by Bill Cosby
First off, if you don’t like Bill Cosby, something might be wrong with you. As a comedian he can be funny and insightful while still being family friendly, which is definitely more than you can say for some of his contemporaries. If some of his stuff seems dated, it’s because everyone has pretty much latched onto his style, and still nobody’s really come close to doing it as well. The guy can rock a sweater, and he’s allegedly one of the Black Crusaders. Legendary.
That being said, Cosby is funny in large part because of his stand-up style, and he’s particularly known for his voices; he can perform as an exasperated father, an infuriating child, a meathead football coach, or anybody you could want. This doesn’t always translate well onto the written page. In the case of Fatherhood, it is especially disappointing because I’ve heard so many of the stories on the countless Cosby CD’s that we have, and reading the same stories in print doesn’t really measure up. For example: Bill’s wife makes him get up at the crack of dawn to cook breakfast, and he concludes that chocolate cake is the perfect breakfast, as it contains milk, eggs, and wheat, infinitely pleasing the children until Mom comes down and puts a stop to the party. The stand-up is hilarious as Bill goes from early morning crankiness, to relief at having found a loophole in the system, and back to shame and wonder that he ever thought he would get away with it.
For your viewing pleasure:
Now, in the book, this six minute ode to the heroic father is reduced to 2 pages. There’s nothing wrong with shortening a story, but so much of Cosby’s humor is lost that it seems like a completely different person is telling the story. There are several examples of this throughout the book; anecdotes, that I know are funny because I’ve heard them on the CD or seen them on Youtube, that just don’t have the same punch when written down. It at times seems strangely de-Cosbified, which is a damn shame for a book written by the man himself.
The other thing about this book is that it takes somewhat seriously its mission to be a guide for fathers. Obviously, a lot of Cosby’s stand-up material comes from his experience as a father and husband, and as such is something of an instructional guide: Bill gets in trouble for giving his kids chocolate cake for breakfast, so I will try not to do that. It just seemed to me like the book was half comedy, half advice. I’m not sure why, but the editors apparently felt obligated to add an introduction and afterword by some doctor talking about the changing nature of fatherhood. This guy, Dr. Poussaint, basically talks about how the father’s role is expanding into areas traditionally considered the mother’s domain, and vice versa. There’s nothing wrong with adding a little factual information here and there, but it reminded me a bit of semi-educatiotional kids’ TV shows, like Magic School Bus, in which a few facts would be shoehorned oh-so-subtly into the action. Any adult who would seek genuine advice on being a father from a Cosby book might not be ready to be a father.
On the other hand, Cosby himself doesn’t overdo it on the ‘real’ advice to fathers. Most of his advice is either: A) don’t have kids, or B) try not to kill your kids. Cosby is at his best when he turns the plain truth into an interesting story, and he does that over and over again in this book. Fatherhood is pretty well-structured and won’t take up too much of your time, so while it may not be the best, it’s certainly not shamefully bad. I myself am not a father, thankfully (hopefully..?), so perhaps I’m not the guy who should be reviewing this book for you.
If you come across Fatherhood you might want to check it out, but I wouldn’t necessarily go searching for it. Instead, go on the internet and watch his comedy routines.