Sunday, 27 May 2018

Jerome Christenson: Fat Albert, Weird Harold and me

Jerome Christenson: Fat Albert, Weird Harold and me
09 May

Hey, hey, hey!

Bill Cosby is a very funny fellow … right!

For most of my life there was no question mark there. Now there is.

And I’m not sure how I answer it.

Life can be damn complicated sometimes.

As an aspiring class clown I took to Cosby’s take on what’s funny right off the bat. Here was a guy who knew what it was like to share a bed with a brother who occasionally peed in his sleep. He could explain the mysteries of science — Why is there air? To pump up volleyballs, of course. And he wasn’t bad as a theologian — if the Almighty tapped you on the shoulder to tell you to build an ark how would you react … riiiiiiiight …

No doubt, for half a century, Bill Cosby was a very funny fellow … unless he was slipping quaaludes into your drink.

But I was never invited up to Cosby’s hotel room. Or to his home when his wife was away. He never fondled me as I passed out; I never woke up in the middle of him raping me. I only knew him as a voice, an arrangement of pixels on a screen, words on the pages of a book.

To me, Cosby was a warm, funny, funny man. To the women he assaulted, not so much.

Still, to me a handsaw will always have Cosby’s voice, “vooopah — vooopah — vooopah.” And when asked to do something ridiculously over the top — “Riiiiiiiiight …” rings in my innermost ear.

So what am I to do about that?

It sure would be easier if people were just two dimensional cutouts. Puzzle pieces that fit into the world one way and no other — the same for everyone forever.

But we’re not so simple as that.

To me, Cosby was the goofy face on Nickelodeon that did Picture Pages with my son when he was a little boy. He pitched pudding to my kids and wrote a book giving me tips on how to be a good dad.

OK, so his private life included moments straight from a porn film and I’m glad he never got my daughter alone.

But I wasn’t part of that. I knew his work. I didn’t know him.

In real life, Cosby was no Cliff Huxtable — but then Cliff Huxtable had no real life.

Sort of like that old commercial, “I’m not a real doctor, but I play one on TV …”

So, is Bill Cosby still a very funny fellow?

Well, it’s a pretty sure bet nobody’s going to hire him to sell pudding wearing his prison blues.

Still, 50 years on, his riff on driving a $75 car is spot on.

But now it’s a convicted sex offender telling the story.

It’s hard to forget that. It sort of colors everything. Makes tales of kids and family seem more than just a bit creepy.

I can’t unsee. I can’t unknow.

And Fat Albert cracks me up in spite of it.

There’s just nothing simple about this human condition. Good, bad, downright evil … we all have some of each. Flawed men and women are what we are, and we have to make do with that. Maybe make peace with it.

Recognize ourselves and each other for what we are. And what we aren’t.

So what to make of Bill Cosby — showered with honors for doing good and humane things, convicted of aggravated indecent assault? Sex offender and keen observer of the human condition? Remembered for Pudding Pops or quaaludes? The public or the private?

Just one or the other?

I’m not sure how I — how we — should answer that.

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