One of my earliest talents was the memorization of comedy albums. The first records I committed to memory were those of Bill Cosby. I sat n front of my older brother's record player and listened with focused intent to "The Chicken Heart," and "Go-Carts." I could hear Bill's voice when I closed my eyes, and when it was time to recite, I was ready. I stood up straight and let fly with whole routines, complete with sound effects and pauses for applause. My parents were relieved, I assume, that I didn't choose to catalog the comic stylings of Lenny Bruce. That would come later. They were fans, too. They packed us all in the station wagon and loaded us into one of the last rows of the auditorium in Denver where I watched that little figure in the distance move back and forth across the stage. I would like to say that I incorporated all of those moves into my own act, but the distance and the size of the crowd kept me from fully absorbing whatever magic may have been out there. I didn't fully comprehend how anyone could understand a word of what was being said amid the din. I did bring back that badge of honor: I saw Bill Cosby.
As the seventies wore on, I retained all those great old bits. It put me in good stead when I was in a place where working blue was frowned upon. I faithfully watched "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids," and for a while I even carried a lunchbox with their likenesses on it. I was a fan. In the eighties, I was happy that one of the shows that HBO seemed willing to run in an endless stream was "Bill Cosby: Himself." I marveled at this sit-down routine that seemed to move effortlessly from childhood to parenthood to drinking and back again. I was captivated once again: "Dad is great, he gives us chocolate cake." This became an anthem, of sorts when I became a father and my own me parenting methods were, at times, called into question.
Like the rest of the planet, I watched "The Cosby Show," and only rarely did I get stuck on the whole issue of its connection to reality. It was a lovely place to visit, and it seemed like the Huxtables were the family that my own family wanted to be. Only with fewer sweaters.
Now, those memories are hard to share without wondering what I could have missed. Allegations are just that, and there is still the matter of a burden of proof. But just thinking about all of that wisdom and sweetness being jostled up against the precise antithesis of that makes it difficult to say "I'm a fan." Some have pointed out that all the creepy things that Michael Jackson did can't take away from his musical genius. Maybe the same could be said for Gary Glitter. Or Arnold Schwarzenegger. Time has a way of washing some of those sins away. It was Bill Cosby who once entertained me with the story of him and his brother Russell, with whom he slept. Now? Not so much. Maybe time plus comedy equals tragedy.