Rewind book: Fatherhood by Bill Cosby (1986)
by Bill Cosby
With his colourful sweaters and beaming smile, Bill Cosby can seem too chummy for comfort - like your dad trying to be funny. But this book themed on family recollections proves how hilarious he could be in his heyday.
"One day when he was reading in the living room, my brother and I decided we could play basketball without breaking anything," Cosby writes, paving the way for the first twist in a typically wicked joke. "When I took a shot that redesigned the glass table, my mother … said, 'So help me, I'll bust you in half.' Without lifting his head from his book, my father said, 'Why would you want twice as many?'"
It could be said that Fatherhood amounts to a grab-bag of Cosby's stand-up material, but the standard is so high it's tempting to give him a pass. Certainly, readers did at the time: Fatherhood was one of the fastest-selling hardcover books ever.
The father of five displays an intimate grasp of parenting rituals and pitfalls combined with a knack for milking every last drop of humour from a situation. For example, there's the joke about the flow of money between generations.
During his youth, he writes, when he asked his father for 50 cents, his father would tell him how, in his childhood, he rose at 4am and walked 23 miles to milk 90 cows. Worse, the farmer he worked for had no bucket, so Cosby's father had to squirt the milk into his hand then walk eight miles to the nearest can. All for five cents a month.
Now, though, Cosby's father offers his grandchildren money. "And the moment they take the money out of his hand, I call them over and take it from them. Because that's my money," Cosby writes.
In an unfunny twist, in 1997, Cosby's only son, Ennis, died after being shot during a suspected attempted robbery while changing a tyre on a Los Angeles freeway. Reading about Ennis in Fatherhood feels weird, but Cosby's mockery of his allegedly dire academic performance is still amusing.
Whenever asked about how school was going, Ennis would say, "no problem",' Cosby writes, adding that it made sense because there was no problem - no confusion - about his record. "He had failed everything; and what he hadn't failed, he hadn't taken yet."
One must admire Cosby's refusal to indulge in shock tactics - profanity and obscenity are out. Reliant on craft, he makes rival comedians who unleash expletives seem crass and needy.