Bill Cosby: Himself (1983)

Bill Cosby: Himself (1983)

“I really want to study this whole thing of drinking, getting drunk, and people saying that they’re having a good time.”

Bill Cosby waxes comedic on anything and everything related to family life.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Bill Cosby Films
  • Family Problems
  • Stand-Up Comedy

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary drops the ball in his review of this classic stand-up comedy film, written and directed by Cosby himself, and “us[ing] footage from four 1981 performances in Hamilton, Ontario”. He calls the film “painfully unfunny”, inexplicably labeling the material as “impersonal” and “conventional”, and arguing that “at no time does [Cosby] display the mischievous boyishness that [made] his television character so likable”. Given the opening comment of his review (“No doubt Cosby hoped to obtain the wild success Richard Pryor had with his concert films”), I believe Peary’s mistake may have been in comparing Cosby to Richard Pryor — two comedians with radically different styles and goals. Among the many amusing moments in this film include Cosby discussing his trip to the dentist (“Dentists tell you not to pick your teeth with any sharp, metal object. And then you sit in their chair, and the first thing they grab is an iron hook.”); Cosby describing his wife giving birth (“You did this to me!”); Cosby talking about serving chocolate cake to his kids for breakfast, and hearing a chorus of appreciation (“Dad is great — he gives us chocolate cake!”); and Cosby debating whether drunks really are “having a good time.”

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Many amusing moments

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look as a classic of stand-up comedy.

Note (1/6/21): This is a rare instance in which I’ve changed my vote for a film based on recent events. It’s impossible these days to watch Bill Cosby on screen knowing the crimes he committed — and while I still have fond memories of watching and enjoying this film, I no longer consider it must-see viewing. The quote selected seems eerily prescient.


2 thoughts on “Bill Cosby: Himself (1983)

  1. I can’t honestly say anything about whether something like this is a must or not – for the fact that I don’t consider filmed stand-up to be in the same category as…well, FILM…just because it’s on film.

    Call me a purist. Call me picky. True on both counts.

    There are some recorded stand-ups that I do find hilariously funny and could watch them just about anytime – Margaret Cho’s ‘I’m The One That I Want’ comes quickly to mind. But I would never call it a film. As much as I may howl during something like that, it doesn’t give me the same sensations as when I’m watching a regular film or documentary.

    Peary may have some other stand-ups in the book (I can’t recall just now). My feeling about those would remain the same.

  2. I’ll agree with you here… When Peary’s book was published in the mid-’80s, it wasn’t nearly so common to see filmed versions of stand-up comedy acts, which I’m sure is how he justified their inclusion… But ultimately, you’re right. However, I still consider this — film? what should one call it? — must-see viewing, simply for its historical relevance on a broader cultural level.

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