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Bill Cosby, at Hard Rock Sunday, talks about TV, racism and life

Comedians come and go. Some are startlingly brilliant, others are more thought-provoking, and some gain fame just by being crass. But precious few stand the test of time, able to consistently thrive and survive the whims of different generations while staying culturally relevant.

Bill Cosby is one of the few. And at the stately age of 75, the man who broke TV’s racial barrier in the ‘60s series I Spy as the first black co-star, the creator of the classic Fat Albert cartoon series, and the mastermind of the groundbreaking ‘80s sitcom The Cosby Show, is coming to the Hard Rock Live near Hollywood on Mother’s Day to impart some of the wit and wisdom he’s accumulated over the years.

This is the rare show that young teens and grandparents alike can enjoy together (Cosby is always G-rated), and leave the venue discussing, debating — and bonding — over what went down.

Cosby’s show might draw from his latest bestselling book, I Didn’t Ask to Be Born, But I’m Glad I Was, a collection of amusing anecdotes from his life — or it might not.

“I don’t know,” he said in his trademark slow and deliberate delivery. “The way I work — I have things that are set, but that is really not clear, because I go out, and I’m listening to the audience, and from that I make my adjustments. … I may reach back and grab something from some time ago, or I may take something from the book, elongate it or condense it. It just depends on my reaction to their reaction. And that’s the way I’ve worked for 50 years or more.”

Here are more highlights from his interview with

On the racial implications of his role in I Spy:  “Looking at TV and what was acceptable by white people, you have to go through all of the entertainment. For instance, Nat King Cole’s life and the rejection and the acceptance. And then the stupid racist things people had to go through: Harry Belafonte can stand beside a white female singer, but he cannot hold hands with her or touch her or hug her. The great thing that was straining [in I Spy] was the thinking of the whites and the excuse they used for not giving me love interests — that they didn’t want the black male to be “oversexed.” The confusion, and the mixed signal, is that [co-star Robert Culp], who is white, gets a different woman every week. But he’s not oversexed. Yeah, I don’t get anybody. But it really didn’t bother me.”

On being compared to Jackie Robinson, the first black player in Major League Baseball: “So then, if you go to my position and my role, now comes this paralleling of Jackie Robinson, which to me, I always rejected, because every day was fixed for me. First of all, if Jackie makes it, maybe they’ll take others, but there’s nothing for sure. … Things are based on, “Can he play?” Well, of course he can play, because he’s over there in the Negro Leagues, so now we have to say, “Can he play as well as the white ballplayers?” Well, here we go again. … My pressure was nowhere near — I mean, every time that Jackie walked out on the field with those people looking and expressing themselves, some clapping, some booing, some yelling out names. And knowing that if a guy hits a line drive and you fumble it, you’re gonna make a lot of people happy and angry. And you’re gonna make some sad. You’re gonna make some people in your own race feel, “Oh Lord, he missed the ball and now they’ll never let us back in, because we don’t own the Major Leagues.” So there’s Jackie with the glove, the spikes, his body, his mind and he is one amongst all of these white people. Give me a break, please. Don’t even put Bill Cosby in that position. I remember there was a great quote that Jesse Jackson had, about if there was a person drowning, and Jackie Robinson walked across water and picked the person up and brought him back on land — according to some racist people, the headlines would be “Jackie Can’t Swim.” So: Can he hit the ball? Can he catch the ball? And as far as I know — I may be wrong — he stole home a lot. And that, too, could be a very funny headline, you know: “Oh, they do that very well — black people can steal.”

On the surprisingly incredible success of The Cosby Show: “All I wanted to do was stay on the air long enough — I didn’t even have a number of years — but long enough to make corrections in what these fools were doing in the half-hour things, man. They had little children telling grown people what to do, where to go — and these are white people! And these little children had more intelligence than the grown-ups, and I kept thinking, “Man, these writers really must have had a horrible relationship with their parents.” And I didn’t find out until way after the Huxtables went off the air that there was a plan to do this, and that [NBC executive] Brandon Tartikoff putting us on the air following Family Ties, what the networks were aiming to do was exactly what you see now. And that is, lower the bar of language, for relationships, for innuendo, take warmth and love out and just have jokes. Fine. And our success ruined it, because after that came Seinfeld and Everybody Loves Raymond — there were other shows that followed and just stretched things.”

On his message to today’s youth: “It’s more than one message. It really is. See, my race is not monolithic, nor are the whites. We are all in this — though we tend to keep ourselves separated, we are human beings. And with that, we share the same things. However, if you look at the life of human beings, you will see in their behaviors that these things tend to own us if we allow it. Now comes dishonesty of politics, dishonesty of institutions. Capitalism is fine, but when you add dishonesty to it, there’s stuff coming out. So if I work, and my job is selling tobacco, I don’t like it if my job is threatened. I don’t understand and certainly don’t accept how problematic it is with our children being put in harm’s way, when our job as adults is to keep them out of harm’s way. You cannot have children feeling that there’s no responsible adult, and people cannot think that programs will raise their children for them. Programs have a sunset — they close. Certainly that street corner is not a place to leave your child. The same people who are out there with your kid are out there for a reason — they’re looking for love, for understanding, for guidance. And very simply put, some of this is missing from some of the homes.“