Many people's primary impression of Bill Cosby was this Ontario-shot concert film, which holds a camera on a mostly-seated Cosby at all times (disregarding the audience) and has a strange backdrop that keeps changing color.It has some fine moments â€” â€śChocolate Cake for Breakfast,â€ť â€śDentists,â€ť and a terrific one-way conversation between a drunk and a toilet: â€śThank you, toilet bowl...thank you for being so cool on the side...only you understand me, toilet bowl...â€ť But itâ€™s clear that Cosby has lost something vital to his original appeal.
In his early work, he turned childhood memories into surreal magic, and â€śChicken Heart,â€ť though it owes its inspiration to the Arch Oboler program, bids fair to being Cosbyâ€™s true gravestone piece. But here Cosbyâ€™s a father of five, and he breaks faith with those who enjoyed his raps about being a kid. Now heâ€™s a baffled parent trying to make sense of children who, he keeps repeating, have â€śbrain damage.â€ť So a lot of the material comes off as mean-spirited (and in hindsight chilling, as when his furious wife demands that he â€śkill the boyâ€ť â€” Ennis, shot dead in 1997). The audience stiffens with embarrassment when Cosby admits he wanted his first child to be a boy (â€śMay your foist child be a masculine child,â€ť eh, Luca Brasi?) and was disappointed when it wasnâ€™t. (Itâ€™s jock thinking â€” he wants a football hero, not a son.)
Earlier, Cosby makes fun of druggies, clearly considering himself superior to them â€” unlike Richard Pryor, who made us see the humanity in junkies, because he was one. Cosbyâ€™s bit about the drunk and the toilet plays nicely, because he gives the impression that, like many of us, heâ€™s been there. But too much of the film is Cosby passing judgment, as if comedy werenâ€™t good enough anymore; he also has to tell us a thing or two.As he later did on his smash "Cosby Show" and in his dotage as a sermonizing lecturer on black responsibility (before the numerous rape allegations tarnished his credibility forever), he turns himself into a flatulent moralizer dedicated to our improvement. The tone becomes didactic and insulting.