THE CRITICS : Always look on the black side of life
Happily married and in the throes of a sumptuously well-provided-for early retirement, you might think Cosby would not have much to complain about, but that would be to miss an important point. It's complaining that has got him where he is today. So it's strange that so many people have expressed concern about his plans for an American version of One Foot in the Grave: it's the children in The Cosby Show who are nauseatingly cute - the old man can out-grump the best of them. And therein, strangely enough, lies Bill Cosby's political importance. In establishing that black Americans can have little problems as well as big ones, he has been a soft-shoe subversive rather than the social-climbing sell-out of critical imagining.
Watching Cosby on stage in this country for the first time, it is easy to see what made Richard Pryor admire him so much that (as Pryor confesses in his recent autobiography) he devoted the early years of his career to imitating him. The subject matter - driving disagreements, his family's love of fried food ("My father's heavily larded sperm hit my mother's heavily greased egg ...") - is as familiar as an old slipper, but the easy elegance of its delivery and desiccated cool of Cosby's endless rhetorical flourishes are unique.
It's not all good wholesome fun either. Cosby's celebration of intra- marital flatulence strays into realms where even Billy Connolly might fear to tread. And his piece de resistance is the longest and most graphic description of a prostate check-up ever attempted in a British theatre: the midst of a stool examination, apparently, is "the only time when black is not beautiful".
Down at the Riverside Studios' Channel 4 Sitcom Festival, the Cosby Shows of the future emerge blinking into the light. Or something like that. As an aesthetic innovation, the idea of putting three triple bills of would-be sitcoms on the stage seems problematic (what next - David Baddiel writing a novel?), but the results are intriguing. If only for the way they illuminate the subtle contrasts in theatre and sitcom's different forms of restriction.
When each of the first trio of comedy playlets runs over its allotted half-hour, there is a genuine sense of outrage (at least if destiny traps you into watching The Upper Hand, you know when it's going to finish). And the most authentically sitcom-type emotions of exquisite social embarrassment are generated not by anything that happens on stage, but by a baby in the audience gurgling at inappropriate moments.
Neither Marcy Kahan's agonising opener Kerouac (a female central character named after the author of On the Road? No stop it please, you're killing us) nor Patrick Barlow's workmanlike Game On-meets-The Flintstones finale Basic Instincts offers much hope for the future, but Tunde Babalola's In Exile seems to have what it takes. As Meat Loaf once sang, one out of three ain't bad. This harrowing saga of a deposed African dictator making a new life for himself in St John's Wood with only an ambitious personal assistant, a son who wants to be a dancer and a video of The Lion King for company achieves just the right balance of enclosure and escape.
Channel 4 Sitcom Festival: Riverside, W6 (0181 741 2255), Wed-Sat, to 27 Jul.
Life & Style blogs
Plus lateral thinking and living on London's waterways
Other popular areas include Didsbury, Clifton in Bristol, central Cambridge and West Bridgford
Doctors are allowed to have personal beliefs, just as long as these beliefs do not interfere with th...
The 10 Best Scotch Whiskies
Meet David Karp, the 26-year-old high school dropout worth $275m after selling Tumblr to Yahoo
Game on: Xbox 720 and PS4 go head to head with Microsoft set to launch console today
Mothers' diets may harm IQs in two-thirds of babies
Xbox ONE: 'The ultimate all-in-one home entertainment system': Microsoft finally unveils its latest console
- 1 Gay couple beaten in park urge MPs to moderate language on gay marriage
- 2 Swedes set up 'ultimate Viking movie'
- 3 After woman sells virginity for $780,000, here are the results of our prostitution survey
- 4 China agrees to impose carbon targets by 2016
- 5 Far-right French historian, 78-year-old Dominique Venner, commits suicide in Notre Dame in protest against gay marriage
BMF is the UK’s biggest and best loved outdoor fitness classes
Find out what The Independent's resident travel expert has to say about one of the most beautiful small cities in the world
Win anything from gadgets to five-star holidays on our competitions and offers page.
£22000 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education are...
negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Assistant Headteacher required urge...
Negotiable: Randstad Education Cardiff: Here at Randstad Education Cardiff we ...
Negotiable: Randstad Education Cardiff: Secondary School Teachers & NQTs Requi...