Bill Cosby at Strathmore

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The Cos leaves his audience wanting more

Thursday night, the Cos had his audience roaring with knowing laughter with his description of every day life. When he left the stage, two hours and ten minutes after he entered, despite the late hour, they wanted more. More. MORE!

Bill Cosby. Photo courtesy of Strathmore.
Bill Cosby. Photo courtesy of Strathmore.

He entertained a rapt, nearly sold-out house in the Strathmore’s sinuously streamlined theater, elegantly lined with warm blonde wood. Though mostly a Baby Boomer crowd, the audience was diverse in age, heritage, voting patterns and personal style.

His  performance’s themes encompassed a wide, hysterical range but often came back to everyday stuff: family, raising kids, old age, religion and life. He revealed – and reveled in –  real life with a completely PG monologue.

And, not a drop of politics.

Through his long career, William Henry “Bill” Cosby Jr. has entertained several generations of Americans, starting with his fellow Navy pals at the former Bethesda Naval Hospital in the 1950s, on through a string of successful television shows. He rose to stardom with the groundbreaking I Spy espionage-adventure-buddy series in 1965 and, continued in the ‘70s with Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids,” a cartoon show, and The New Bill Cosby Show. In the ‘80s, The Cosby Show became the highest-ranking sitcom in TV history. It was followed, in the ‘90s, by Cosby, Kids Say the Darndest Things and a revival of  the game show, You Bet Your Life.

A new sitcom is schedule to debut in 2015.

Cosby has released 45 albums of his comedy routines, music, songs and compilations, plus written or co-authored a dozen books. He’s also appeared or provided his voice in 23 movies.

During the ‘70s, Cosby earned a MA and a Doctorate degree in Education from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. He has since been awarded 17 honorary degrees from colleges across the U.S.

Married for 50 years to Camille Hanks, the couple had five children. Their third child and only son, Ennis, was killed by a gunman in January 1997 in Los Angeles while changing a tire alongside a road.

Shortly before 8 p.m., the audience began flowing into the theater.

Onstage, the set was spare. A semicircle of black curtained screens shrouded the rear of the stage. Near the front of the stage, a chair and small wooden table were placed on a taped down Persian patterned area rug. On the table was Cosby’s microphone, a bottle of Perrier, a glass and a box of facial tissues. Behind the table sat a small trash can.

Draped on the chair was a black sweatshirt. In colorful lettering across the shirt’s chest were the words: “HELLO FRIEND.”

It was something Ennis often said in greeting friends and strangers.

From time to time, Cosby would simply look down and silently, briefly, touch the shirt.

Above the set hung a large screen featuring a photo, taken 20 or 30 years ago, of Cosby, wearing  a bright red sweater, seated with a smiling Nelson Mandela, dressed in black.

During the show, the screen beamed a closeup of the Cosby monologue so audience members in the upper balconies could see the nuances of his facial expressions.

There were no programs for the audience to peruse or shuffle, no printed credits or kudos. Just the bare stage to stare at.

At 8:15 p.m., with very little introduction, The Cos stepped out on stage. The audience roared.

“How ya doin’?” a woman called out.

“Okay,” he replied. “This is how it starts,” he said, putting on the mike wire over his ear.

A cellphone in the audience went off.

“I’m not here,” Cos yelled.

Cos was dressed in a white sweatshirt and gray sweatpants, leather sandals and socks. He sported a short white beard and mustache. His head was shaved bare.

Through most of the unbroken monologue, his eyes were lightly closed.

He was seated much of the evening, but would stand to make a point or enact a scene.

I’ve heard of stand-up comedians. This is the first time the stand-up was just as big a hit … sitting down.

Cosby swiftly went into his recollection of living in the area from 1957 to 1958, earning $52 every two weeks with the Navy.

He joked about the sauce at a D.C. eatery called Wings ‘N Things. Called Mambo, it was addictive, but he’d sometimes get, ahem, indisposed. Several older audience members whooped in agreement.

In one rare reference to race, Cosby mentioned he’d occasionally take a bus into D.C.

“The Diamond Cab in the 50s wouldn’t pick you up if they couldn’t see you. They couldn’t see you even in daytime if you were black …”

He fast-forwarded to describe his experience in Beltway traffic earlier in the day, after arriving at the airport.

“… this is a horrible place! You try to get anyplace at 3 p.m., you might as well bring dinner, lunch and someone who will talk. This used to be only on Friday. But this isThursday!”

He touched several times on religion, without trying to proselytize.

“… when Jesus comes,” he started. “But, before I get to that, let me say something to atheists. Say what you want, it’s your business, but give yourself some wiggle room.”

“Suppose you are right. No Jesus. No Heaven.

“Who you gonna tell? You’re DEAD!”

“What if you’re looking right at God? What are you gonna say?”

“Just kidding??”

In another Jesus-themed tale, he said, “Jesus heals … a man approached Jesus. ‘Ohhh. Jesus. I wonder if you would please heal me?’”

“Jesus says, ‘Yes’.”

“’I have high blood pressure and hypertension. Will you heal me?’”

“’Yes. Stop. Eating. Salt.’”

“’Touch me.’”

“’I don’t have to. Stop. Eating. Salt. Or any sauce named Mambo.”’

“’I am disappointed in you, Jesus.’”

“’Wait ‘til you meet my Father!’”

Another man, a leper, asked Jesus to cure him. Jesus tells him to bathe seven times. The man returns and says the cure isn’t working. He admits he only bathed three times. Jesus sends him back to the water. The leper quickly comes back. “The water is dirty!” he complains.

Jesus retorts: “This is not Burger King. Can’t have it your way!”

When his mother was pregnant with what would be the baby brother who would grow up to be an annoyance, his parents announced they were going to the hospital to have a stork deliver the baby. He was taken to his Aunt Millie and Uncle William’s house to stay.

Uncle William liked to drink. A lot. Something Cosby mimed throughout a screamingly hysterical long segment.

Short version. Cosby had seen the diaper service trucks with a stork holding a baby in a diaper sling. He had a question for his uncle. “All the babies on the truck are white. Is my little brother or sister going to be white?”

(Drinks) “Yes.”

“Uncle William, did the stork bring me, too?”

(Drinks) “Yes.”

“Was I white?”

(Drinks) “Yes.”

“Uncle William, I’m this color. How can I be white and this color?”

(Drinks a lot.) “Coffee.”

(Audience screams with laughter.)

“Coffee?”

“Yes. When the baby comes, you give it coffee.”

“Uncle William, I’m not a black color. I’m not black.”

(Drinks.) “Cream.”

(More howls of laughter from the audience.)

“Thank you, Uncle William.”

Laster, Cosby gets in trouble for giving the new baby, Samuel Russell Cosby, sips of coffee.

As he grew up, his mother often threatened to beat the bejezzus out of him.

“I’m 77 years old. I still don’t know where the bejezzus is!”

When his brother became overly annoying one day, Cosby went into his room and pantomimed finding and breaking the neck of his brother’s invisible, imaginary friend, Nolan.

Then, he gleefully told his brother and showed him the invisible dead body. The brother shrieked and screamed. And, told on him.

When he describes his brother tearfully explaining what happened to their father, the audience was falling out of its collective seat.

“For real?” was the dad’s stunned response.

Cosby also noted the Discovery Channel is a dangerous channel.

“My wife and I were watching Discovery Channel in bed. We were watching about Praying Mantises. Right after they have sex, the female bites the head off of her mate.”

“My wife cheered.”

“After that, I didn’t sleep anymore.”

(More howls from the audience.)

Without ruining the story, in a long sketch he described how his own kids complained once when he drove them to school in his Mercedes. Other kids were teasing them.

Pointing out the yellow school bus in front of them, filled with their friends, Cosby said: “That’s a $450,000 limousine! With a chauffeur!”

There were several extended, outrageous tales about his version of Adam, God and Eve in the Garden of Eden; a pinata that turned out horribly wrong at a birthday party; and a gathering of grandfathers at another birthday party for his then 1-year-old granddaughter.

In the middle of one extended story, Crosby crawled to the edge of the stage and asked a woman in the front row for the time. “10:10” she said.

He thanked her. Crawled back to his chair and continued talking for another 15 minutes.

When he left the stage, to a rousing, standing ovation – the audience wanted more.

It wasn’t ready to go home.

Running Time: Two hours and 25 minutes.

Bill Cosby performed for one night only, on October 2, 2014, at the Music Center at Strathmore – 5301 Tuckerman Lane, in Bethesda, MD. For future events, check their events calendar.

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Wendi Winters
Wendi Winters is a writer, reporter, columnist and photographer - and a former NYC public relations executive. A good portion of her career has been in public relations - backed by solid experience in fashion retailing, wholesaling, textiles, marketing, advertising, design and promotion. She owned her own successful fashion public relations/advertising/special events/runway show production firm for seven years. As a journalist, she was the first freelancer to bring a journalism award home to The Capital - and then earned two more awards. Since May 2013, Ms. Winters has been a full time staff member at Capital Gazette Communications. Prior to that, she freelanced for the company for twelve years. Including her three weekly columns, she writes more than 250 articles annually. Her writing byline has appeared in Details Magazine, What's Up? Annapolis Magazine, and numerous others. She's been a feature writer for Associated Press Special Features and for Copley News Service. For years, her fashion critic columns ran in the NYC weeklies Manhattan Spirit and Our Town. Since moving to this area in 1999, as a D.C./Baltimore-area theatre critic, her reviews appeared in Theatre Spotlight and The Review. Plus, she was a Helen Hayes Awards nominator for two terms. Mother of four, she continues to be active as a Girl Scout leader and a regional church youth advisor. You bet she can make a mean S'More!