FORT WORTH At Bass Hall on Tuesday night, Bill Cosby, now 76, pointed out that he got married at 20 and has been a father more than 50 years.
What he didn’t point out is that he’s being doing comedy that long as well. His debut album, Bill Cosby is a Very Funny Fellow ... Right!was released about 50 years ago. Most comedians don’t have careers that last that long, and many who do become stale.
But during a benefit for Tarrant County College Foundation scholarship programs, Cosby showed that you can be fresh even when relying on familiar material.
Part of this is because of his voice, which he uses like a musical instrument, including knowing when not to play it. As Cosby riffed on themes that have become staples of his humor — the baffling obstinacy of teen-agers and the way that parents too easily let their kids take control — he manipulated his voice in ways that don’t really translate into print, dropping in pauses that made it seem like he was gathering his thoughts when he was really getting ready to deliver a left hook of a punch line.
For instance, during a moment that began as if it were going to be a turn toward the serious, Cosby admonished young parents not to listen to their parents when they say to bring the grandkids over anytime (“We just got the place back to smelling like it did before we had kids!”). Or when children say their peers tease them about being rich when Dad drives them to school in his Mercedes: “Why don’t you tell them that you’re not rich? [Pause] Your mother and I are rich! You’re not rich!”
Cosby began the show by saying, “It’s a pleasure to [he paused] get paid for this,” to much laughter from an audience that paid some pretty good bucks, with all of the net proceeds going to scholarships for TCC students. You could almost get the full effect by closing your eyes and listening, but then you’d miss the way Cosby’s expressions and gestures underscored his vocal rhythms.
Cosby, who sported a TCC sweatshirt, seemed relaxed despite the occasional distraction, occasionally bantering with people in the audience and giving a shout-out to an old friend, which led to a detour in which Cosby tried unsucessfully to get his friend to sing his old school’s alma mater. His show was still going when deadline called, and he appeared to be willing to hang out all night, if only it wasn’t a school night.