Review: Bill Cosby at IU

September 24, 2008
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Singers of a certain age often coast on nostalgia. The primary pleasure of attending one of their concerts isn't so much the sound of their voice or the wit of their banter. It's being able to say you saw them.  

Comics of similar age, though, have it harder. They can't croak through the old songs and get nostalgic applause. If they don't get the laughs, their diminished skills are obvious to all.

At 71, Bill Cosby, in his remarkable Sept. 19 performance at IU Auditorium, got those laughs and more, demonstrating to a packed house that he's a still-evolving artist at the top of his game.

Cosby is much more than a stand-up comic. He's a storyteller. And the strongest moments of his more-than-two-hour set (his second that evening) came from his ability to seem like he's top-of-the-heading tales that are actually amazingly constructed. On Friday, he did this while gamely fighting against something in the air causing him nasal distress.

In hindsight, the unwanted need for a constant stream of tissues fit with a show that largely dealt with the challenges our bodies present. First periods, wet dreams, French kisses, and urine directinal control all worked their way into the stories--Cosby's subject matter could give the creators of "American Pie" pause. But the freshman and their families who packed the audience knew that Cosby's interest in our weaknesses is far from prurient. It's actually a sharp sociological study of how our perception changes at different ages. The way a 12-year-old sees the world is different from the way a 5-year-old does and that's very different from how a 71-year-old artist does.

My only disappointment came when Cosby resorted to simple stand-up--taking himself and his friends and family out of the comedy equation when making familiar--but still very funny-- observations about a trip to the dentist. Cosby's genius is in telling specific stories about specific people--stories that make us remember and rethink our own experiences.

As a comic, he's excellent. As a storyteller, he's an artist.
  • I saw Bill Cosby in Valparaiso years ago ... just seven rows from the stage. I don't remember ever laughing so hard as I did that night. I was literally crying and I had to hold my stomach because my abdominal muscles were cramping because it was almost constant laughter. I'm glad to hear he's going strong in this type of setting. He's one of the greats and so underappreciated!
  • Hope everyone enjoyed it. For the IU Auditorium, Cosby is a definite sell-out, so it's great from a top-line revenue aspect, especially since it achieves many goals:

    1) Selling out capacity on non-traditional revenue days (last night was a Wednesday, after all!)

    2) Adding prestige to the overall portfolio of that season's shows (See Lou's critique of the lackluster season announced at Butler's Clowes, in comparison)

    3) Diversity of entertainment -- expanding beyond music and musical theatre.

    HOWEVER, with all those objectives met, and people like Lou and commenter Betsy satisfied, the real inside story is that Bill Cosby is a low-profit event. His contract demands are OUTRAGEOUS compared to other stand-up comedians or other artists / troupes / et al who perform at the IU Auditorium. Air transportation, lodging, meals. Perhaps there are two arguments here justifying his needs: 1) His age or 2) His star power. Ultimately the Auditorium balks at Cosby's demands because it so easily fits into the three objectives mentioned earlier. As for Cosby's age, and getting back to Lou's point, I can safely assure the readers that Cosby's demands have been in place for at least the past 20 years over his previous 3+ stops at the Auditorium (that I can recall)

  • Thank you for your comments. I don't recall being all that negative about Clowes' upcoming season. Off the top of my head, Patti LuPone, Hubbard Street, Wainwright/Kotte, and especially LA Theatre Works are all shows I have or will be recommending. And that's just on Clowes' presenting schedule. --Lou

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