Bill Cosby's Greatest Comedy Album
June 19, 2014 9:06 AM   Subscribe

"The routine Cosby was about to perform—immortalized on the landmark album To Russell, My Brother, Whom I Slept With—represented a turning point in his career. A full 16 years before The Cosby Show debuted, the performance would serve as the blueprint for the themes that would define his work: the father as a loving disciplinarian; the siblings who could switch from screaming at one another to plotting together at the drop of a hat; the confidence that no matter what conflicts and tragedies arise, the bonds of family will hold. In To Russell, Cosby didn’t just find his voice; he tapped into something deeper."

Youtube link to the album, also at the bottom of the article
posted by I am the Walrus (37 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
I got this from a yard sale for 10 cents when I was a kid, and just about wore it out. Thanks for the memories!
posted by thelonius at 9:10 AM on June 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

Thanks for posting this! I have so much love in my heart for this record. My brother and I used to listen to it as kids while we played with Legos. "The police are your mother and father" has been one of our favorite in-jokes since we were old enough to have in-jokes.
posted by JohnFredra at 9:16 AM on June 19, 2014

I listened to it a hundred times on one of these.
posted by fairmettle at 9:17 AM on June 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm glad he's decided to go back into the public spotlight. He's a treasure we all grew up with. I wish he'd answered some Fat Albert questions during his recent reddit AMA. I can't fault him for getting old, and I hope more younger folks these days hear his routines, because they are almost all gold.

And I love Neatorama, too. It's like all the promised fun of BoingBoing without the annoying politics.
posted by Catblack at 9:18 AM on June 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Actually Cosby had several albums out before MRWWIS that dealt with his family and growing up, so I don't know where they're coming up with it being a turning point. He was successful and had established his family and childhood as very regular subject matter well before that. That said, at the time, he was the funniest man on the planet.
posted by doctor_negative at 9:18 AM on June 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

The library in my home town had this on vinyl, easily one of my favorite comedy albums, I probably wore their copy out faster than anyone else in town.
posted by inthe80s at 9:19 AM on June 19, 2014

When I was a kid, I visited with my father every other weekend. These visits got more and more arduous after he remarried, with him sinking into an all-encompassing devotion to the church, I suppose, in which almost the whole weekend would be taken up by a combination of church services, prayer meetings, and Bible studies. During what little time we had away from those activities, he was generally doing some sort of yard work. One weekend, I found his record player and all his records. I listened through his Gilbert and Sullivan operettas and Smothers Brothers and Bill Cosby albums, relishing the comedy and the lightness. From that point forward, the only things that kept me sane on those visits were those albums, the remnants of the oddly humorous person he was before religion consumed him.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 9:41 AM on June 19, 2014 [6 favorites]

I'm just as clueless about "how did Bill Cosby end up as M.C. of the 35th-anniversary gala saluting my alma mater" as I am about "how did I personally end up attending that gala". But there I was, and thus got to see Bill in person in 2000.

I'd heard Why Is There Air a lot, and his set reminded me of that a lot; however, he opened with a line that I fell totally in love with and quote to this day:

"This is a school for weird children."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:51 AM on June 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm still impressed how Cosby got away with recycling a ton of material from Bill Cosby: Himself to flesh out half of the jokes for the first season of The Cosby Show. People would probably cry foul on that sort of thing nowadays.
posted by planetesimal at 9:54 AM on June 19, 2014

Yes, Cosby had several very successful albums before that, including "Wonderfulness" which has what I consider to be his best piece ever, "Chicken Heart." (That piece was based on an actual radio play that was part of the "Lights Out" program.

I got to see Cosby live in the late 70s or early 80s, and when I walked out the concert I was physically in pain from laughing so hard. When he was on, he was brilliant.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 10:06 AM on June 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

I can't overstate how important Bill Cosby was to me growing up. He was the first comedian I ever knew as a comedian. I had his early albums and even a book from Scholastic, "Cool Cos". To this day I still use his "voopa voopa" sound from Noah and the Ark to describe sawing wood.

It would be a long time before I ever discovered anything nearly as funny as "zillions of man-eating turtle heads."
posted by tommasz at 10:13 AM on June 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

I loved the Chicken Heart story. "Welcome too Liiiiiiiiiiiiggggggghhhhhhhhtttttttssssss Oooouuutttt!"
posted by doctor_negative at 10:13 AM on June 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

Large, my-cheeks-are-hurting, belly laughs, every time I hear it.

I love me some Cosby. This is right up there with the Dentist routine and the Cake for Breakfast bit.
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:18 AM on June 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm still impressed how Cosby got away with recycling a ton of material from Bill Cosby: Himself to flesh out half of the jokes for the first season of The Cosby Show. People would probably cry foul on that sort of thing nowadays.

Well, much of Seinfeld (the show) was recycled from Jerry Seinfeld's stand-up act as well. I think that's just sort of the thing for sitcoms that are designed as vehicles for comedians.
posted by thereemix at 10:40 AM on June 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Always had a fondness for his standup work, ever since I was a kid. It would be the albums the whole family would listen to at home or car trips together.

Now to find my stash and dust them off again!
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 10:48 AM on June 19, 2014

Whatever the turning point was, "Bill Cosby, Himself" is the high water mark. Placed in the context of the human art of storytelling, it is pretty much as good as it gets.
posted by billyfleetwood at 10:55 AM on June 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

My wife got us tickets to see him a year ago or so. I honestly didn't know what to expect. I had, of course, seen his HBO special in the 1980s and enjoyed it, but everything I'd heard of him lately had to do with some controversial rant he'd made about one thing or another. Frankly, I was kind of expecting to see an hour of Grandpa Simpson.

Holy shit was I wrong. He was sharp as always. At one point, his 80-something self laid down on the stage as part of a bit. Took him a little while to get back up, but he did it.

I was with my wife, my 11 year old son, and my 81 year old mother. We all enjoyed it.

I want da chocolate cake
posted by bondcliff at 11:05 AM on June 19, 2014

I can attest that every word in this routine is true except it happened in the room my brother and I grew up in years after he released the album. Cosby was psychic.
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:14 AM on June 19, 2014

I haven't heard the album, but I got to see him in London in '97 or so. I had grown up watching the Cosby Show, it was a staple, but never had I laughed so much watching that show as I did that night I saw him do his stand up. He will always earn praise from me for his comedy to the day I die.
posted by Atreides at 11:26 AM on June 19, 2014

Every stand-up I've ever seen get a sitcom has recycled bits from routines on TV: Romano, De Generes, Chris Rock... It's okay for the first year ... I guess.

His bit on the Tonight Show (or was it Sullivan?) about loading a musket during the Revolutionary War was already genius, in the early 60s.

I actually have seen him do some Grandpa Simpson, on occasion, with wandering that made me really sad, and his politics have gone where I hoped they'd never go, esp. after the brilliance of the first Bill Cosby Show.

Nev'th'less, these albums, Wonderfulness and Russell, are national treasures.
posted by allthinky at 11:47 AM on June 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I listened to Wonderfulness probably 500 times as a kid.

I did the go-carts bit in the "humorous acting" category of my High School Forensics competition and made all-state doing it. It was so easy because I had no script to learn.

"We used to steal the wheels off of baby strollers, and make go-carts..."
posted by mcstayinskool at 12:09 PM on June 19, 2014

Naw, the best bit is from the Bill Cosby is a Very Funny Fellow...Right! album (same one with the Noah bits). "New York City is the greatest city in the world. You can get all the entertainment you want for only fifteen cents. Ride any of the subway trains that they have there. Not only will they take you where you want to go and bring you back, but they go out of their way to entertain you. They put a nut in every car."

Yes, I typed that from memory. Kills me every time. Killed me before I moved to New York, and kills me absolutely dead after I moved here.
posted by Liesl at 12:44 PM on June 19, 2014 [6 favorites]

The best part of his routine is how totally he captures sibling and parent interaction.

posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:48 PM on June 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

"I forgot I was behind him." --- from Fat Albert (Buck Buck).
posted by SPrintF at 1:26 PM on June 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Whatever the turning point was, "Bill Cosby, Himself" is the high water mark. Placed in the context of the human art of storytelling, it is pretty much as good as it gets.

Back in the early days of HBO it's like they showed that thing every day. And last year I had the opportunity to idly flip by HBO again late one night and they were showing it again.
posted by JHarris at 1:32 PM on June 19, 2014

So many quotes off those albums. Man, the bit where he reenacts Sheldon Leonard's honeymoon: "She delicately finger-walked across the lake and stood there yelling great obscenities at me."

The chicken heart" "Oooooh, got my jello started smearing it all over the floor!"

The tonsils: "So long suckers. i gotta warn ya, if they run out of strawberry, chocolate and vanilla are definitely in jeopardy."

Had those memorized as a 12 year old. Still mostly do, and haven't heard any of them in years. Genius stands. Thanks for bringing them back to my attention.
posted by umberto at 1:33 PM on June 19, 2014

Hofstra came out of the locker room. I had never seen guys that big in my entire life.

You would not believe how disappointed I was, years later, after I met people who had gone to Hofstra and saw they did not have one eye in the center of their foreheads.
posted by RakDaddy at 2:18 PM on June 19, 2014

For sixth-grade speech competitions, I wanted to do Noah. The speech coach didn't want to do any speeches that weren't the ones that had been used since the Hoover administration, so she told me I'd have to type up a script if I wanted to do Noah.

So, for a week, all my free time was spent with my Texas (chainsaw!) Instruments tape recorder, playing, pausing, rewinding. I had the album on LP, so when I broke one tape, I just duped another one off that. And typing. My mom had a *cursive* typewriter, and she wasn't gonna let me use her good typewriter, so I typed the whole thing out in cursive. ALL CAPS. By the time I was done typing it up, I had the whole thing memorized. (Twenty seven years later, I can still get through 70% without difficulty.)

My niece went to the same grade school. They're still using that all-caps cursive script.
posted by notsnot at 2:28 PM on June 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

tommasz, I had the book "Cool Cos" too. Come to think of it, my copy may still be in a box in the basement.

I was a huge Cosby fan as a kid, and at one point had the "buck buck" bit memorized well enough that I could could recite it from memory during the car ride home from a Scout campout, and actually got the other kids to laugh.

Another favorite of mine was "Revenge," with its elaborately, even lovingly, described scenario of vengeance on Junior Barnes, veering at the last possible minute into another solution entirely: "So, I went back outside, and I spit on him."

And as long we're talking early Cosby, here's "Little Old Man" and the Silver Throat Sings album. Also, "Hikky Burr."
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 4:24 PM on June 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

You gunky.
posted by murphy slaw at 5:44 PM on June 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

Oh my dog, the first time I heard (on tv) Bill Cosby do the Russell piece, I laughed so hard I nearly fell off my chair. He could have been talking about me and my brother (1 yr, 4 mos. apart in age, and very close). That's what made it funny -- it was so TRUE.

And Chicken Heart passed into family mythology too. Years later, we introduced my much younger sister to it. She got it too.

We had a bunch of his albums (yes, on vinyl) and could recite a lot of the bits from memory. Good stuff.
posted by Archer25 at 6:13 PM on June 19, 2014

$75 Car is my favourite:

Oh I've hit a cow!

this tree jumped right out of the forest and bit my car boy.

Oh your A-Frame's fallen out; cost you a million dollars.

You ever try to blow out a flare?

A guy with a one room apartment [..] would have a dog the size of a Mack Truck. The dog would command him. "I MUST GO"

But it's hard to choose really he had so many classic bits.
Fat Albert's car, "whhirrrwhiirrr" "It always does that"
Noah, "What's a cubit?" "How long can you tread water"
Hofstra, "11 temple men out cold" "So I grabbed my head"
Driving in SF, "Come around idiot, come around"
posted by Mitheral at 6:20 PM on June 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

The tonsils


(Hey! You! Amost a doctor!)
posted by dirigibleman at 7:08 PM on June 19, 2014

Little, tiny hairs! Growin', out my face!
posted by hearthpig at 7:32 PM on June 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Noah. Oh my goodness, this is still by far one if the funniest Cosby bits ever. My kid brother and I still can do most of it as call and response.

"I want you to build an Ark
Whats an Ark?
Get some wood and build it. 300 cubits by 80 cubits by 40 cubits.
Rrrrright! Whats a cubit?"

And of course, the punchline:
"Well I'm sick and tired of this I've had enough of this stuff.I've been working all day. Working on it for days and day. I'm sick and tired of this...

How long can you tread water
posted by zooropa at 7:50 PM on June 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm just coming in here to high-five everyone else who was thinking of "Chicken Heart" in this thread.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:47 PM on June 19, 2014

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