With Far From Finished, which will air on Comedy Central Nov. 23, Bill Cosby has made his triumphant return to the world of the televised stand-up special. Then again, calling this new special—his first in almost 30 years—a “stand-up” routine would be a bit of a misnomer considering the legendary comedians spends a good 90 percent of the proceedings seated.
In the years since Cosby innovated the American sitcom with The Cosby Show and saw a career highlight in the form of Bill Cosby: Himself, the funnyman has found himself the occasional lightning rod due to his sometimes controversial views on contemporary parenting. What’s amazing is that, in spite of such baggage, the man need only waddle onto the stage and put on a bit of faux confusion to re-establish why, in the collective consciousness of audiences young and old, he’s America’s ultimate funny grandpa.
Right off the bat, the Cos addresses the somewhat unorthodox fact that he’s performing his new routine on Comedy Central, a station not exactly known for its family friendly humor. Cosby recalls telling someone this only to have them break down crying and yell, “Mr. Cosby’s going to curse!” Yet, the most notable example of the good Dr. Cosby throwing out any profanity comes when he recalls an argument with his teenage daughter. After hearing her exclaim (as teenagers are wont to do), “I didn’t ask to be born!” Cosby comments to his audience, “I thought of three things to say, but none of them would allow me entry into heaven.”
Upon emerging as a comedic force in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Cosby gained renown for his unique delivery, one that eschewed the standard set-up/punch line dynamic in favor of a more conversational, freewheeling form of storytelling. Obviously, now 76, Cosby’s energy has waned, rendering his slow-burn delivery to an almost glacial pace. And yet, watching Cosby launch into his routines and stories, one still senses that intangible magic that made him such a beloved and influential figure in the first place, as well as how few stand-ups have actually managed to capture such magic since then, try as they may. Often, Cosby can achieve more with a slight bulge of his eyes or subtle curl of his mouth than most comedians can hope to deliver with entire pages of jokes. Case in point: One of the funnier moments of the hour special simply involves Cosby briefly reacting to one audience member’s overly high-pitched laughter.
Now, in his advanced years, there’s a slight curmudgeonly streak in Cosby’s set, especially when talking about music and off-handily comments that “there used to be a time when songwriters wrote words.” Ultimately, however, it comes across as more endearing than crotchety.
Clocking in at about an hour running time (sans commercials), the majority of Far from Finished is spent dissecting the concept of marriage as well as offering up anecdotes from Cosby’s own long-term relationship with his wife. They’re topics that the comedian has tackled with great detail before, but he manages to liven things up via a few colorful analogies, as in one segment where he draws comparison between an argument with his wife and a swordfight, complete with a pantomimed routine.
When all is said and done, one should address Far from Finished the same way one approaches the latter-day specials of George Carlin, or a new Woody Allen film, or the recent releases from Neil Young: It may not be the best work these great artists have done, but there’s something undeniably wonderful about seeing a master at work.