OH, NO, MR. BILL!!!

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Bill Cosby was just breaking out big when I began working as a stage hand. When I retired 45 years later, Cosby was still big, still working a multitude of comedy performances in the US and Canada. Over those 45 years, I easily worked over 100 of Cosby’s comedy performances, and enjoyed every one of them. But now…

The first time I worked Cosby was at Northrop Auditorium at the U of Minnesota. Cosby was hot. His comedy albums were best sellers, and his TV show, I SPY, that he co-starred in with Robert Culp was high in the ratings, as well ground breaking. First time a black actor starred in a dramatic series. First black to win an Emmy.

Working that show taught me two things about Bill Cosby: He was fun to work with. (Years later he changed.) And he was no saint. (Rumors have it, he never changed that aspect of his character.)

One of my student crew members had purchased a large poster of a very serious Culp and a smiling Cosby, standing back to back and holding guns. First chance he got, he asked Cosby to autograph it. Cosby did. But he signed it ‘Bobby Culp’. Like I said, he was fun to work with in those days.

He also asked if there was a doctor that could see him during intermission. Lew, the promoter, found a doctor who gave Cosby a quick once-over. Lew then asked me to send one of the student crew down to the drug store to get a prescription.

According to Lew, the doctor said that Cosby wasn’t wrong when he asked for a doctor. He had a bad case of the drips and needed penicillin. The doctor said Cosby wanted it to be cleared up by the time the tour ended in two weeks, and he had to go home and face his wife. The doctor told him no way would he be healed by then. He suggested that Cosby better think of a believable way to blame on a contaminated toilet seat. Like I said, he was no saint, but a lot of fun to work.

Several years later I was working one of the follow spots for a Cosby performances that was booked by Jerry the Jerk. The Jerk had an uncanny talent of making people hate him at first glance – that way it saved time. And he was always conniving to get the most out of the stagehands for the least amount of money. Two facts not lost on Cosby.

Cosby usually comes in an hour before showtime. Goes on stage. Sits in the easy chair and sees to it that the end table has an ashtray for his cigar. Tests the mike and five minutes later he’s back in his dressing room. Jerry, however, demanded Cosby do his checking at 11 a.m. so if anything wasn’t right with the lights, sound,or camera that projected his face on a picture sheet above his head, it could be done in the 4 hour minimum for the Set Up and not run into a 5th hour.

Instead of telling Jerry no, Cosby came in on time; and then he made sure he didn’t check things out until we had broken the 5th hour. The Jerk was angry and told Cosby so. Cosby told us to take an hour for lunch and come back for a rehearsal. The Jerk was real angry; but there was nothing he could do because the contract said if Cosby wanted to rehearse he would rehearse.

The rehearsal started from the top, house to black low stage lights on, Cosby walked out, the follow spots picked him up, stayed on him when he sat down and went into his routine. He told one of his funny stories in about 5 minutes, then stood up and told us the rehearsal was over. Jerry the Jerk hit the roof. Paid all that money and the rehearsal  lasted less than ten minutes.

He should have kept  his mouth shut. Cos said he was going to think things over and have another rehearsal in an hour. Jerry was fuming and mentioned that could result in a meal penalty if we didn’t get out for supper. Cosby told Jerry to make a list of what each hand wanted for supper and have it delivered. Naturally the meal was on Jerry.

‘You know,’ Cosby told us when we were all in the Green Room eating supper, ‘I got a doctorate in education; but there’s one thing I knew long before I got it, some people never know when to keep their mouths shut.’

Cosby grew up listening to the great comedians on the radio, like Jack Benny, Bob Hope, George and Gracie, and he patterned his routines, be they live, or on TV,  after them, relying on family comedy, without any profanity. And it bothered him to see the young comedians building their success on sex and profanity.

The most popular of these young comedians was Eddie Murphy. Cosby was outspoken in his condemnation of the profanity of Murphy’s routine. He said Murphy had too much natural comedic talent to have to resort to cheap laughs by using profanity. Murphy didn’t like Cosby’s advice or Cosby’s type of comedy.

I worked Eddie Murphy during the heat of this feud. A full house at the Met Ice Arena. Murphy worked an hour and a half, no intermission. If he had deleted just the word MFer out of his routine, he would have cut a good fifteen minutes out of the show. He also spent at least fifteen minutes throughout the show condemning Cosby, or as he called him, that senile old MFer.

The audience loved it. Murphy would use his favorite word, MFer, and then scream asking the audience if they were offended. Naturally the audience, thrilled to have a part in the show, would stomp their feet and clap their hands and yell back, ‘NO, you MFer’. This sophomoric display was repeated all the way through the performance.

To paraphrase Erasmus: In the Land of the Morons, the moron holding the mike is king. And as far as I am concerned, more and more morons are purchasing tickets to listen to more and more morons holding mikes.In this case, Cosby was right, even though his words only resulted in him losing the youth as fans.

In 1997, Cosby’s life took a terrible turn for the worse. His oldest son, Ennis, was murdered in, as the killer’s confession called it, ‘a robbery turned bad’. From then on, Cosby became withdrawn. He never kidded with the hands backstage. Spent his free time in his dressing room. But once he got onstage in front of the audience, he reverted back to the old Bill.

In his personal life, he became quite outspoken about the Black community; especially how he perceived the indifference to the pursuit of education. He condemned the trend of the Black families, so many single-parents, and sometimes the parenting had to be carried out by the grandparents with no parents in the picture..He saved his harshest criticism for the Black youths that took the easy way out and dealt drugs to get easy money. He has continued to expound on these themes throughout the years. And as a result he is viewed by a large contingent of the Black community, especially the youth, as a crabby old man – and now as a hypocrite.

Later on in 1997, the Elephant In The Room threatened to become public knowledge. A young girl had tried to extort money out of Cosby by claiming to  be his daughter. She was jailed. In an interview with Dan Rather, Cosby acknowledged it might be true. He confessed to having an affair with the girl’s mother.

For the most part it was overlooked by the American public as being something celebrities do. Maybe though if the public had been aware of the fact Cosby paid the mother $750 per week, hush money, totaling about $100,000 while the girl was growing up, they might have taken it more seriously. And maybe if they had heard that the mother accused Cosby of drugging and raping her their first sexual encounter, they might have been more outraged.

For years, apparently, rumors had circulated about Cosby use of drugs to rape women. When women did come out with the accusations, they were not believed by the police and were not reported in the news. After all, Cosby was ‘America’s Dad’.

I was unaware of these accusations all the years I worked Cosby. I never seen him make any advances on women who were backstage. Always polite. A gentleman. But then, that’s how the 27 or so women, who recently accused him of drug rape, say he was a perfect gentleman until he got them along and spiked their drink.

Do I believe all these accusations? Well, there’s just too much smoke not to have fire. And each passing day it seems like the Elephant is getting bigger, and the Room is getting smaller.

Will it ever be proven one way or the other? Almost any sexual assault is a ‘She Said – He Said’ thing, and the most common defense for the accused is to blame the ‘victim’. Some of the accusers waited so long to speak out; mainly because they saw the ones that did speak out were often accused of lying to extort money from a rich and famous man. When you throw in celebrity status, money, and race into the mix, the waters become really muddy.

Cosby is still doing shows; but these are shows already contracted for, and the promoter fears a lawsuit if he drops Cosby. I can’t imagine a promoter booking a show now.

Cosby is old, real old, heck he’s a year older than me. There comes a point in one’s life where you just get too old to fight. Each performance brings out protesters and audience hecklers. And it will only get worse.

As I said at the top, I learned the first time I worked him, Cosby was no saint; but I never thought he would be accused of sinking this low. ‘America’s Dad’ has become ‘America’s Bad’. Oh, Bill!

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DARN! DARN! DARN!

[WARNING: The following does not endorse the practice of swearing. It merely suggests that if you do it, do it right!]

The Art of Swearing:

Anyone can swear, but not everyone can do it in a convincible manner. There is an art to swearing.  It takes practice. It also takes a firm voice and positive attitude. And one must also take in the fact that the typical American swear words have a tendency toward hard sounds, a good many T’s and K’s. These sounds should not be slurred over. It is also very unimaginative. Referencing religious figures, hexing, scatology, or a person’s birth and or intellectual ability, and so many, many variations of the act of reproduction. It would be so much better if we swore in a more colorful way like: ‘May a thousand camels walk through your tent’, or the more popular, ‘May the Bird of Paradise fly up your nose’; but we don’t and have to play the cards dealt to us.

 mark twain   It was reported that Mark Twain excelled in the art of swearing, much to the chagrin of his ‘long suffering’ wife. To keep peace with his wife he suggested a special room dedicated for swearing. Whenever he felt the need to swear, he could run to the room and swear ’til heart’s delight. But he reasoned, when one needs to swear, there isn’t time to run into a different room. So he dropped the idea. Again, much to the chagrin of his ‘long suffering’ wife.

The Old Hand:

One of his stories Twain liked to tell while on tour concerned swearing and his wife.

He said he was shaving one morning and, like any husband, had done something to get his wife very angry. She burst into the bathroom and cut loose with words Twain had never heard her use before. “Dear,” he said, “You got all the words down pat, but you should work a little more on your delivery.”

At home my dad rarely swore, and when he did slip up and Mom heard him, she always let him know that there would be no swearing in the house. “Ah,” Dad would argue, “That ain’t swearing. That’s just packinghouse talk.”

A friend, Larry, tells the story of taking his father to get his first hearing aid and stopping off on the way home at the neighborhood bar. Larry knew that the hearing aid was working because his father told him angrily several times that he didn’t have to holler. Larry said his father kept turning his head and looking at a table where several young women were sitting. Finally, his father said, “Well I never, in all my life, heard women use those kind of words before!”

“Dad,” Larry explained, “You just never had a hearing aid before.”

Published, 5/27/11, SPPP, Bulletin Board.

Swearing must have a purpose. It should not be simply an interjection for the lack of nothing to say or a play for time to think out what to say next. Blunt talking Lenny Bruce used it for shock value and to expose the hypocrisy of the times. And he was repeatedly jailed for vulgarity. Philosophic George Carlin used it for emphasis and, as in his famous routine, Seven Dirty Words You Can’t Say On TV, to expose the hypocrisy of the times. And he was repeatedly jailed for vulgarity. One has to wonder if the jailings were actually for vulgarity or a circumvention of their right to Free Speech: namely exposing the hypocrisy of the times. 

Today’s comedians, whether stand-up or acting in sitcoms or movies, rely more on vulgarity  than they do in presenting a polished, genuinely funny routine. The shock value is long gone and their routines are too weak to need emphasis, and all that remains is boredom. 

I first noticed this tendency to use ‘dirty words’ to fill out a routine in Eddie Murphy’s live performances. He did a show that lasted a little over an hour. If he would have removed the word concerned with incest, aka the malady of Oedipus, his routine would have lasted  less than a half hour.  When Bill Cosby pointed out that Murphy had too much talent to waste it by the use of constant vulgarity, Murphy couldn’t think of a response, so he  suggested what Cosby should go and do to  himself.       

The art of swearing does not include using swear words simply for fillers or brain burps. 

Growing up, swearing was done in the same secrecy as smoking grape vines behind the barn. Like my using  cigarettes, I  never swore much before I went in the Army. Unlike my quitting cigarettes many years ago, I still swear, much to the chagrin of my ‘long suffering wife’. I, however, have managed to eliminate it in most situations, none of which involve running afoul of a bad driver. 

The Old Hand

My tendency, to honk the horn or give the one finger salute at a driver DWS, (Driving While Stupid,) is pretty much under control; but I admit I need work on my vocabulary. The words that I utter are not the lyrics of the latest Justin Bierber song.

We had to go up to Bemidji so my wife and I went up with our son, Dirk, and his family. I rode shotgun.

The next day another son, Dan, arrived. He was telling Dirk about driving up. He asked Dirk how it was when he drove up. Dirk said it was okay. The weather was good. The kids behaved – fairly well. The traffic wasn’t bad.

‘And’, Dirk said. ‘I didn’t have to swear at even one bad driver. Dad did it for me.”

Published, 5/17/13, SPPP, Bulletin Board

Burton Playbill I heard this story from Eric, Leonard Nimoy’s personal dresser, when we were on tour with Leonard’s one-man play, VINCENT. According to Eric, (which may or may not be true), it occurred when he was Richard Burton’s personal dresser on CAMELOT, (which I know was true).

After a Saturday matinee, he and Burton left the theater by a door which opened into the alley. There was man, holding an almost empty bottle of Thunderbird wine, using the building wall to prop himself up. As they went to walk past him, he hit them up for money. ‘Just a loan. Pay you back tomorrow.’

Seizing the opening, Burton puffed out his chest, pointed his finger at the man, and in his best stage voice said: ‘Neither a borrower nor a lender be. For loan oft loses both itself and friend, And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry. – WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE!’

The wino pulled himself as erect as possible. He pointed his finger at Burton and said in a loud voice: ‘Fuck you! – TENNESSEE WILLIAMS!’

Eric said, that while the man had a problem with his elocution, his volume and delivery was every bit as good as Burton’s.

The wino had almost mastered the art of swearing.