Malcolm-Jamal Warner Reminisces About 'The Cosby Show'
Now that "Community" is finally back on NBC's schedule (Thurs., Mar. 15, 8 p.m. EST on NBC), it's time for Malcolm-Jamal Warner's triumphant return to the show as Shirley's (Yvette Nicole Brown) baby daddy, Andre.
I caught up with Warner on the "Community" set while shooting "Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts" -- the episode finds Andre proposing that he and Shirley get remarried, and we'll have more scoop on that next week from all the cast. But I couldn't hang out with my first TV crush ever -- who now stars on BET's "Reed Between the Lines" -- and not talk about "The Cosby Show." (Yes, I told him he was my first crush; yes, I'm a dork; and yes, he noted that I'm about the same age as Keshia Knight Pulliam, who played Rudy, and that it's weird that I crushed on him when I was that young.)
Read on to find out his favorite Theo Huxtable moments, to hear about the day that he realized "The Cosby Show" was funny and what Bill Cosby's response to him was.
"The Cosby Show" is so ingrained in people's hearts -- what Theo moments do fans reference the most?
There are a lot. The two that I get all the time ... well, Gordon Gartrelle references are big. Even if I'm somewhere and I have a nice shirt on, people say, "Hey, is that a Gordon Gartrelle?" [Laughs.] The last couple of Halloweens, I've been getting cell phone pictures from my friends of guys who are dressed as Theo in the Gordon Gartrelle shirt.
Crazy sleeves and collar, Theo yelling at Denise for sewing it wrong. It's classic! Then when he was dating Justine …
[Laughs.] And that's the second one I was going to say. "Justine, Justine!" Actually, I have two main bass guitars, and my main bass is a four-string 1964 Fender Jazz and I've named it Justine.
[Laughs.] That's an amazing bit of trivia. Do you have a personal favorite "Cosby Show" episode?
My absolute favorite would be the pilot with the Monopoly money exchange. That one and the earring episode, when they're in the bed and Cliff is trying to see the earring. I saw that a couple years ago … I was in my living room, by myself, changing the channels, and that episode comes on. I'm on my couch and I'm laughing hysterically -- and I'm by myself! Laughing!
I just love that you stopped to watch it!
Well, finally! It's taken me a good 20 years to be able to watch the show and be far removed enough from it to enjoy it as a viewer. Now I can watch it and I can laugh and say, "Oh! Now I see why people liked Theo." Back then, I wanted Theo to be a little bit cooler … but I watch now and see what people liked about him.
Did you share that realization with anyone?
So I saw that scene on the bed with the earring, and I'm on the couch, laughing by myself, and I picked up the phone and I called Mr. Cosby. I said, "Hey man … we were funny!" And he said, "You're damn right we were funny."
So you all keep in touch?
I saw him a few weeks ago in Atlanta -- Tracee [Ellis Ross] and I went to go see him, and I hadn't seen him do standup in probably 10 years. And it was just amazing. At 74, he comes out in sweats -- the biggest difference is he doesn't smoke a cigar anymore -- but he comes and sits in the middle of the stage and just talks for like two hours. At 74, this man still gets paid, you know, a zillion dollars to sit and do what he does everyday. It's him. It's what he does. It's amazing to watch.
You were so young when you started … it's nice to hear that you still have good memories of the show.
We shot the pilot when I was 13, and it's funny now because the kid who plays my son on "Reed Between the Lines" is 14, about the same age. And he gets it. But there was a kid on the show who played one of his friends, and the first day on the show. he was goofy and a little nervous, so we're thinking it's because it's me and Tracee. [Laughs.] And the next day he said to me, "My mother told me she grew up on you. She loves you!" Dude had no idea -- he was clueless!
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