ONAMIA -- It was largely a one-note show, but when that one note is being strummed by Bill Cosby, not many people are going to complain. In front of a capacity crowd Thursday at Grand Casino Mille Lacs near Onamia, the 67-year-old comedy legend riffed for nearly two hours, with about 90 minutes devoted to his marriage shtick.
"My wife started out as a very nice person ..." Cosby began, and everyone knew where it was going from there. The comedy legend, wearing a University of Massachusetts sweat suit and sandals, has been doing this material almost as long as husband and wife stereotypes have been around.
And he's very good at it. At times, he leaned forward conspiratorially as if his wife were listening backstage, and shared specifics of his marriage, which every married person in the audience laughed along with.
"I lost the key to my house in 1967," said Cosby, who alternately sat in a chair or on the edge of the stage or sprawled on his side (for the bedroom bits). "I have not been given a key since."
In one of the funniest anecdotes, he recounted being arrested because his security alarm went off when his wife wasn't home. Cosby didn't know the code name to prove he was the owner of the house.
"Well, would you like me to give you some names my wife calls me?" Cosby asked.
Whereas comedians like Louie Anderson and Scott Hansen appeal to audiences with their detailed, Minnesota-specific humor, Cosby scores with his broad appeal, which is why "The Cosby Show" was a big hit in the 1980s.
The marriage humor wasn't anything new, but Cosby made it work with his Jell-O-like facial expressions, captured on the big screens on each side of the stage. Many of the punchlines were delivered with his face rather than his voice.
But he did strike gold when going off on tangents from his main theme. He said his wife is a big fan of television's most ubiquitous show.
"The woman can't stand violence, but she'll watch 'Law & Order' marathons," Cosby said, following with an exaggerated version of the famous "chu-chung" theme song. "And then after that show is over, the 'Special (Victims) Unit' version comes on. It's the same 'Law & Order,' just with different body parts."
At two points during the hour-and-45-minute show, fans approached the stage and asked for pictures and autographs. "I want to thank security," Cosby joked toward the end of the show.
But he was good-natured toward the interlopers and scored with some spontaneous riffing (which, considering how long he's been in the business, probably wasn't entirely off-the-cuff). A 10-year-old named Michael interrupted a Discovery Channel joke (wives hear about female insects that bite their mates' heads off and say, "You go, girl!") by asking for a photograph. It morphed into a 15-minute exchange about the boy's ongoing feud with his 6-year-old brother. Michael, sitting on-stage with The Cos, explained that he was just biding his time until he turned 18 and could move out.
Cosby noted a potential flaw in that strategy: "You don't appear to be all that patient."
Cosby closed with one of his most classic extended jokes -- a trip to the dentist -- giving his facial muscles and vocal chords one last workout. The crowd gave him a standing ovation, and therefore spent more time on their feet than the comedian did during his set.
But even if Cosby seemed to just be lounging around, everyone in the crowd seemed to agree: This veteran's comedy chops are still very much in shape.
JOHN HANSEN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5863.
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