Bill Cosby unfiltered: America's dad talks about Pound Cake speech and why Eddie Murphy is a liar
When I was still in middle school, I sometimes stayed up late to catch the mid-'70s sitcom where he played a quirky gym teacher, the Bill Cosby Show. At the same time, I lived for Sunday mornings, when I could catch a rerun of Cos playing Rhodes scholar-turned-karate chopping spy Alexander Scott on I Spy.
Later, I would learn black folks could be yuppies, too -- complete with a connection to historically black colleges -- on his wildly popular Cosby Show and spin off A Different World.
He's appearing at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater for two shows tomorrow and I was pleasantly surprised to find he was talking to reporters.
But when I finally got him on the telephone for an interview -- which unfortunately happened before his longtime co-star Robert Culp died this week -- I mostly wanted to know one thing:
Did he really give Eddie Murphy a hard time for saying the f-word onstage?
"First of all, Eddie Murphy is a liar," Cosby says with such energy, it feels like America's dad delivering a backhanded slap from distant Massachusetts. "The call to him was not about cursing. I’ve heard people curse. I mean, Richard Pryor is my friend. So what am I gonna tell him about the cursing?"
The story, as Murphy tells it during his 1987 concert film, Raw, became legend. Copping a pitch-perfect Cosby imitation, the comic said he got a call from his elder who proceeded to tell a looong story about his son going to a concert and hearing him curse. The bit ends with Murphy-as-Cosby saying "you cannot say f--- onstage" and Murphy then slipping into a Pryor imitation, saying "tell him to have a Coke and a smile and shut the f--- up!"
Twenty-three years later, Cosby is still stung by the routine, which proved the centerpiece of a hugely successful concert film. More than that, Murphy's Raw was the cry of independence for a generation of young black comics more galvanized by Pryor's in-your-face, explicit vision of black culture than Cosby's mainstream attitude.
Cosby says he was trying to warn Murphy; he had played a concert hall days after him and heard from workers that the younger comic had gotten mad at a spectator, threw down his wallet and boasted about how much money he was making.
"People are gonna look at you and they’re gonna say, okay, I don’t like this guy ‘cause he’s got money and he’s making fun of me," said Cosby. "This is not smart...(but) he just did not appreciate my telling him that it was wrong."
My interviewing Mr. Cosby was fun, if bittersweet. He has spent a lot of time defending the "pound cake speech" he gave years ago, designed to shock poor black people into taking more responsibility for climbing out of poverty. He's also faced some pretty serious allegations of sexually abusing women and admitted to an affair outside his 40-plus-year-long marriage.
And click here to see a video clip of the Eddie Murphy routine that got Cosby so steamed. BE WARNED - there's lots of cursing and it's not suitable for kids or most workplaces.
Since I can't embed the Murphy YouTube video -- too much cursing for a family newspaper site -- check out BlackNerdComedy.com's tribute to black funny people: