Bill Cosby's career is one of the most unbelievable acts in comedy. Over five decades, he's split sides with laughter in stand-up comedy, sitcoms, movies, music and books.
His latest writing, I Didn't Ask to Be Born (But I'm Glad I Was), is a new collection of essays from the elder statesman of snickers. In it, Cosby comments extensively on such familiar topics as family, romance and race. This time around, however, the veteran funnyman is adding another topic to his bag of laughter – Christianity.
In an interview with The Christian Post, Cosby cracks jokes about Tim Tebow, teaching children morals, and everything in between. Through it all, two things are certain: he's undoubtedly funny and undoubtedly a man of faith.
CP: Your new collection of comedic essays I Didn't Ask to Be Born includes many jokes about family life, much like your earlier comedy. How do you think the American family has changed since you started appearing in family TV sitcoms in the 1980s?
Cosby: Family is conflict and it's something that we all relate to. The obvious answer is the number of single parents. I'm 74 years old and during my time there was an idea of marriage and the church. I'm a Protestant. When I was a boy if a girl got pregnant the shame was placed on her and the boy could get away. It might also be because her father would usually look for him with a shotgun.
God has not made anything that I know of that pays so much attention to who their father and mother is as us. Emotionally, a person can become so negatively driven that they don't respect the privilege of being on this Earth without their mother and their father. They may say it doesn't bother them, but there is something in us about those who are a biological part of us and don't care. People in that situation stop hearing the other voices that love them, hold them, trust them and tells them how great they are. They're focused on that one person who isn't answering them.
CP: What is the darndest thing you've ever heard a kid say?
Cosby: My grandson was six years old. I call him and his sister Cain and Abel. As soon as they visit and hit that door the yelling starts.
They play a game called "I'm Telling." They run to an adult and tell them so-and-so did such-and-such. They get smart and whoever committed the crime runs first to tell the story. One day he came running to me and had it all together at six years old with the almost-tears. He told me how she hit him. His sister came in and was upset but in control. She told me he was drawing and he came over and started taking her crayons and he wouldn't stop after she said not to. She took all her crayons at once in one hand and then hit him by accident when he tried taking them.
I then dismissed her and told my grandson that he told a lie. He said he wasn't a liar and I said if you tell a lie you're a liar. He said he wasn't a liar but that he says things to fool people. I said that's the same thing. Children need to hear these things. I know many mature people who are repeating things they learned when they were younger.
CP: You grew up in an era where discrimination against African Americans was common. Has that changed?
Cosby: It hasn't really changed. I think the part of media that romanticizes criminal behavior, things that a person will say against women, profanity, being gangster, having multiple children with multiple men and women and not wanting to is prevalent. When you look at the majority of shows on television they placate that kind of behavior. If you go through a weekly Monday through Friday, it's all there. It's in how people on the sitcoms and cop shows talk to each other.
There should be more on television that uplifts people and shows them how to better prepare themselves for earning a living. There still aren't enough people that say "this should not be." We just let it go. We need to raise a loud voice about our fellow human beings.
CP: You've often cited education as a way of overcoming obstacles like racism and poverty. How did it help you?
Cosby: My freshman year of college at Temple University I was in remedial English. A professor asked that we write a composition about the first time we ever did something. I was 23-years-old and had just come out of the Navy. I had also scored 500 on the SAT. I was the happiest remedial person in the world.
I wanted to write something I thoroughly enjoyed for the first time in my life. I decided to write about the first time I lost a tooth and it was exciting writing about how I went back and forth to the mirror and the pain and the nervousness and all that. My professor passed everything back two weeks later and kept mine so that he could read it to the class. I was floored. I had no idea at the time it would lead to the man you’re talking to now. I then found the more I was drifting towards writing and thinking the more I found I wanted to write and think.
CP: I understand you're a dedicated football fan and I recently saw a video of you encouraging Tim Tebow as he encounters public criticism. Why do you like him?
Cosby: I like what's happening in Denver. The beauty of what I see is that Tebow speaks his mind. When we look at the settling of this country we see a Bible in hand and God. Every Thanksgiving has God and the peacefulness of gratitude. It was important when the Twin Towers were hit and the sorrow with them that the first thing Congress did was sing "God Bless America."
There are thus people in the media and business who after an athlete does something will give them a bum rush. Mr. Tebow is someone who the media has picked on. ESPN found all sorts of athletes and experts to say this young man is not a good football player and that the other starting quarterback is better. They said his footwork is awful and that he is a freak or something that couldn't play at all. People are Tebowing, Tebowing and Tebowing but Tebow won't allow people to focus on what he has done and has not done. He just states the glory of being out there and the privilege of playing. He tells them how his team plays and succeeds and the way he does it is almost biblical.
There are stories in the Bible about people telling other people how to do things. When you hear this young man say "we don't give up," that's something human beings who win will tell you every time. Breaks will happen. When they happen, you keep the same mind about what you're doing. It's about we the people getting on with our lives and doing it that way.
CP: One of your new book's essays cites the Cabbage Patch Dolls craze of the 1980s as an example of a recurring "I want" mentality in our culture. Do you think materialism like that is still rampant now, especially during the holidays?
Cosby: It's an "I want" but it's also about how parents will identify and go out of their way to get something that is built by the media and driven to the heights of hysteria. The worst behavior in the world comes out as they line up to get such things for their child and then pay exorbitant prices for them. Something that went for $400 back then is now $39. Your child will be able to live without that hysteria. They can wail and make a sound that will go to your spinal cord that will make you fall down. It doesn't mean they have to have it.
When I was a child I was living in the housing projects of Philadelphia. I didn't even have a Christmas tree. It was sad waking up then, at that age you don't think like a grown-up. Grown-ups will share that feeling with each other and the child will see the adult as someone who has to deliver them things instead.
Along with the sadness was embarrassment as you don't want people to make fun of you. That too is interesting about being below the poverty line. These people sharing salaries that are similar will still find a way to laugh at someone worse off than them.
CP: Another essay you have in I Didn't Ask to Be Born deals with "missing pages" from the Bible and how you believe despite the biblical passages you don't understand. Why is your faith important to you?
Cosby: If you have no faith, you've lost your battle. You can't let things just happen. If you know right from wrong, and you know proof that certain things are true and people are telling you information to guide you and it's good solid information, than you should have it.
CP: Your "Missing Pages" essay states that "every time we put God's word into human hands, it becomes messed up." What do you mean and what does that say about human nature?
Cosby: Another book that I wrote called Fatherhood states that the first time God used the word "don't" was after the creation of the human being. Everything else he created he didn't say that. In Genesis, it is stated God walked on Earth. He was there on the level. After watching human behavior, he ascended having had enough of us and decided to watch over us instead.
God has a sense of humor though and he must see funny things in us. He must also have some love. We're still here and there are still great things that go on. There are great doctors who discover how to separate twins and how to put together a human being to walk again after it's said he won't. Those are all there as signs.
Never forget that the devil is there 24/7 too. He's very, very busy. When my son was murdered people asked me how I felt about God and what had happened to my son. I said "no, you can't go there. You have to understand that there is a devil and he works 24/7. Whoever murdered our son was with the devil."
CP: You've performed in comedy, television, movies, music, writing and even cartoons. What's next?
Cosby: I'd like to lower my cholesterol. My latest blood test said my cholesterol was very high and my doctor recommended some medicine for it. I said "no" to his recommendation and he said "what are you going to do?" I said I ate my way into this and I'm going to eat my way out of it. That's the end of our interview as it's a great punch line.
The Bible says "this so too shall pass." If you stay away from the things that cause those urges they'll go away for a while. They'll come back, but the timeline gets longer every time.