THERE ARE two things that are immediately evident about Bill Cosby, Ed.D.
One is that his capacity crowds at Melody Fair this weekend were almost entirely white. The other is that he is a very funny man, particularly when playing the righteously wronged parent of a generation of eraserheads.
He never mentions race except to apologize for what could be correctly construed as a stereotype regarding the superior grit, humility and intellect of summa cum laude Asian immigrants who are whisked away by IBM in 747s for careers as rich Americans within seconds of their college graduations.
Cosby has more than a little Ward Cleaver in him. He seems to have slipped onstage through a time warp straight from 1961, skipping Freedom Riders, the Black Panther Party, Malcolm X, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Howard Beach and even Shirley Chisholm. Like his several easy-to-read books and his television show, he gives us what is (one hopes) only his public persona: a decent man who lives with his family in a brownstone on Saturn.
For truth and relevance, he mugs and moans at an experience that, if not universal, is one to which we all have reference -- parenthood.
The bad-kids/good-parents stories took up nearly an hour and a half of the show. He rolls our gifted and dimpled darlings into miserable hairballs from hell and chucks them into the giggling faces of their parents.
Cosby makes an alarmingly strong case for what he warmly refers to as parental "whacking and lectures." His children have never been hit at all, he says, and look at the mess they turned out to be. No, not that bad, just not as successful as their father.
His frustrated railing at children who finally get out of college by the skins of their teeth and move back home owing him approximately $105,000 each, will bring a wan smile to the lips of parents who mistakenly think they have bought and paid for a moment of sincere pride in academic accomplishment. His takeoff on the dumb and ineffective deceit of adolescents hanging ten on a tidal wave of hormones is as accurate as it is funny.
The comedian holds a doctorate and likes to refer to himself as "Dr. Cosby" once in a while, which may explain why his children have proceeded to avenge themselves by pulling SAT scores lower than the national speed limit.
Despite his spleenish attitude, his pudding commercials point up Cosby's winning way with young kids. He pulled three of them up on stage to support his contention that the parents of the famous should be recognized and rewarded for letting their children live to adulthood.
These children, weaned on "The Cosby Show" and Bill as universal father, didn't mind a little good-natured nose-tweaking at the hands of Poppa Doc.
When he'd squeezed the last drop of self-recognition from child and parent alike, Cosby went on to a very funny take on dentists that rivals the blood-chilling dental scene in "Little Shop of Horrors." This bit features smoking teeth, paralyzed lips and great strings of spit strung from window to baseboard.
It all just goes to show that the old Cos can still do stand-up with the best and the brightest and the newest of them.
On top of that (as Eddie Murphy could tell you) this show has a "G" rating, and the whole family -- decent, hard-working parents and stupid, lazy, illiterate children alike -- can walk away with their 1950s sensibilities intact.
The television star and author as stand-up comic
Sunday night at Melody Fair