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.