By: MaryAnn Cooper
Just Cos: Sharing Pizza and Pleasantries with Bill Cosby
People often ask how do you get famous people like Vice President Biden, Colin Powell, Martin Sheen or Julie Andrews to agree to an interview. The truth is there is no easy answer. Sometimes it all comes together with one or two well-placed phone calls to amenable “gatekeepers” like agents or managers. Sadly, that doesn’t happen very often. Mostly it is very hard work. I had been trying for months to land an interview with Bill Cosby and coming up against one closed door after another. Pursuing a story like this is similar to playing a complicated video game where you have to go through level after level to get to the treasure. Then as I was about to give up I received news that the iconic comedian and star of the ground-breaking series I Spy was going to be at a book signing that evening within driving distance of my home.
I decided to take a chance and try one more time to get this elusive interview. I arrived at the signing two hours early and hoped against hope I could cajole the bookstore owner to plead my case to interview Bill Cosby for a few minutes. Luckily, the bookstore owner Kenny who operates the enchanting and eclectic Books & Greetings in Northvale, New Jersey (www.booksandgreetings.com) was sympathetic and affable and went to bat for me. I was invited into the office to meet the man who made Fat Albert, Alexander Scott and Dr. Cliff Huxtable names in the pop culture lexicon. Armed with the Rita Moreno and Colin Powell GRAND Magazines and a copy of my book Grandeur, I addressed him as “Dr. Cosby” and asked as nicely as I could for five minutes of his time to answer a couple of questions for our Nov/Dec cover story on him. He smiled that broad infectious smile that has graced the cover of books and magazines and ads for chocolate pudding for decades and had me pull up a chair, offering me a slice of the pepperoni pizza that had just been delivered for him. We talked and munched on pizza for 40 minutes. After months of effort, I suddenly had my interview.
You’ll see my interview with the “Cos” in the Nov/Dec issue of GRAND Magazine. He talks about his grandparents, his wife, his children and his grandchildren. What you won’t see in the article is a personal highlight for me. At one point Cosby handed me his book, which he autographed, and asked me to turn to the last chapter and begin reading it — out loud! I started reading it, feeling a little weird and the words made me laugh. He is so clever and funny. I couldn’t help but laugh. He’d stop me from time to time to inject something new about what I’d just read. It suddenly seemed as if I was in a classroom again, with Professor Cosby guiding me through all the nuances and background of what was on the printed page. It went on for just a few minutes – it seemed longer – all the while I was smiling and laughing so much my face hurt. And then I looked up to see what the author’s reaction was. He was grinning and laughing along with me. He was getting such a kick out hearing someone read his words. And then it hit me. He’s a performer. He’s used to having an audience. When you write a book, you don’t see people reacting to your words — unless they read them back to you. He was amused by my reaction to his book. It was a real and wonderful moment.
Much of the Nov/Dec interview is serious. Bill Cosby is a thoughtful and brilliant man. But he is also every bit as warm and charismatic as his public persona. Funny thing is all his “handlers” and “gatekeepers” told me to stay away, much like the guard assigned to protect the Wonderful Wizard of OZ. I was told for months that the interview would be impossible to arrange. But over the years I’ve learned that no one is unapproachable and every no brings you one step closer to a yes. It just takes a while to get to that yes. I think it just goes to show you what I’ve always said about celebs. One on one they are generally nice people. It’s the people around them who are often the problem, even if their best intentions are innocent and they think they are acting to protect their client. For me, however, the “wonderfulness” of what he had to say over pizza and pleasantries surely made the Bill Cosby interview worth the wait. I hope you agree.
Editor’s Note: Mary Ann Cooper is a senior editor/writer for GRAND Magazine and entreprenuer. She is a prolific writer with the magic touch when it comes to developing relationships with celebrities and others.