Bill Cosby is, by any standards, one of the most influential stars in America today. Whether it be through concert appearances or recordings, television or films, commercials or education, Bill Cosby has the ability to touch people's lives. His humor often centers on the basic cornerstones of our existence, seeking to provide an insight into our roles as parents, children, family members, and men and women. Without resorting to gimmickry or low-brow humor, Bill Cosby's comedy has a point of reference and respect for the trappings and traditions of the great American humorists such as Charlie Chaplin, Will Rogers, W.C. Fields and Groucho Marx.
The 1984-92 run of "The Cosby Show" and his books Fatherhood and Time Flies established new benchmarks on how success is measured. His status at the top of the TVQ survey year after year continues to confirm his appeal as one of the most popular personalities in America. Cosby's believability and humor makes him most effective as the spokesman for Jell-O.
Cosby is entering his third year starring in Cosby and is beginning the second year of Kids Say The Darndest Things. Cosby has authored Little Bill, a book series designed to encourage literacy for children ages six through ten. Little Bill has been on The New York Times Best Seller List and is soon to become a television series. Cosby is writing and starring in a feature film version of his famous comedy routine, NOAH for MGM/UA.
Cosby's initial immediate success began with Bill Cosby Is A Very Funny Fellow, Right? And continued with many other comedy albums. He also has released a number of jazz recordings, including hello, friend; to ennis with love (released in 1997). Cosby has earned five Grammy Awards for the best comedy album.
Bill Cosby represents the voice of a vast, ordinary world. Everyone seems to easily identify with his characters and the situations they find themselves in. He gives the twist of the ridiculous to everyday faults, foibles and successes and makes them a recognizable slice of life. Bill Cosby points out the humor in our lives, and in doing so, he touches our hearts. Because of this, his appeal is not restricted to any specific group. His qualities have endeared him to people from all walks of life.
It is the fusion of these qualities that has resulted in television's biggest and most influential hit of the modern era, The Cosby Show. The show was credited by many for single-handedly resurrecting the sitcom genre. Cosby's return to television after eight years was promoted by what he perceived as a lack of relevance and an abundance of superficiality in TV comedy programming. Week after week of #1 ratings and the almost unanimous critical acclaim only confirms that others agree with his opinion. Life Magazine wrote:
Cosby's success may have changed the game as well as the scores. Before his show hit the air, many viewers had rejected prime time television as an electronic wasteland of crime, slime, glitz and glands…What Cosby offered instead was a gentle, whimsical, warm-hearted sitcom about family life that found humor in the little things that happen in every home and everlasting value in the love and trust that exist between parents and children… Nobody actually says this family represents the whole human family, but the delicious ordinariness of its pleasures and tribulations has given millions a fresh, laughter-splashed perspective on their own domestic lives."
His success on television, which had been a catalyst in promoting NBC to first place, has been matched in other areas. In 1986, he broke Radio City's 53-year-old- attendance record for his concert appearance. In 1987, wife Camille Cosby produced a home video cassette called Bill Cosby 49 which was distributed by Kodak and sold in the hundreds of thousands. A comedy album on Geffen Records, Those of You With or Without Children, You'll Understand, sold close to a million copies, an almost unheard of phenomenon today for a comedy record.
In the publishing world, Bill Cosby has shattered records with each of his books. Fatherhood, published by Doubleday/Dolphin in May of 1986, became the fastest-selling hardcover book of all time. It remained for over half of its fifty-four weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List as #1. It has sold 2.6 million hardcover copies and 1.5 million paperbacks (published by Berkeley).
His next Doubleday/Dolphin title, Time Flies, had the largest single first printing in publishing history -- 1.75 million copies. Like its predecessor, it too remained at the top of the New York Times list. Bantam Books published the paper back version in the fall of 1988 and received the same rights for Love an Marriage.
Love and Marriage, was published by Doubleday/Dolphin in April of 1989, and covered everything from childhood romances and adolescent crushes to first love, dating and courtship, the ebb and flow of relationships and the rewards of marriage.
Childhood (published by Putnam in 1991), deals with the predicaments of growing up and coming of age, combining stories of his legendary childhood with comic insights about children of today.
Exercising his deep concern with projecting positive images of African Americans, Cosby together with partners, Tom Werner and Marcy Carsey, produced A Different World on NBC for seven seasons. In his partnership, they also put on the air Here and Now (starring Malcom- Jamal Warner) for NBC and the revival of the classic Groucho Marx show, You Bet Your Life, for first run syndication.
During 1994, Cosby also starred in The Cosby Mysteries, a series on NBC, broadcast during the 1994-5 season, and the CBS television movie I Spy Returns, co-starring his original partner Robert Culp.
With over thirty years in comedy, Bill Cosby is for many young comedians the man who wrote the textbook. What Cosby teaches is to approach the monologue as a screenwriter looks at real life, bringing to each story the structure and body of a complete work. The Cosby student will also learn that one does not have to use offensive language or risque topics to obtain laughs. According to Cosby, " Anyone should be able to say on stage what they want. But those who have knowledge, do understand that certain things on stage can be abused and misused. And if such topics are used just for laughter, the humor will not stand the test of time."
Cosby is, without a doubt, the best-selling comedian of all time on records. During the mid-sixties, Cosby had as many as six albums on the charts at one time. Eight of the albums have been certified Gold Records by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
Cosby made his motion picture debut in a powerful and dramatic role in the film Man and Boy, which was set in the post-Civil War era. He teamed with his I Spy partner, Robert Culp, for Hickey and Boggs. Cosby has co-starred with Sidney Poitier and harry Belafonte in Uptown and Saturday Night and in the sequel Let's Do It Again. Cosby joined Raquel Welch in Mother, Jugs and Speed. He also starred in an animated film, Aesop's Fables. Cosby and Sidney Poitier rejoined to co-star in their third film together, A Piece of the Action. He then teamed with Richard Pryor in a starring role in California Suite.
It was during Cosby's nightclub circuit period (when he was first getting started) that Carl Reiner caught his act in Pittsburgh and introduced Cosby to producer Sheldon Leonard, who signed him to star in the I Spy series. The series, about two spies disguised as tennis bums, was an instant smash hit on TV. Cosby's I Spy role as co-star broke the racial barrier of television. Before the series ended, he had won three Emmy Awards. It was a historic moment in casting when a black man was placed along side a white man as his equal, and it created international interest in the show and in Bill Cosby. After I Spy, The Bill Cosby Show followed on NBC in 1971. In Spetember, 1976, Cosby hosted another variety show called Cos, this time on ABC.
In addition, Cosby has filmed numerous television specials, starred in NBC-TV's Children's Theater and PBS-TV's The Electric Company 9the latter created by the Sesame Street Children's Television Workshop) and has written, directed and produced two educational TV shows (Concern, dealing with his concern for school children and Prejudice, an irreverent spoof of prejudiced hang-ups). His production company also turned out two animated specials featuring his lovable gallery of childhood pals. In the early 80's, Cosby hosted Picture Pages on Captain kangaroo's Wake Up program on CBS. Today, the instruction Cosby leads, which is designed to develop readiness skills in pre-school children, is available on home video by Disney. The series was awarded the e Gold Award at the 1981 International Film & TV Festival in new York as "Outstanding Children's Program."
Someone up there touched Bill Cosby with the gift of comedy when he was born in Philadelphia on July 12, 1937, the son of William and Anna Cosby. He has two younger bothers, Robert and Russell. It didn't take Cosby long to begin making up gags and practicing routines on his mom and dad. His appreciative audience of one, his mom, always encouraged his inventive performances of everyday household happenings.
Cosby attended Wister Elementary School along with his pals Fat Albert, Old Weird Harold, Dumb Donald, Rudy, Nolan and Weasel-- all later immortalized by Bill Cosby's comedy routines. When school was out, they could all be found romping through the "projects" (four massive suburban tenement buildings with a cement playground in the center) or under the Ninth Street Bridge. It was there Cosby acquired his athletic skills and his lifetime love of sports. Cosby's sixth grade teacher must have sensed his genius when she wrote on his report card, " William is a boy's boy, an all-around fellow, and he should grow up to do great things."
About his high school sports career, Cosby humorously claims, " I was on the ninth grade football team which was made up of me and ten other guys from the remedial gym class. All we had to do was look at the parallel bars, and they gave us a 'D'. I never got into the game, and I had to give my jersey to the guy who'd had his ripped."
He often neglected his studies for athletics, and after repeating the tenth grade, he left school to join the Navy. He finished high school via a correspondence course while still in the service. When he was discharged, he enrolled at Temple University as the result of an athletic scholarship where he earned academic honors. His goal was to become a physical education teacher. He probably could have made it as a professional football player, but the world is richer in laughter because he decided on show business.
To support himself during his college days, Cosby tended bar at night, where he found a ready-made audience for his brand of home-grown humor. The enthusiasm of his customers convinced him that he might have a chance as a comedian.
His first stage appearance (for $5 a night) was at a night spot called " The Underground" in a small room named "The Cellar." It didn't have a stage, so Cosby did his act on a table with a chair propped on it. He not only had to climb over the bar to get to the "stage," but he couldn't stand up because of his height. He was probably the world's first "sit-down" comedian.
The beatniks were "in" at that time in New York's Greenwich village, and word of Cosby's comedy spread from Philly. A club called " The Gaslight" booked him for sixty dollars a week, and he was on his way. About his performances Cosby says, " I feel that in-person contact with people is the most important thing in comedy. While I'm up on stage, I can actually put myself into the audience and adjust my pace and timing to them. I can get into their heads through their ears and through their eyes. Only through this total communication can I really achieve what I'm trying to do."
As busy as he is with his many ventures, Cosby has been a crusader throughout his career for a better world and for better understanding between people. Besides his involvement with a host of charity organizations, Cosby is also an active trustee of his alma mater, Temple University of Philadelphia. As philanthropists, Bill and Camille Cosby have made substantial gifts in support of education (most notably to predominantly Black colleges) and to various social service and civil rights organizations.
In addition, Cosby earned a Master Degree in Education (M. Ed.) in 1972 and his Doctorate in Education (Ed.D.) in 1977 from the University of Massachusetts. His doctoral thesis was titled " The Integration of Visual Media Via Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids Into the Elementary Schools Culminating as a Teacher Aid to Achieve Increased Learning."
Cosby's been busy raising a family, too. He married the former Camille Hanks on January 25, 1964, while she was still a student at the University of Maryland. They have four girls (Erika, Erinn, Ensa, and Evin) and one son (the late Ennis Cosby). The family resides in New England. While they are a constant source of material, Cosby laments the fact that his children have developed into good students. " When they didn’t do well in school it made for funny material. Now, they're losing their humor!"
When speaking of Camille, Cosby has urged an amendment to the saying, "Behind every good man there's a good woman." He suggests that " behind" should be substituted by "Three miles ahead." Camille has not only raised five children, but has also been totally involved in her husband's career. She produced his last album and taped two concerts over the past few years. She has received her doctorate in education and plays an active role in a number of important national organizations.
Most recently, Camille has enjoyed great success as the co-producer of the Broadway play "Having Our Say" based on the best-selling book Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years. After nine months at the Booth Theater on Broadway, the three-time Tony-nominated play has been a standout on national tour. Camille is now in production of the made-for-television film version which will air on CBS in the spring of 1999. Camille also produced a one hour sociological documentary film No Dreams Deferred, which aired on over 150 public television stations.
On the evolution of his own style of comedy, Cosby states that he was drawn at an early age to the masters of jazz: Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Mingus and Miles Davis. Through their musical example, Cosby learned to emulate in comedy their ability to take an idea and continually find new and innovative ways of expressing the same theme.
When Cosby and his pals yelled at the top of their lungs under the Ninth Street Bridge, the echo could be heard for blocks. The legacy of Cosby's comedic genius continues to make sure that those echoes will continue to be heard around the world.