The Washington Post

Bill Cosby and Sarah Silverman: He’s back to his old tricks, and so is she

Comedian Bill Cosby performs in his first recorded stand-up performance in 30 years. (Erinn Chalene Cosby/Comedy Central)
TV critic

No two comedians are less likely to appear in the same review than the gynocentric Sarah Silverman and that ol’ puddin’ pop Bill Cosby — and yet, by happy accident, here they are.

Cosby, 76, appears on Comedy Central on Saturday night in his first filmed stand-up special since 1983, returning to the ever-fertile (if well-trod) subjects of marriage and parenthood. Silverman, over on HBO, has more of her fresh and intentionally profane ideas about gender, media and random life lessons. Cosby still eschews working blue, whereas Silverman might not have an act without it.

Hank Stuever has been The Post's TV critic since 2009. He joined the paper in 1999 as a writer for the Style section, where he has covered an array of popular (and unpopular) culture across the nation. View Archive

In “Bill Cosby: Far From Finished,” he shuffles onstage and settles himself into a chair and then goes on a tad too long with the meta-observation that he is actually here (in front of an audience in Cerritos, Calif.) taping a set for TV. If “Far From Finished” is merely an exercise in exercise — flexing and stretching muscles in a use-it-or-lose-it routine — then I suppose we could just leave any criticism at “Yep, Bill Cosby’s still got it.”

But got what, exactly? It’s a full 20 minutes before he gets rolling. You remember how much of his routine is mainly about his eyes and the elasticity of his face and the pregnancy of his pauses.

Once he’s comfortable, it’s a sunset version of his favorite observations on the protracted peace negotiation process that is marriage. What we get for most of the show’s 90 minutes, is a mostly funny, often charming and occasionally unsettling account of a man whose diet and whereabouts are under his wife Camille’s constant surveillance. He is helpless in her grip, but still parries and jabs in what he admiringly calls their swordfights. In railing against a marriage that’s lasted 49 years so far, he’s clearly making a tender (if surrendered) argument for it.

At certain points, the material begins to feel exhumed rather than nostalgic; Cosby’s most vibrant moments are when he talks about being an old guy. Though it’s a sentimental treat to see him revisit his beloved shtick, viewers might find themselves wishing he’d tell us more about his todays rather than his yesterdays.

Turning 43 next month, Sarah Silverman is no spring chicken herself, but she still exudes an energetic, obnoxiously insouciant girlishness that she then forges with assertively sexual and arguably post-feminist material. In “We Are Miracles,” a brisk and pleasingly outrageous hour-long set taped before a crowd of 39 people in a very small Los Angeles venue, she shows off her ability to segue from naif to sharp-tongued devil in a split-second.

What works about her comedy style is the persistent notion that the sweetest people can say the most horrible things and that, by putting it out there, she can somehow (she crosses her fingers and hopes) neutralize any subject — the Holocaust, rape jokes, her mother’s pubic hair, what-have-you. “It went in my head and I couldn’t be alone with it,” she says, after one particularly provocative line.

Thus she masterfully handles tales of her porn-watching habits (employing her favorite search terms) and musings on how kids at her school blamed her, a Jewish girl, for killing Jesus: “I remember thinking, even then, that it’s not like we killed baby Jesus. He had quite a run,” she says. “And by the way? You’re welcome. If we hadn’t killed him, he wouldn’t even be famous.”

Bill Cosby: Far From Finished

(90 minutes) airs Saturday at 8 p.m. on Comedy Central.

Sarah Silverman: We Are Miracles

(one hour) airs Saturday
at 10 p.m. on HBO.



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