Bill Cosby's show at Overture Hall on Friday had a unified theme: the battle of the sexes. The legendary comedian began by discussing the root of the problem -- Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden -- and ended with a story about fighting his wife over the thermostat setting. In both cases women get the upper hand, with even God powerless to help the poor man.
That might sound like age-old gender stereotyping, bordering on sexism. But Cosby's put-upon husband act was so clearly that -- an act -- that you could never take it the wrong way. Every once in while he broke character for one of those beatific Jell-O Pudding Pop smiles, signaling that his exasperation with women is all in good fun. Plus, his wife isn't really the butt of the jokes -- he is. You won't be surprised to learn that Cosby is ultimately the loser in the battle of the thermostat.
Cosby looked so comfortable on the Overture stage that I wouldn't be surprised if he slept there after the show. He sat on a chair in sweatpants, a sweatshirt and sandals, casually interacting with the audience. He interrogated one man about proposing to his wife and found all the evidence he needed to bolster his theories about sexual politics. "They own us and they know it," he said, exaggerating his own impotence. Exaggeration is to Cosby, of course, what daffodils were to Wordsworth.
Cosby, at 75, still has an astonishingly expressive voice. He deploys it like a jazz instrument, with attention to accent and rhythm. (Not for nothing was Duke Ellington playing over the PA before the show.) He's absolutely at ease in his long silences, making you hang on the next pronouncement. Add in his arsenal of facial expressions -- scowling, eye-rolling, staring in mock-anger -- and you have a physical presence that can hold a sold-out concert hall spellbound.
I walked out of the Overture Center with a beatific Jell-O Pudding Pop smile on my own face.