, and I'm sad that I couldn't go, but I agree with Joe. It's really great to know that Cosby can still read the crowd that well.