LOS ANGELES — Bill Cosby is sitting down on the job as he embarks on his first television special in three decades.
Armed with a chair, a bottle of water, and a box of Kleenex, Cosby is center stage for Far From Finished, which he performed at the Cerritos Art Center. Although the 90-minute special is airing on Comedy Central, the home of the foul-mouthed boys of South Park, the 76-year-old comedian whose landmark family sitcom The Cosby Show dominated TV in the mid-1980s still focuses his attention on more wholesome topics, such as marriage and parenting.
At his home near Santa Monica, Calif., Cosby discussed why he truly is far from finished in terms of his comedy career.
Q. A lot of people are surprised about this special. It’s like a return to the type of comedy that introduced you on those hit albums back in the 1960s. What was the spark?
A. I was performing in front of this sold-out audience not too long ago, and this young man — he appeared to be about 17 years old or so — yelled out and said, “Mr. Cosby, would you talk about Rudy and Theo (Huxtable, Cosby’s TV children on The Cosby Show)? I want to know what she’s doing now.” People around him started to hoot, and I told them to stop, I’ll take care of this. I said, “Son, I’m here because I’m a very funny fellow and this is a part of what I do. I think you purchased a ticket for the wrong reason.” (Smiling) I didn’t say he could have his money back. Running that back and forth in my mind, I determined that a lot of young people don’t know what I do, and I wanted to show them.
Q. With all the raw humor on Comedy Central, it seems like an unlikely venue for the Cosby style.
A. Comedy Central is what these young people are viewing, The network speaks to their audience, which is saying, “Give me fast jokes. Give me party stories and party language.” I think it’s absolutely necessary for me to go there so that I can inform a young audience what I do.
Q. How does this special compare with past TV performances?
A. Before the networks, there were these syndicated shows like the Mike Douglas Show — they were really relaxed and people didn’t talk fast. Then came The Tonight Show. You’d do a monologue. If Johnny invited you over to sit on the couch, that’s it. Your career was up and gone. From those shows, and from being on I Spy, I was selling out 18,000-seat arenas in Buffalo and Rochester.
Q. The title of the special is Far From Finished. How and why do you keep going?
A. Because, you silly man, I’m not a ballplayer. ... I’m a thinking person, and I’ve been blessed with the ability to see some things and talk about them in a way that registers in a humorous and funny way. I’m still able to tell a story and have 2,600 people understand and have some of them say, “How did you get in our house and see what’s going on?” At 76 years old, I’m having fun.