Bill Cosby at the Orpheum
Bill Cosby walks on stage at the Orpheum Theatre Sunday, March 27, 2011. (Jim Lee/Sioux City Journal) Journal photo by Jim Lee

After all those years of “The Cosby Show,” Fat Albert and decades of stand-up work, Bill Cosby finally revealed what it is that makes him say what he does.

It’s the people in his brain.

At the Orpheum Theatre Sunday night, Cosby explained those people caused him to sass his mother when he was 6, his father when he was 15 and his grandfather when he was 19. Today, at 73, they also keep him from remembering things.

Seated (like B.B. King when he last played the Orpheum), Cosby wove plenty of tales about his childhood — when he longed for a 15-cent car, when he played baseball with a defiant friend “who never was heard from again” and when, innocently, at 15 he asked his mother what “out of wedlock” meant.

Using that expressive — now, almost Silly Putty — face to good effect, the comedy legend was able to find laughs where others wouldn’t see them. He even turned blowing his nose into a bit of humor. Women in the audience, he said, weren’t even looking at him after he used a Kleenex. “They were wondering what I was going to do with it.” His wife had seen the move at another show and sent someone on stage with a waste basket. Sunday night? There was one behind his chair.

While Cosby has always been able to mine those early years in Philadelphia to good effect, he dabbled in grandfatherhood on this, his third, visit to Sioux City and showed there’s lots more to come.

Even though his grandfather wielded plenty of clout, Cosby said he has found the opposite in his life. His wife holds the hammer. “Don’t worry about him,” she told a daughter. “I’ll take care of him.”

Growing up, he said, he and his family would have breakfast with his grandfather, who would pray for three hours. When, as a 19-year-old, he finally summoned the courage to tell grandpa he didn’t understand a word he was saying, grandpa said, “I wasn’t talking to you.”

Wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt with his late son Ennis’ signature greeting (“Hello friend”), Crocs and blue sweat pants, Cosby created a homey atmosphere at the theater. With a bottle of water by his side, he made it seem like he was sitting at home, entertaining guests.

While he did bark at stagehands who talked during the early minutes of his set, Cosby quickly mellowed and settled into a rhythm that recalled his early years as a comedian. The material was new, the face was friendly and the night was laid back.

More to come? If Cosby really wanted to, he could craft another television series around life as a grandfather. There’s plenty of material to go around ... and an ideal person to play the leading role.

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