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The Humor and Zeal of Bill Cosby and Jeff Foxworthy

In: English and Literature

Submitted By SDJOBRIEN
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”Through humor, you can soften some of the worst blows that life delivers. And once you find laughter, no matter how painful your situation might be, you can survive it” (Cosby, Brainy Quote). Not many who knew Bill Cosby and Jeff Foxworthy as children, would have guessed the serious and passionate significance beneath their witty exteriors. Life events form the patterns of one’s thought process and these enthusiastic comedians have a hands-on quest to create an unrestricted social order for all humanity. Bill Cosby was a poor African American child, shining shoes to help support his family, seemed destined to continue a struggle for survival. Equally, young Jeff Foxworthy seemed the privileged and confident Christian assured a successful career behind a computer, rather than achieve fame and notoriety in Hollywood. They each deliver their messages by means of hilarious storytelling and both developed their values and audience based in part on a father’s influence and a mothers guiding hands. There are many differences and similarities between Bill Cosby and Jeff Foxworthy, nevertheless; each man attempts to influence their audiences in a parallel direction.
Although each man sought to imitate his father, both eventually found success by going their own way. Born into what appeared to be a hopeless situation, Bill Cosby realized the importance of educating children to overcome racial and economic obstacles. He was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1937, an era of segregation and racial inequality. His father was an alcoholic and absent during his early years; his mother moved her family to Richard Allen Homes, a low-income housing project, when Bill Cosby, Sr. joined the Navy. In vastly different surroundings, Jeff Foxworthy grew up with security and acceptance. He was born near Atlanta, Georgia in 1958 and raised in an affluent suburb with two devoted parents. His father was a successful IBM executive who displayed the mannerisms of the stereotypical southerner (A+E Networks, 2013). Having a childhood that would appear to provide an easy path, Jeff Foxworthy credits his success to his Christian faith. Thus began their trademark styles of humor.
Finding confidence and opportunity to use their inherent comedic ability took the potential stars down different roads, with more detours for Bill Cosby. He received a scholarship for gifted students to Central High School but he was more interested in sports so fell behind. He then had to go to Germantown High School where he failed tenth grade and dropped out. Bill Cosby finally earned his High School diploma through a correspondence course. While in the Navy, the muscular and agile Bill Cosby won an athletic scholarship to Temple University and when assigned to Bethesda Naval Hospital, with a joke and grin, Bill Cosby attended the wounded and helped them forget their pain. This military stint yielded his athletic scholarship to Temple University and he worked as a bartender also performing warm up acts for a cousin's radio show in New York City. This is the point he acknowledged a gift for stand-up (A+E Networks, 2013). In his erratic quest for an education, Bill Cosby dropped out of Temple University; however, he later earned a doctorate in education from the University of Massachusetts in 1967. Conversely, slightly built Jeff Foxworthy aspired to be an athlete but spent most of his time in an emergency room. He followed the traditional path of high school, then college where he received a degree in engineering (A+E Networks, 2013). Although Jeff Foxworthy initially tried to follow his father’s example by working at IBM, he soon realized he liked making his co-workers laugh more than the work he was hired to do. He quit IBM, and began following his heart by going on the road, performing opening acts for Country Music stars.
The comedy stars of their youth were a source of inspiration for Jeff Foxworthy and Bill Cosby. Equally considered witty students, they often got in trouble for clowning at school. Ironically, Bill Cosby grew up reading Mark Twain and Jeff Foxworthy is often compared to this icon of storytelling (Ghare, 2012). Bill Cosby was one influence that helped form Jeff Foxworthy’s wholesome, family friendly presentations. In an interview by Lisa Millegan Renner, Jeff Foxworthy stated, “I remember being a kid and saving my allowance to buy Cosby records. I would memorize them, and I'd go to school and do them and then get in trouble for them” (Renner, 2012). In a similar way, Bill Cosby watched Jerry Lewis, Sid Caesar, and Jack Benny, comedians who did not use vulgarity to be funny (A+E Networks, 2013). He received the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award in 2003 but twice refused the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor because of his objection to the profanity used at the first ceremony to honor the late Richard Pryor in 1998. He eventually accepted the award in 2009. (Bivens, 2009).
Using a mostly deadpan delivery, Jeff Foxworthy paints a caricature of southern, rural, uneducated, white, working class Americans. During an interview with his pastor, Jeff Foxworthy spoke about his belief in the equality of men and stated, “When Jesus decided to pick people, he didn’t go to colleges, he went down and got guys off the fishing docks” (North Atlanta Church of Christ, 2007). On the other hand, Bill Cosby’s incredulous, satirical portrayals are universally human but his message is many times focused on racial issues. During an interview for Atlantic Magazine, he said, “My problem is I’m tired of losing to white people. When I say I don’t care about white people, I mean let them say what they want to say. What can they say to me that’s worse than what their grandfather said?” (Coates, 2008).
Noticeably, standing up for their beliefs is a thing both Bill Cosby and Jeff Foxworthy are equally not afraid to do. Criticism of African Americans was not expected at an NAACP awards ceremony to commemorate the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, but that is exactly the sermon Bill Cosby dispensed. He condemned most every facet of behavior in today’s African American culture and called them out as prolonging racial inequality through their lack of parenting. He rejects the role of victim adopted by today’s black society and calls on them to solve their own problems (Cosby, Bill Cosby Speaks, 2004). Likewise, conservative, Christian views are not expected from a comedian and certainly not during major television events, but that is precisely what was delivered to Country Music fans at the 2007 Country Music Television Awards show. In closing the show, Jeff Foxworthy delivered a powerful and heartfelt commentary that boldly stated his faith and political stance. He said, “We sing about God because we believe in Him. We are not trying to offend anybody, but the evidence that we have seen of Him in our small little lives trumps your opinion about whether or not He exists” (Jeff Foxworthy, 2007 CMT Awards).
Through the loss and emptiness of Bill Cosby’s childhood, he found laughter and a voice to empower others. He continues to spread the word that being a father is a responsibility that benefits more than just the child. According to Bill Cosby, “Nothing I've ever done has given me more joys and rewards than being a father to my children” (Cosby, Brainy Quote). From a vastly different upbringing, owing to a steadfast mother, ironic father, and funny family, an indelible print remained in the mind of Jeff Foxworthy. This strong, stable foundation allows Jeff Foxworthy to share his faith and a belief that a fulfilling life is attainable to all who seek it. Bill Cosby and Jeff Foxworthy have significant influence in the lives of their fans and critics. These men know instinctively that their audience will remember a message delivered with humor and framed in a cultural context that effectively communicates their ideals. Indeed, Jeff Foxworthy stated it well when he said, “Find something in life that you love doing. If you make a lot of money, that’s a bonus, and if you don’t, you still won’t hate going to work” (Foxworthy).

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