“Small house, big laughs at #SXSW.”
That was Bill Cosby’s own tagline for his intimate Monday night performance at the increasingly massive SXSW festival that takes over downtown Austin for 10 days in March, catering to the powers-that-be and the powers-that-want-to-be in the worlds of technology, film and music.
Funny or Die booked Cosby as the headliner for its own three-day takeover of the Lustre Pearl Bar, turning it into the FOD Clubhouse for the first long weekend of the fest.
About two hours before Cos appeared in the back yard, hundreds already lined up outside the front door of the property. By the 8 p.m. showtime, a separate VIP line snaked around the back alley.
With a white scruff of a beard and wearing a sweatshirt emboldened with “HELLO FRIEND” in all-caps in a Funny-Or-Die color scheme, Cosby was making new friends online, and about to greet about 200 fans, several of whom had never seen him perform live before. Which, in itself, is fairly remarkable, considering Cosby’s longevity in show business. Then again, this seemed a most unique way to experience Bill Cosby, under a tent in a backyard on a street turned into a makeshift Greek Row of corporate-sponsored parties. Where one night earlier, Justin Bieber had appeared at a different party for a surprise appearance and acoustic performance.
People peered in through gates from the side yard and pavement along Driskell Street for a glimpse of Cosby, and could at least hear his stand-up/sit-down set from speakers out front along Rainey Street.
Listening to Bill Cosby feels like sitting around a campfire hearing your grandfather spin yarns both tall and large — only in Cosby’s case, he is our nation’s consummate comedy storyteller and has been for the past five decades, and served for a generation of us as our TV father as the star of The Cosby Show 30 years ago.
For about 80 minutes, Cosby sat and engaged the crowd with a few jokes about our own obsession with technology before settling into routines about being required to dress up for his grandchild’s first birthday party, visiting South Africa and learning an alternate history of Tarzan and his son, Boy, and an extended look into the beginning of father-son relationships with God and Adam, the tree of knowledge, naming the animals, Adam and Eve, and eventually leading that back to his own marriage of 50 years to wife Camille.
At 9:26 p.m., he said “thank you and goodnight,” and whisked away by private car. No pedicab for Cos tonight.
As the audience filtered out and made way for a new party crowd at the FOD Clubhouse, one man turned to another, passing me as he said: “That’s amazing. He just did an hour and a half of material about being married 60 years to a bunch of 25-year-olds.” Not exactly. But who am I to get in the way of a great story?