Bill Cosby is about to lose it. “What is with all that racket?” Cosby asked at the start of an hourlong chat.
The esteemed comic is unnerved for a few seconds by an infernal racket emanating from a carpenter’s hammer during a bit of brief but necessary construction work.
“That noise coming from your telephone is distracting,” Cosby said.
When it was explained that it was indeed bad timing, but that a carpenter is akin to the cable guy, Cosby laughed and segued to talk about comedy and timing.
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With the possible exception of Richard Lewis, there is no comedian who is more apt to go on a tangent and run with it during an interview than Cosby.
The well-versed star of not one but two eponymous sitcoms easily veers from what’s wrong with children today to growing up financially challenged in the gritty streets of Philadelphia to carpenters wielding big hammers.
“I’m not really many miles from where I grew up right now,” Cosby said, calling from his suburban Philadelphia home. “I still think back about those times. Your early years help form who you are. Who could have guessed that things would have turned out the way they have for me?”
Cosby, 77, the son of a maid and a sailor, has enjoyed unimaginable success. “But it just didn’t happen,” Cosby said. “I worked so hard to get to where I am. I’ve enjoyed it immensely but it’s been fascinating.”
Cosby became a household name in 1965 by co-starring in “I Spy” and becoming the first African-American to co-star in a dramatic series. “The Bill Cosby Show” followed. The offbeat sitcom didn’t include a laugh track, which Cosby declined to utilize.
“People should be able to figure out what’s funny and what’s not funny,” Cosby said. “They don’t need to be prompted.”
“Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids,” an animated show based on his childhood in North Philadelphia and “The Cosby Show,” which was a huge hit for NBC during the ’90s, are among the myriad of Cosby’s incredible credits.
“I’ve been fortunate to have been part of some great television shows,” Cosby said. “You know it always didn’t work out for me in movies.”
Cosby impressed in such films as “Uptown Saturday Night” and “Mother Jugs and Speed,” but he was in his share of duds, such as the forgettable “Leonard Part 6” and “Ghost Dad.”
And then there’s stand-up, which is what launched Cosby’s enviable career during the early ’60s. Cosby, who will perform Saturday at the Durham Performing Arts Center, never gets tired of working in front of an audience.
“I still have that passion,” Cosby said. “I love to get up there and make people laugh. But it’s one of my many passions. I have always loved working with children. Education is the backbone of it all. I wouldn’t be where I am without education, and I fought it as a child. Fortunately, I stayed with it and had people that cared about me to help me get to where I needed to be. If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be onstage performing and talking with you over that noise from that guy working behind you. Is he almost done?”