Sometimes laughter comes through pain. Bill Cosby has made a career of creating humorous stories about childhood and family. However, his own home life was anything but happy.
"My father said some funny things which I remember," Cosby says. "But my father drank us from what could have been a sustaining lower-middle economic family to living in subsidized housing.
"In those days, a father and a mother, a husband and wife, could live together and still be subsidized because they were trying to work themselves up and out. He was not a favorite of ours because of his lack of wanting to take responsibility.
"It's one's sense of humor in one's life that helps them survive," Cosby says. "If you take away money for things like going to the movies, if you take away money for things like having a telephone, a car, a full refrigerator or even a Christmas, or three of them where there's no tree, it's tough."
Cosby remembers one Christmas when his only gift was a $5 bill.
"I cried," he says. "I yelled at my mother and said, 'You could have bought something!'
"Then I think back and deal with that as a grownup and I feel awful. But again, I was a child and children are selfish. Parents have taken them off responsibility many times.
"The great news is that she didn't hit me and send me up where Santa Claus lives," Cosby says. "As I move away from the scene, as age takes me away, I have also found out there were others in other cites, states, who also had Christmas trees that were not in their apartment or house, that there are others who had no phone."
Today a comedian, actor, author, television producer, educator, musician and activist, Cosby will appear Aug. 10 at the Savannah Civic Center's Johnny Mercer Auditorium. Fans can expect his trademark humor.
IF YOU GO
What: Bill Cosby
When: 8 p.m. Aug. 10
Where: Johnny Mercer Theatre, Savannah Civic Center, 301 W. Oglethorpe Avenue
Cost: $38 to $65
Info: www.etix.com, 912-651-6550
But life without a father was hard on everyone, he says.
"My mother used to bathe us in a tin tub," he says. "She was putting cold water into a tin tub and with her 4 foot 11 inch body was putting it on the stove, because there was no father there.
"She's doing the best she can and she's getting two checks a month, which were called relief, not welfare," Cosby says. "I think psychologically, there's a great difference."
Renowned today for his dedication to education, Cosby originally intended to be a teacher. Though intelligent, he failed the 10th grade because in addition to studying, he played football, basketball and baseball and ran track, and also worked before and after school.
After time in the Navy, Cosby earned an equivalency diploma and won a track and field scholarship to Temple University. His major was physical education and he also ran track and played football.
"I am fully sincere, motivated, and have not just a dream, but a goal," Cosby says. "I'm going to be a school teacher. I'm going to teach physical education but I'm also teaching seventh and eighth grade.
"I've got it all figured out. This is for all the boys who think the way I used to, and there are going to be some changes made in their lives by me.
"I want to know everything," he says. "I want to do things correctly because I believe no teacher should come in half-learned."
At the time, Cosby's own life was turning around.
"I am the happiest 22-and-a-half-year-old on Earth because I have a new life, which gives me an opportunity to manage my life better than I did up until age 18," he says.
"I now start things and I finish them the way they ought to be finished to the best of my ability. I was in remedial English, where you are reading things you should have read in 11th or 12th grade."
It was that English class where Cosby discovered the ability that set him apart.
"The professor said, 'I want you to write about something you did for the first time,'" he says.
"I go home - I'm living with my mother in a $5,000 house in Philadelphia," Cosby says. "We're out of the housing project, but back in the same neighborhood, in a house with no hot water." Cosby decided to write about an incident from his childhood.
"I'm going to write about pulling my own tooth at age 7 because it was loose and wiggly," he says.
"I wrote about the pain, the blood, the looseness. I did everything about tying string around it and putting the string on a doorknob, because I'd heard people did that."
On the day the professor returned the papers, Cosby didn't get his.
"My original instinct was that it didn't bother me because my whole life has been about not turning things in, and if you don't turn a paper in, you don't get a paper back," he says.
But the reason the paper wasn't returned was because the professor wanted to read it to the class - because it was good.
"Your papers are boring," the professor told the rest of the class. "You wrote about your first kiss, your first touchdown."
He said he was stunned.
"It changed my whole life. It lifted my self esteem," he says. "It was probably my first reward and because I put time in it, I cared.
"I wrote my second composition inspired by the A I got for the first one. I wrote a piece called 'The Perfect Point of Procrastination.'"
Then came another shock.
"A guy comes over to me and says, 'Cos, you made the Dean's List,'" Cosby says,
"I thought I was in trouble. I thought, 'Oh, now I'm gong to have to go see the dean!'
"I asked, 'What for?' and the guy said, "You've got a 3.6 GPA.' I don't even know what that is. I'm so busy studying and enjoying it that I don't think anything about my GPA, I don't even care about these things."
Because of the encouragement he received, Cosby began writing more, and soon he was writing about things that happened at home.
"There are people laughing because they know that it happened in their houses, too," he says.
Although Cosby dropped out of Temple University to pursue a comedy career, he returned to college and received a Masters in Arts degree in 1972. In 1976, he earned a Doctor of Education degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst with a dissertation that discussed the use of "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids" as a teaching tool in elementary schools.
"The dean of the school of education at the University of Massachusetts, Dwight Allen, asked me to take a meeting," Cosby says. "He saw what I was doing in my monologues, which were aimed at education.
"He said, 'Why don't you extend this and do a dissertation and get your doctorate? I will help you.'
"I called the wife and we moved to Massachusetts," Cosby says. "The thinking was keener, cleaner and more motivated, more sensitive, more wonderful. I think had he not put it that way, I wouldn't have done it."
It was a personal goal that was reached.
"'Fat Albert,' 'The Electric Company,' all these things now had a point of being," Cosby says.
Over time, Cosby honed his humor and began doing stand-up comedy. He got his start at the hungry i in San Francisco and other clubs.
After receiving national exposure on "The Tonight Show" in 1963, Cosby landed a recording contract with Warner Bros. Records, which released his debut album, "Bill Cosby Is a Very Funny Fellow...Right!," in 1964.
That led to a starring role in the 1960s television show, "I Spy," making him the first African American to co-star in a dramatic television series. Cosby won three consecutive Emmys for the role.
Later, he starred in his own sitcom, "The Bill Cosby Show" and appeared in the first two years of the PBS children's television series "The Electric Company." He also created the beloved educational cartoon comedy series, "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids," based on friends from his own childhood.
During the 1980s, Cosby produced and starred in "The Cosby Show," which aired from 1984 to 1992. It was the No. 1 show in America from 1985 to 1989.
He also produced "A Different World," a spinoff from "The Cosby Show." He starred in another sitcom, "Cosby" from 1996 to 2000, and hosted "Kids Say the Darndest Things."
The author of the bestselling book "Fatherhood," Cosby's current bestseller is "I Didn't Ask to Be Born, But I'm Glad I Was." For his achievements, he has been awarded the Kennedy Center Honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor and the Marian Anderson Award.
After raising five children, Cosby and his wife, Camille, have three grandchildren. At the age of 76, he is still touring.
"This is a business for me," Cosby says. "I'm way past 'I hope they like me.' I enjoy getting out there."
Despite his father's failures, Cosby admires his grandfather and considers him a source of inspiration.
"My father's father, Samuel Russell Cosby, was a storyteller and a prophet," he says.
"The only book he had in his bookcase was the Old Testament," Cosby says. "He was just wonderful. I think his stories and his sense of humor greatly influenced me, even though I may not have understood what he was saying at the time."
When not on stage or in a recording studio, Cosby enjoys his favorite pastime: thinking.
"The other day I thought about how Robin Hood robbed from the rich and gave to the poor, but nobody ever writes about what the poor did with the money he gave them," he says.
"It would be interesting to do a movie or book, fictitious of course, about Robin Hood dropping this money off and here you have these poor people with a bag of gold," Cosby says. "Generally in a movie, it's to pay off taxes so you don't lose your land to the king, but if they're poor and the reason why they're poor is the evil king, even though they paid off the taxes, the evil king will strike again."