Bill Cosby Talks Fat Albert, North Philly Upbringing

Hey hey hey! Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids is getting the deluxe treatment, with all 110 episodes being released on DVD as a boxed set later this month. Bill Cosby, the show’s creator, talked to the New York Times about the show and its roots in his North Philadelphia childhood.

Q. Did “Fat Albert” start as an idea that you pitched to the studios and networks, or did they come to you about it?

A. Wrong on both sides. [laughter] “Fat Albert” was first a monologue, and it had people in it like some of the guys that I went around with, in both my early pre-teens and into my late teens, in North Philadelphia. In the close quarters of the housing projects, people had nicknames, invented by the kids. So a guy with a lot of fat, that was the first thing he got. Later, as we decided to not hurt people’s feelings, “Fat Albert” would become “Big Fella.” Overweight people, back in the 20s, 30s and 40s, on the Broadway stage and in movies they immediately became the funny person, the clown. The person you could make fun of, the person who made fun of himself. But these characters were invented because I wanted to change, break the stereotypes. I changed Albert, making him the leader and giving him the intelligence.

Q. Did you see “Fat Albert” as presenting an authentic depiction of the world you grew up in, or was it meant to be more idealized?

A.I saw it as a black, who’s been rejected as a human being. In the eyes of some – capital letters – people, this color causes an insanity in their minds. Their joy is in pulling the legs off, wrapping a rope around the neck of, denying any place, specifically attacking the mind of the brown-skinned person. All over, these crimes, these atrocities, placed on these people of color. I’m specifying where I lived, and who I am, to these people. It is not idealized at all. It is a continuation of the thought that, if what I’m saying happened to me and to my guys, and you are of a different culture, color, race, religion, and the same thing happened to you, where’s the difference?
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