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Josh Reviews Bill Cosby “…Far From Finished”

December 4th, 2013
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The moment I read, months ago, that Bill Cosby would be releasing a new stand-up special, his first in thirty years, I immediately pre-ordered the DVD on Amazon.  I am a huge Bill Cosby fan.  I grew up listening to his records (particularly Bill Cosby is a Very Funny Fellow…Right! and I Started Out as a Child), and I think that Bill Cosby, Himself is far and away the greatest stand-up routine ever put to film.

So I was obviously excited at the prospect of stand-up material from the Cos.  I knew that he’d been continuing to tour and perform over the past several decades.  Jerry Seinfeld’s odyssey to see Cosby in the documentary Comedian is my favorite part of that film.  But I hadn’t ever seen Mr. Cosby perform live, so I didn’t have any real idea what his stand-up was like these days.  Could Cosby, in his late seventies, still be as funny as he was all those decades ago?

Sadly no.  While I enjoyed watching it, Bill Cosby …Far From Finished is no Bill Cosby, Himself, nor does it hold a candle to his earlier records from the sixties or seventies.  The material just isn’t as sharp, and there’s no question that Mr. Cosby has lost a few steps in terms of his delivery.  Particularly in the first half of the special, I felt that he takes a long, long time to tell his stories, far longer than was necessary.  This resulted in my actually being a little bit bored in that first half.  I felt that the material that took him 45-50 minutes to get through could have been told in 20 (and would have been far punchier at that shorter length).  It also results in a moment in which the audience actually gets ahead of Cosby during one of his bits, with several people shouting out the punchline before Cos gets to it, causing him to stop and say to the audience “let ME tell it!”  It’s a funny moment and a deft recovery by Mr. Cosby, but the fact that the audience could get so far ahead of him, that they could so easily spot the punchline, is a mark of the performance’s problems.

There were also a number of times in which Mr. Cosby stumbled a little over his words.  There was just a hint of sloppiness in his story-telling, and at times I felt it hindered him somewhat in delivering his punchlines.  One example that comes to mind is a bit in which Cos is explaining how, while all wives like to consider themselves to be the “best friend” of their husbands, wives are in fact nothing like friends.  He illustrates this by telling a story of his car breaking down late one night, when driving home from the airport.  He calls his friend, who immediately offers to come pick him up.  Then he calls his wife, who harrangues him saying “how many times have I told you to get that car fixed??”  It’s a funny bit.  But while telling it, Mr. Cosby seems (to me) to make a mistake.  He walks us through calling his friend, who as I just mentioned immediately tells Cosby that he’s on his way to come pick him up.  Then Mr. Cosby tells us about his call to his wife.  When telling the story, Cosby recounts asking his wife to come pick him up.  But he just told us that his friend had agreed to pick him up, and was on his way!  So why then did Cosby ask his wife to come get him?  Either Mr. Cosby was mis-remembering the story slightly, or (more likely, it seems to me) the scenario didn’t really happen like this, he was just exaggerating what had happened for comedic effect, as a way of contrasting wives and friends.  I think his mistake exposed that.  His little error in the story-telling made me assume that the story wasn’t real, that it was made up or exaggerated, and that made it less funny for me than it would have been had I believed those events had actually happened just the way Mr. Cosby was describing them.  Had Mr. Cosby been slightly more precise in his language, I think this routine could have been a lot stronger.

There are definitely still some moments of classic Cosby greatness.  There’s a fantastic moment in which Mr. Cosby relates a story of riding with his wife in the back-seat of a car driven by a couple with whom they are friends.  The wife insists on repeating, to her husband, the GPS directions every single time the GPS spits out new driving directions.  Mr. Cosby re-enacts a hilarious mime in which he, to his wife’s growing annoyance, tries to silently (without the couple’s hearing him) express his growing incredulity to her.  It’s a very funny moment of silent physical comedy.

There’s also a great bit about him trying to order some cookies from a bakery under the nose of his waiting wife.  Cosby is talking about the fencing that a husband and wife can do with one another, and each time he tells another part of the story, he mimes himself (in a more and more exaggerated fashion) fencing with an imaginary opponent.  It’s a very funny bit, a terrific blending of Mr. Cosby’s tremendous skill at story-telling with some great physical comedy.

Over-all I found the second half of the routine to be far stronger than the first.  It’s less focused than the first half, with Mr. Cosby jumping all over the place, and across the decades, to tell stories about his marriage, raising his kids, and his youth.  But the stories are shorter and funnier.  His stories about his kids don’t seem to fit with the over-all theme of the performance (his relationship with his wife), but they’re very funny so I didn’t mind at all!

There are some interesting behind-the-scenes special features.  In an interview with Robert Townsend, Mr. Cosby reveals that he didn’t go into the performance with any sort of a defined script.  He just went out there and talked about whatever came to his mind.  If that is true, then that explains some of the performance’s flaws and makes Mr. Cosby’s work more impressive than I had thought.  How incredible is it that he could just walk out there and talk for almost two hours, being funny!  Though perhaps, at seventy-six, Mr. Cosby needs a little more direction, a little more thought as to the shape of his routines, than he did as a young man.

Either way, even though Bill Cosby …Far From Finished is far from greatness, it’s nevertheless an enjoyable performance.  It’s great to see Bill Cosby’s work again.  I’d be delighted if he continued releasing new recordings of his stand-up, as even imperfect Cosby is still worth one’s time.  But maybe now I’ll go and re-listen to “Noah”…

(Note that my review is based on the complete 95 minute performance on the DVD.  I did not bother watching the edited, broken-up-with-commercials version shown on Comedy Central.)

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