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Playboy Interview: Bill Cosby
  • February 21, 2012 : 20:02
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Playboy: You won three consecutive Emmys for I Spy, and your comedy LPs won you four consecutive Grammys. Which meant more to you?

Cosby: They all mean the same to me: that I'm a winner; that I've been chosen by the people of my profession, regardless of who they are, as the best. I think if I could take the awards and do what I really wanted with them, I'd probably Scotch-tape them onto the hood of my car and kind of drive around with a little smile on my face. Because I'm really proud of them, man. But you're supposed to be very cool about these things and tuck the Emmys and the Grammys away in the corner of some room, so that nobody will think you're vain and conceited. The greatest moment of an award, though, is when they announce your name, the moment when you're expected to say thank you. Then it's on to the next thing; you can't hang around bathing your body in the reflection of a trophy.

Playboy: One of the things you seem to be going on to next is singing. You have two vocal LPs out, and one of your singles, Little Old Man, was a pop hit two years ago. Are you going to try to make it as big in singing as you have in comedy?

Cosby: No; singing is just something I like to do. I like rhythm and blues and I'm thinking about cutting another blues album, but I don't even come close to having any kind of a voice. It's just a hobby -- like some guys like to golf. They don't play a good game, but they're out on the course every morning. I don't shoot a good game of rhythm and blues, but I got my cap and clubs and shoes, and I go sing.

Playboy: Your first film -- a remake of Here Comes Mr. Jordan -- will be released sometime this fall. Do you have the same trepidations about going into movies that you did before you became a television star?

Cosby: Not as many as then, but I'm entering a new field, and that means I've got a new audience to win over; it doesn't matter about past awards or that when you play a city, you draw 17,000 people for a one-night stand. This is a new thing and you've got to make a new impression. But I hope to have better scripts than I did on TV, and I hope to do things that have broader scope.

Playboy: At this point, how would you assess yourself as an actor?

Cosby: I think I have a personality talent. I can play a sensitive guy and also a funny guy, caught in a funny situation. You won't see me going into Brando-ish depths or trying to compete with Sir Laurence Olivier on Shakespeare. But I feel I have the intelligence and the talent to be a big star; I really believe that. This isn't conceit; it's just that I know what I can do and, by this time, I also know that by doing things the way I want to do them, people will be for me.

Playboy: Do you ever worry that your popularity will wane and that you'll no longer be able to earn the kind of money you're presently pulling in?

Cosby: I have a great fear of winding up broke; I guess that would be about the most embarrassing thing that could happen to me. Because, if I do wind up broke, my mother will blame it all on the cigars I smoke; my father will say it's because of all the expensive things I bought at Dunhill's; and my wife will say it's from all the charitable organizations I've given to. So to avoid all that, as I said before, I'm involved in long-range investments -- like land -- that will eventually bring me an income of about $50,000 a year. Maybe one day, I'll have made such heavy bread that even Sam won't be able to penetrate it, and then I hope I'll be set for the rest of my life. Because I really do plan to get out of show business within five years or so.

Playboy: Completely?

Cosby: No, I'm not going to make a total break with show business, because, to me, that would almost be like castration. I think I'll be doing occasional TV specials and appearances, a little less than the kind of thing Bob Hope does. I'm going to just take my little bundle and let all those handshaking, graft-taking $30,000-a-year politicians know they won't have to worry about me standing in any unemployment line.

Playboy: What will you do with yourself?

Cosby: I plan to teach in a junior high school, which is where kids become glandularly aware of being male and female. Early adolescence is a very difficult time of life for ghetto kids, because people to look up to, like I said earlier, are scarce in a poor neighborhood. In middle- and upper-middle-class neighborhoods, kids have their fathers to look up to -- college graduates or skilled workmen. In lower-class neighborhoods, kids look up to the gambler's skills -- skills that work openly against the law. Poor kids have no image that teaches them the value of education. It has to do with what they're taught in history classes, too; I'd want to show kids there are black heroes to be proud of, so they have a different kind of cat to look up to. Because, let's face it, most of the black people we admire are running that race or hitting that ball or dribbling it down-court. And so black girls hope to marry a guy who'll become a professional athlete. And the guy hopes to become a pro, goes to college without knowing about or being ready for college, plays ball and often never graduates. Without teaching a subject in particular, I want to help put those kids on to finding out what they really want to do in life.

Playboy: But schools aren't set up for classes without any particular subject.

Cosby: No, they're not -- but that doesn't mean they won't be. In small towns, the church and the school are the center of things; functions are held at both and the pastor and the teacher know all the parents. No school is like that in the big cities. Instead, school is the building whose windows you break in the summertime; it's the building with the yard where you play penny poker games. It isn't the connecting ground it should be for kids. Children grow up thinking that all teachers are Ichabod Cranes, but teachers are just underpaid human beings who aren't supposed to strike. For every successful human being, there are at least three or four teachers who inspired them to become what they are today; but the teachers never get any of the credit. When I was in school, I remember a teacher telling me I'd better study or else I'd grow up to be a garbage man. If you look at what the average garbage collector makes and what the average schoolteacher makes, I think the garbage man is probably telling his kids they'd better not study or else they're going to wind up as schoolteachers.

Playboy: In last December's Playboy Interview, Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver said that unless black demands for equality are quickly met, the result will be "a second Civil War...plunging America into the depths of its most desperate nightmare." In view of your plans to teach black children, form black production companies and continue your entertainment career, it would seem that you don't agree with Cleaver's evaluation of America's future.

Cosby: I'm not in favor of raising guns, but I don't think Cleaver would be, either, if he thought there was any other way to solve the racial situation in this country. A lot of black men feel that way, and I can't say they're wrong, because America's resistance to giving the black man a fair shake is almost unbelievably strong. And when black people keep butting their heads against the stone wall of racism, there are those who feel they have to become violent.

Look, there can't be an argument over the fact that we should have equality in America. But the white man doesn't want us to have it, because then he'll be giving up a freedom of his -- to reject us because of color. I really believe that black people could march until the end of the world and the majority of whites still wouldn't want to give up what they see as their precious right to be racists. Whites should realize that, under these conditions, it's only natural for some of those marchers to finally say, "Shit, man this ain't gettin' us nowhere. The best thing to do is throw a goddamn bomb into the building." When Martin Luther King was murdered, I felt that his death made the nonviolent approach appear irrelevant to many black people.

Playboy: Stokely Carmichael and others said that Dr. King's murder marked the passing of nonviolence. Do you agree with them?

Cosby: Martin Luther King was a good teacher of the nonviolent philosophy and a great leader. I think his philosophy is still as meaningful today as when he was alive. It was well before his death that Stokely broke away from nonviolence, and it was well before his death that violent, militant groups came into being. But I don't think people can arbitrarily be put into neat categories of violent or nonviolent. I can tell you that I don't believe in letting black people get pushed around when they're in the right. If a lot of black people no longer believe in nonviolence, it's because they've lost all faith and trust in white men. Black people have lain in the streets and they've let whites hit them in the head with everything from clubs to ketchup bottles. They've let themselves be called niggers and have still somehow managed to walk tall and show that they still believe in nonviolence, that this philosophy makes them better than those who torment them. But they've taken all this abuse, and for what? How far has it really gotten them? Many intelligent and educated black people are tired, just plain tired, of being noble, of not striking back. And I think that a lot of white people secretly hope that the Negro will renounce nonviolence.

Playboy: Why?

Cosby: Because it would give whites an excellent reason to go ahead and strike; they think force is the easiest way to solve the problem. Not necessarily a war, but some law that would quietly march us off into concentration camps until we learned that this is theircountry.

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