Thursday, September 10, 2009

Bill Cosby on Race in Comedy

As a comedian of color, there are often expectations of the kind of material you are supposed to do. I am an Indian-American comedian, so I apparently have to talk about my parents (and do an accented impression) and make a 711 joke...etc. This does not mean that discussing ethnicity in this particular way is necessarily hacky...but I hate the fact it is expected. Why should I be expected to do anything other than attempt to be funny and tell my particular story on stage.

This being said, I found this great clip of a young Bill Cosby discussing similar expectations placed on him as a Black comic in the 1960s and making a sound analogy between him and Dick Gregory and Sid Caesar and Mort Sahl. There is room in this art form for the clown AND the dissident soothsayer...regardless of cultural/ racial/ ethnic background.

It's a shame some issues are timeless, but it is still inspiring to hear a young Bill Cosby confront similar issues before becoming a legendary, ground-breaking comedian. (And then to see Richard Pryor assume he had to be Bill Cosby before figuring out who he actually was on stage.)

And no, I am not calling myself a "dissident soothsayer." Even though I have been referred to as a "sayer" in an India Currents article and my 2006 performance at the Bumbershoot Music and Arts Festival "eviscerated Western hypocrisy with a verbal razor" according to the Seattle Times.

I am just a man.

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