Laugh Track


Inconceivably, unexplainably, and, inevitably, thankfully, Bill Cosby’s on tour again. But even off-stage, he’s been there all his life:

In 1976, Cosby earned a doctorate in education from the University of Massachusetts, after writing a dissertation about whether teachers found “Fat Albert” useful. (His conclusion: they did.) In presenting his findings, Cosby noted the “inherent racism in American schools,” and he deplored “the pervasive racist myths that dehumanize our children.” Lurking beneath his prescriptions was a quasi-religious faith in the power of “Fat Albert”—that is, the power of Cosby’s own developing philosophy of self-improvement through stubborn striving. In the nineteen-eighties and nineties, plenty of African-American leaders and activists grew frustrated that the promise of the civil-rights movement seemed to remain unfulfilled, but Cosby’s frustration was amplified by a fatherly sense of betrayal: young African-Americans needed help, but they seemed no more interested in obeying his commands than Eddie Murphy had been.

Over at the New Yorker, Kelefah Sanneh dissects one of our perennial funny men.

Bryan Washington has written for Puerto Del Sol, Ninth Letter, and Midnight Breakfast, among others; he's also the recipient of a Houstonia Fellowship. He lives around New Orleans. More from this author →