Thank Bill Cosby for today’s comedy boom

 

I have this crazy idea. Back in 1985, my family got cable TV for the first time and it included HBO. I think at the start they just played stuff from 5-10pm and eventually they played stuff maybe 12hrs a day, but I seem to recall they'd just repeat 2 or 3 movies a few times a day and whatever deadspots they had, they filled it by running Bill Cosby's Himself.

I watched Bill Cosby's Himself probably 2 or 3 times a week for a good several years in my early teens. I know the entire thing by heart and can quote you almost any line if you give me a couple words.

There's this popular held belief about the birth of Skateboarding:

In the mid-Seventies, two events coincided in Southern California that gave rise to skateboarding as we now know it. The invention of the urethane wheel and the drought that emptied the pools across the city allowed the kids to ride their new boards in an entirely new way

It was covered well in the movies Dogtown and Z boys and Lords of Dogtown. I mention it because I've been a fan of stand-up comedy for three decades now and we're in a boom these past few years that feels much like the brick-backdrop comedy TV boom of the late 80s. We have comedy podcasts galore, huge comedy communities like A Special Thing, we have an entire website dedicated to short videos of just comedy, and we have stuff like The Onion going mainstream with video on demand and their popular website. Not to mention popular late night comedy talk shows are joined by The Daily Show and Colbert Report, which meld comedy with news. Fans of comedy are getting their daily fix like never before.

So here's my crazy idea: the boom in comedy these last few years is due to two things that go together well, the internet, for making the dissemination, publication, and promotion of comedy way easier than waiting for a TV network to give you a show 20 years ago, and the fact that a generation of kids got to watch Bill Cosby Himself every day after school for several years before HBO figured out how to gather enough programming to stop repeating themselves.

5 Comments

  • Nah, going to call it on this one, Matt. Like you, I had my share of always-watch movies, like Caddyshack (200 times!). But I think anyone showing an interest in comedy and comedic stuff would enjoy the Cosby but quickly seek out all manner of comedy – going to get comedy records, trying to catch shows.

  • True, I guess I’m saying the generation of 30-something comics currently working might have gotten the bug from watching Himself on repeat in the 80s much in the same way comedians in their 50s talk about discovering George Carlin records in the late 60s and playing those on repeat.
    I moved on to other comedy, but BIll Cosby Himself was like a gateway drug. Hearing the audience and my parents roar with laughter the first time I watched it with them, and I was hooked on trying to make them laugh (instead of yell at me constantly, but that’s another story)

  • I won’t disagree. It seems like not a week goes by that I don’t hear a reference to Himself on one comedy podcast or another. I fall squarely in that demographic, but my introduction to standup was much earlier. I received a Fisher-Price-esque record player for Christmas in 1979 (I was 4), along with a couple of LPs. Within a couple years, I was playing every record I could get my hands on, including the small stack my dad had. The first one I grabbed was Cosby’s Why Is There Air?, mostly because the goofy cover photo had that guy from Fat Albert spinning a volleyball on his finger. I must have played that record 500 times before I turned 10, and it launched a lifelong love affair with comedy. I remember getting cassettes of Himself and For Adults Only when I was in junior high, and, like you, I could recite lines to this day, complete with inflection and the world’s worst Cosby impression.

  • This is so great. I found this on vinyl at a flea market and play it every now and again. It led to me picking up vinyl for some of my favorite comedians, especially Pryor.

  • I like your theory. Also, I like that I know the exact line he’s saying in your still image there.

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