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Comedian Cosby chats it up at the Opera House

Robin Hamilton

When Bill Cosby sauntered onstage at the Opera House on Saturday night, he was showered with thunderous applause. As the audience cheered, he settled into a wooden armchair. Clad in a gray UMass-Amherst sweat suit, he smiled.

“So, the first thing I have to ask you is: Why did the Patriots lose?” he asked the audience, pouring himself a glass of water from the pitcher on the small table next to him. More uproarious laughter.

So began Cosby’s two-hour “chat” with the packed theater, during which he talked marriage, kids, aging, and other aspects of life from the Washington Street venue’s sparse stage.

With his trademark easy demeanor, Cosby aimed to connect with everyone in attendance — a goal aided by the theater’s setup. Two large projectors on stage allowed viewers in the balcony to capture the 70-year-old comedian’s every wink, grimace and grin. Those sitting just four rows from the stage had all that and more, including a great view of Cosby getting on all fours at one point and teasing a woman for not getting her husband a better Valentine’s Day gift.

From time to time, Cosby encouraged people to shout out responses to his questions, though one man continued to scream Bill’s name at inappropriate times. He played the good sport for a while, but his irritation started to show around the fourth time, as he replied, “OK, it was funny the first couple of times. Now it’s getting old.”

But for the most part, the audience played along with Cosby’s call-and-response style. “Who here is going to be married within a year or two?” the comedian asked.

More applause. The laughter of anticipation followed as Cosby smiled and replied, “Oh, let me give you some advice.”

“When your wife says, ‘Let’s go,’ you go!” he said. “Don’t ask, ‘Go where?’ Don’t you know that will only get you into trouble? At my age, you learn to say nothing!’”

His Opera House performance was reminiscent of his portrayal of Dr. Cliff Huxtable, the lovable, all-American dad on the long-running sitcom “The Cosby Show,” and of his earlier stand-up comedy days — he even ended the night with one of his famous routines, “The Dentist,” popularized in the 1983 stand-up film “Himself.”

Cosby’s affable demeanor was a stark contrast from many of his recent public appearances, which have often seen him criticize black America — specifically black youth — for emulating behavior frequently lionized in rap music and hip-hop culture. He says outright that African Americans are failing themselves, particularly when it comes to issues such as the breakdown of the black family, the educational achievement gap between black and white students, and black-on-black crime. Last year, Cosby even co-authored a book about the subject entitled “Come on People!” with Dr. Alvin Poussaint, director of the Media Center of the Judge Baker Children’s Center and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

But the audience at the Opera House was predominantly white, and no issues of race were discussed. Instead, Cosby played it safe, talking about the fun of being a grandparent, the joy of having a good wife, and the awareness that comes with aging.

At the end of the night, Cosby acknowledged his assistants in the audience, and even took pictures with a man whose wife gave him tickets to his show. But before the laughter died down, Cosby was off the stage and whisked away, leaving no chance for an encore.