Posts Tagged ‘cosby’

Bill and Noah and Albert and Me

April 21, 2011

by Thomas M. Pender

The fact that I could memorize just about anything that interested me became evident at a very early age.  While I couldn’t learn science to save my life (and still can’t!), I could eventually recite half-hour sitcoms with the greatest of ease.  One major accomplishment was that by the age of six, I had committed to memory every skit on my parents’ The Best of Bill Cosby album.  It never occurred to me that I could simply recite the routines, but I did enjoy making friends and family laugh by lip-synching and acting out Mr. Cosby’s stories of Noah’s conversations with his next-door neighbor and God, as well as humorous tales of The Lone Ranger, Fat Albert, and Adam and Eve.

Then, I had an idea.  If my best friend Dave laughed so much at my pantomimes, maybe the entire class would like them, too!  With my mom’s and my teacher’s permissions, I took the record to school one day, stood in front of the class, and pretended to tell them stories.  It was a hit!  First-graders were giggling at every desk, and even my teacher laughed.  About a year later, I realized that I had a brand-new audience in the second grade, and I repeated my one-boy show.  By the sixth grade and the end of my elementary school run, I had performed the entire LP of routines a total of seven times (including a repeat performance in the fourth grade, due to a family move to a whole new school districtful of fresh listeners).

In retrospect, I’m not quite sure how I got up in front of those students.  I had awful stage fright throughout my childhood.  I guess it was the fact that someone else really did the performing, and I just went along with him, that relaxed me.  I mean, I couldn’t really forget a line, now, could I?  They were spoken for me.  And as history proved, the routines were pretty much guaranteed to get laughs.  Those first years, I had to sweat through mouthing one “damn” and one “hell,” but no teacher so much as raised an eyebrow, so I relaxed about that.

It’s sort of a shame that I deemed junior high too sophisticated for the Cosby/Pender show, but I know I made the right choice.  In a way, it would have helped me during the seventh grade, during my nervous first weeks of wandering the halls looking for classrooms (which I now had to switch every hour), remembering locker numbers and combinations, and surviving a new crop of bullies.  I did slowly learn that making the bigger, tougher boys laugh was a smart move, and I always attempted to entertain the roughest kids I could find during the early days of each new school year.

It was just a bit tougher, since I had to do it on my own.  Leaving Bill and his characters behind was quite a rite of passage.

My Birthday Movies

March 18, 2011

by Thomas M. Pender

Every year, from 1978 until 1984, I celebrated my birthday by going to lunch and a movie with my dad.  Beginning in ’78, my parents gave all three of us kids a choice between a party and such an outing.  I think it speaks very highly of my parents that we never really considered a party, in which we’d get a potential trove of gifts, but immediately went for some special parent-bonding time.

Among the seven birthday movies I saw with Dad, three stand out.  I think they are memorable to me because each was a different “kind” of movie to which I was first being exposed.

In 1978, Dad and I went to see a sci fi picture called Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  I had no idea what the title meant, being 12, but the television commercials were very intriguing!  What I was most fascinated by during those two hours was not the special effects achievements, not the direction, and not even the story.  I was fascinated by this new exposure to the “PG movie”!  Until that day, all the movies I ever went to see were Disney-level adventures, in which the bad guys were bumbling and humorous, the plotlines were silly and the conflict was absent.  Here was a brand-new type of entertainment, in which people talked like people (and even cursed!), the danger felt dangerous, and you really didn’t know what was going to happen next.  Of course, I had no clue what a marvel Close Encounters was and would become.  I just knew that I liked it.

Three years later, I made my dad’s eyes roll when I announced that I wanted to go see Ralph Bakshi’s animated milestone American Pop.  “You want to see a cartoon?” he jokingly whined.  Turning 15, I was determined to be a commercial artist, and turn my bedroom hobby of drawing into a career.  The fact that an adult-oriented animated film was being released was reason enough for me to be intrigued, let alone the fact that two of my other hobbies were history and music, and this flick promised to present the history of American music.  From World War I era Europe to Jimi Hendrix and punk rock, my dad and I watched one family’s generations experience tragedy and success, all with an entertaining soundtrack.  It took many, many years for this little gem to make it to VHS, and longer still for it to be released on DVD, but even after witnessing advances in animation far beyond Bakshi, this classic still entertains me.  Not only for the accomplishment, but for the memory of that first viewing.

The next March, I shocked my dad again by requesting to see Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip.  I was turning 16, and was a big fan of comedy.  I guess my first exposure to live comedy was my parents’ The Best of Bill Cosby album, the entirety of which I had committed to memory by the age of seven!  I knew very little about Richard Pryor when I saw Sunset Strip, but I was highly entertained by the performance.  Again, it was an adult performance, and I suppose in retrospect I wanted to see it to take another step toward adulthood.  Pryor used dirty words and talked of dirty adult situations, and from my rather naïve outlook, this was all captivating.  I was also impressed that he was able to not only discuss in great detail his June 1980 “mishap,” in which he literally caught on fire while freebasing cocaine, but also his hard road through recovery, which included him watching news reports of his own death while in the hospital.  Richard Pryor made me laugh, but he also earned my respect in that performance.

Milestones of one sort or another each, these films, as well as the four others I saw for my birthday, stand out mainly because of the fun and activities of the days out with Dad, but these three also stood out as singular examples of impressive cinema, and all three are highly recommended.