WASHINGTON – Bill Cosby still thinks America is funny like the name-calling over health care and the way we drink so much water from plastic bottles that could be toxic even though he says the nation has some serious problems it needs to tackle.
The 72-year-old who has long drawn laughs for his wisecracks and deadpan observations received the nation’s foremost humor prize on Monday at the Kennedy Center in Washington. Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Sinbad and other top entertainers lined up to honor him with the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.
It’s a prize Cosby has turned down twice before because he said he was disgusted with profanity and N-words thrown around by performers honoring Richard Pryor, who was the first recipient in 1998.
“I told them flat out no because I will not be used, nor will Mark Twain be used, in that way,’’ he told The Associated Press from his home in New York.
The profanity bugs Cosby. He always kept it clean with the family laughs on “The Cosby Show,’’ portraying a middle-class black family and everyday life, from 1984 to 1992. And he’s not impressed with today’s comedians who can’t help but curse.
It took a chat with Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser this year at Sen. Edward Kennedy’s birthday celebration for Cosby to accept the award this time.
“What I wanted was to associate my work with why I do what I do,’’ he said.
For a man with a master’s degree and doctorate in education, his life is about more than laughs.
So Cosby helped craft the tribute show airing Nov. 4 nationwide on PBS to capture his overarching emphasis on taking education seriously and telling stories that teach something in the process. He’s planned a special nod to his beloved Central High School in Philadelphia, with fellow alumnus James DePreist conducting their alma mater.
Of all things he’d wish for young people, better television is on the list. Cosby said he wishes kids had access to classic writers and their stories on TV, “so that our youth can find themselves being excited about things other than going straight for the genitalia.’’
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