Bill Cosby doesn't just want to entertain his fans. He wants to educate and inspire them, as well.
On Sunday, the legendary comedian will share his life stories and humorous tales at Hard Rock Live in Hollywood. But please, don't refer to his 45-minute performance simply as part of a "tour." To him, it means something much more.
"One of the things I don't consider is what people call a 'tour,' " Cosby said during a recent phone interview. "I work all day, every year, because this is what I started out wanting to become, and whenever you see something that I do — a television series, etc. — I am interested in education."
At 75, Cosby seems to have done a bit of everything. Besides the countless standup performances, he has found success in sitcoms, movies, music and books. In 1966, he was the first black actor to win an Emmy (for "I Spy"). His groundbreaking sitcom "The Cosby Show" was the No. 1-rated television program in America from 1985 to 1989 (it ran from 1984 to 1992).
Cosby grew up in a poor neighborhood in Philadelphia. As a teenager, and not wanting to fall victim to a life of crime and poverty, he joined the Navy. Later, in his early 20s, he took the SAT in hopes of getting into a good college.
"I scored a total of 500 on the SAT exam," Cosby recalls, "but I was the happiest 23-year-old ever accepted into a university."
At Temple University, where Cosby took remedial English classes, he learned not only how to write, but to connect with readers. "My first two compositions were about myself," he says. "The first time I pulled my tooth and about how I procrastinate. It was then I began to open up more of a positive about writing and a positive about how I see behavior of myself. … I began to understand my feelings with what's on that paper so the reader would feel what I was writing."
Although he later earned a doctorate from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Cosby left Temple during his sophomore year to pursue a career in comedy. "Humor was natural [to me]," he says, "and I didn't see it as funny. I just thought that way, period."
Cosby discovered his performance style in a Chinese restaurant many years ago, while he watched a man telling jokes to his friends. "Everyone was laughing hard, and the women were holding up napkins to hide mascara that was running down their faces," he remembers. "I thought to myself, 'That's what I want to be able to do.' Comedy is about healthy thoughts that make you laugh, that make you smile, and you can connect with your friends, with yourself."
Cosby's philanthropic efforts are well known. He continues to lecture at colleges and in poor communities. After his son, Ennis Cosby, was murdered in 1997, he established the Hello Friend/Ennis William Cosby Foundation, which focuses on helping people with dyslexia and other learning difficulties.
His biggest cause, however, is promoting responsible fatherhood. His books "Come On People" and "Fatherhood" (which he co-wrote with Alvin F. Poussaint) speak of abandonment and improving self-esteem — something he dealt with as a child after his father left home.
"If a person is abandoned by their mother or father, well, that can throw them in a whirlpool thinking that they're not worthy, and that something is wrong with them," Cosby says. "They can graduate from college with honors and make the right career choices. But still, there is something in them that they feel is wrong or bad, and they blame themselves."
Sounding much like his "The Cosby Show" character, Cliff Huxtable, Cosby says believing in "you" takes hard work, but he advises people not to play victim. "You have to believe the truth, and that is the person that abandoned you — it was about them," he says. "There's nothing wrong with you."
The ups and downs of family life are something the father of five addresses in his standup routine, especially about his marriage to Camille Hanks Cosby. The couple married in 1964.
"The male is always hit with the saying, 'You're lucky to have her,' and I feel that is very correct. Sometimes, in life you have to pay dues back for what you did in the other one," Cosby says. "So I don't know what she was like in her previous life that [reincarnation] punished her and made her have to live with me."
Those people who can't make it to Cosby's show on Sunday may instead watch the homemade videos he posts to BillCosby.com. In the videos, he responds to fans' tweets, performs comedic skits and dances. A recent video features a pajama-clad Cosby dancing to "Johnny Coolman" by Toots and the Maytals.
"Most songwriters used to speak of love and emotions, and you don't have songs like that today," Cosby says. "Just bone-jumping stuff."
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: Hard Rock Live at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, 5701 Seminole Way, Hollywood.
Contact: HardRockLiveHollywoodFL.comCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun