Interviewing Bill Cosby is one of the most unique experiences anyone, journalist or otherwise, will ever get to have. For one, the comedy legend is generous with his time — we talked for more than a half hour, about everything from education reform to what Theo Huxtable might be doing these days. He’s also quick to find a connection between himself and whoever he’s talking to — in this case, telling stories about his experiences in Bangor. And Cosby is prone to long, hilarious tangents in the stories he tells — he’s a natural storyteller, and will let his mind flow in surprising directions.
Cosby — who will do his stand up comedy set at 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 12 at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor — talked with the Bangor Daily News recently about all the above, and much more.
Welcome back to Bangor, Mr. Cosby. When was the last time you were here?
I don’t remember, because I work so much. I have very few weeks off… I’m looking forward to being there. Bangor. You land at the airport, and then the federales come out to the plane. You go through customs, and I used to come in from Canada, after doing a show. And it’s all dark, and the agents come out and look things over and sometimes they bring a dog. And you ask them if it’s OK to use the bathroom, and they’re not supposed to laugh at you because they’re supposed to be so serious.
You still do a lot of stand up dates every year. What do you attribute your work ethic to?
Positive energy. Which means if you like your job, love your job, enjoy your job, you could very well enjoy what you’re doing and do the same thing every day. As long as you enjoy what you’re doing… there are some people who don’t go to formal schooling but they wind up inventing things, doing things, painting or in the arts. There are some people like [jazz pianist] Monty Alexander who supposedly can’t read music. But if you tell him the title of a song, he can play it. But it’s not easy for me — I can’t sit down and play the piano. I’m interested that so many comedians were also musicians. Richard Pryor was a drummer. Peter Sellers was a drummer.
I think there’s some sort of brain function that allows people to riff on a melody or song, in the same way they can riff on a joke or a story.
I think there’s something called a sense of humor, which can be clouded by a very nasty ego. And then you cannot become a funny person, so to speak. I think that with my way of working, I’m entertained by how I enter and move around the story… as a writer, I’m are working on a potential TV series, animated, about a school. And this classroom has a few kids in it that are different. Not necessarily in color or sex. They are different physically. They may be without something that everyone has. The wiring may cause the brain to be under siege. It’s about how the kids all get along… it’s a delicious and delightful school these kids go to. I think it’s going to be a very good animated series.
Teachers must come up to you a lot and talk to you. When you speak to a teacher, what are some of things they say to you, and what do you say to them?
First of all, teachers say thank you. Thank you for taking a stand and speaking about education and the seriousness of it. They realize that what I’m saying is true, and people don’t like it, because inculcated with it is a responsibility. For many people to have a child and raise it well means you have to visit the teacher, to check the homework, to work with your kid… that’s more of the parenting code than they want to complete. I get a lot of pushback on that… In terms of me being Bill Cosby, I think I’m someone they can believe in. And there will always be a teacher — or a wannabe teacher — out there who will connect with that.
Where would Cliff and Clair Huxtable be today, 20 years later?
They’re grandparents now. Sondra had twins. Maybe the twins are now getting ready to graduate from college. Theo is 42 years old. Rudy is 30-something. So some are married, some are not. Some are with children, some are without. I think what you’re looking at with the Huxtables is the love. You feel the love that Cliff and Clair have for each other and for their children. And you also feel that they are in charge of that house. Those kids are not running that house. If the kids push, the parents push back. And that’s the fun of parenting.