Bill Cosby

I Started Out as a Child

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By sidestepping racial humor and the "sick" comedy of Lenny Bruce, Bill Cosby was able to reach a wide audience through keen and endearing portraits of his Philadelphia childhood. And even though he mostly bypassed civil rights issues in the '60s, Cosby, in many ways, was still able to de-stigmatize black culture by presenting his story without the more clich├ęd and tragic descriptions of ghetto life: He was a kid just like any other, with idiosyncratic family members, neighborhood friends, favorite TV characters, and a love of sports. And while on this, his Grammy-winning second album from 1964, Cosby certainly doesn't shrink from detailing his impoverished childhood, he often turns things around by imagining the flapping sound of a pair of worn-out shoes to be part of his own one-man band ("Sneakers") or by deftly shifting from mentioning he shared a bed with his brother to telling stories of their Christmas Eve high jinx ("Christmas Time"). He continues with this affecting blend of reality and fantasy by hilariously casting his alcoholic father as a lumbering, storybook giant. More often than not, though, Cosby uses humor to chronicle his pure imagination: He ranges from dressing down the Lone Ranger and incompetent doctors to telling surreal tales about his pet rhinoceros and the Wolf Man's awkward family life. And thanks to an incredible array of sound effects and imitations, Cosby transforms his live routine into a series of cartoon shorts (the lively, fast-paced dialogue and unique character sketches would eventually make their way into the comedian's popular animated series, Fat Albert). For those interested in Bill Cosby's early days as a standup comic, this album makes for a perfect introduction.

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