In what must be just a strange coincidence, a recent rash of big-name comedians have given up the television world that made them household names to hit the stage and get back to their roots. Jerry Seinfeld had a staggeringly successful comedic tour recently. At National Car Rental Center, it seemed as if he couldn't add enough shows to please everybody. Eventually, he went from one show to four as each one sold out.
So it's probably not too surprising that Bill Cosby has hopped onto the standup gravy train as well, though the Coz has only two shows in Fort Lauderdale this weekend. But give the man his due; he's got a few more years under his belt than Seinfeld, and he also probably needs the money even less than his fellow ex-sitcom star. The magnitude of Cosby's success is one of those things that makes your head hurt if you try to quantify it. The Cosby Show, after all, had a phenomenal eight-year run. At its height, 62 million people tuned in, or about one-fifth of the entire nation. And that was only the most recent of other successful television outings, including I Spy, Fat Albert, and the children's short series Picture Pages. And let's not forget The Bill Cosby Show, The New Bill Cosby Show, and Cosby, above and beyond the previously mentioned The Cosby Show. Now, that's name recognition. No wonder he also makes a fine spokesman for Jell-O. Beyond television, his book Fatherhood set a record in 1986 for fastest-selling hardcover of all time, and a string of bestsellers has followed.
And then there's that movie career. Who could forget such brilliant star turns as Ghost Dadand Leonard Part 6? OK, so maybe movies haven't exactly been the man's forte. Leonard Part 6, in particular, was a modern-day Plan 9 from Outer Space. But horrible spy spoofs were de rigueur in those days; 1987 also saw the release of Ishtar, after all, so perhaps we can cut Cosby some slack.
Given his difficulties on the silver screen, it seems perfectly reasonable that Cosby would go back to standup now that he's apparently done with television. Cosby got his start playing nightclubs for $5 a night, telling anyone who happened to listen about his brother Russell, his old friend Fat Albert, and a cast of other oddballs Cosby had met. The whole thing was funny and infinitely safer than the comedy of Richard Pryor, making for overnight success for Cosby, who quickly reached a mass audience with his first comedy album, 1963's Grammy-nominated Bill Cosby Is a Very Funny Fellow... Right! His next five comedy albums all won Grammys, continuing the Midas touch the man has had in any medium he comes upon (except as noted, the movies). But it's been many a year since Cosby's last standup album, more than a decade, in fact, so whether this elder statesman of comedy still has the goods is something only those who go to the show can find out.