This is a filmed record of a stand up comedy show staged by Bill Cosby in Canada, during 1981. It begins with him walking on to the stage and then continuing to walk until he's gone off the other side, the audience going quiet until he wanders back on, asking them if they want more. With only a microphone and a chair as the sole props, he launches into his self-penned observations on modern life, starting with people's propensity for getting absolutely wasted in the name of rest and relaxation, from alcohol to marijuana to harder drugs like cocaine, he acts out the effects of each and asks why anyone would put themselves through that when they think they're having fun?
Mr Cosby seemed to be quite the expert on folks' behaviour when they were out of it on certain substances, but it's only in hindsight that this opening fifteen minutes to his routines sounded problematic, as otherwise he didn't bring what he became most notorious for come 2014 to bear on his anecdotes in this film. It was patently his attempt to create a more family friendly experience than Richard Pryor's classic stand up film Live in Concert, which had revolutionised the medium, funnily enough from a comedian who counted Cosby as one of his early influences before he branched out in his more near the knuckle, considerably more sweary, material. Was this Cosby returning the favour?
Or more likely was it a case of "anything you can do, I can do better"? Cosby allowed himself the occasional swear word, most famously in his question that if cocaine intensifies your personality, what if you're an asshole? But mostly this was a bunch of anecdotes on family life his target audience, who were legion, could appreciate, though there were diversions about going to the dentist, for example, where he got plenty of mileage out of the very old gag about them asking you questions while you were either having the surgery or loose lipped thanks to the anaesthetic. In the main, we got to hear about his opinions on his parents, wife and children, delivered with long suffering quips.
But there were two reasons it was difficult to enjoy Bill Cosby Himself after fellow stand up Hannibal Buress came straight out and accused Cosby of being a rapist during one of his shows, which resulted in an avalanche of accusations from women claiming to be victims of his methods of drugging and sexually assaulting them while they were unconscious, as if that was not reason enough to sour you on the veteran funnyman. One was a personal aspect, as Cosby included material about his son Ennis, with many jokes about how the boy was going to be murdered for his bratty behaviour, not funny at all when you know he really was murdered years later. But more than that, almost everything in the movie was unfunny anyway.
For much of the time, Cosby spent his routines complaining, and that grew very wearing; not helping was that there was very little inspired about his observations, therefore it all rested on the delivery, and if you didn't respond to that then Himself was quickly very tedious indeed. If you couldn't stand his famed sitcom The Cosby Show, then this had much the same tone, but those were half hours and this is nearly two, so if you were drawn towards the safe, cosy humour of the TV version, you might find something to appeal here. For most of the rest of us, even those who had watched and were entertained by his TV work in the eighties and nineties, his legacy had simply been tainted, so that even if he had been innocent and the victim of many opportunists, you couldn't think of Cosby without all sorts of unpleasant imagery playing in the mind. His picture of domestic life as sheer hell wasn't exactly hilarious, with only the odd moment raising a smile - his facial expression that all dads wear, for example - and the rest of it a slog. Cosby singing Just the Two of Us over the credits wasn't charming either.