When I was very young, a school friend of mine introduced me to a new comedian named Bill Cosby. He was different from many of the other popular comedians. They just told jokes. Cosby told wildly exaggerated stories from his childhood along with his own brand of microphone sound effects that we thought were hilarious. Even though I didn’t grow up in South Philadelphia where he did, I could always relate to his stories because they were so universal and were told from a child’s point of view. We listened to his albums so many times that it became easy to memorize his monologues.
My favorite story was one called, “The Chicken Heart.” It’s on Youtube now if you’d like to hear it and I’ve also excerpted part of it in the audio below. What I liked about the story was that it captured an aspect of human nature that I still find challenging after all these years—opening myself up to imaginary fears and then reacting to them as if they are real.
In the story, Bill, at the age of 7, waits till his parents have gone out for the evening and does what they have specifically told him not to do—listen to scary programs on the living room radio. His favorite scary show is one called, “Lights Out” in which an eerie announcer instructs you to turn off all the lights in your house and listen to the program in total darkness. The announcer then proceeds to scare you senseless with the idea that a life-sized flesh-eating mutant chicken heart has escaped from a science laboratory and is advancing quickly to your front door, eating everything in its path. Young Cosby’s reaction is, of course, overblown. He smears Jell-o on the floor to trip the monster and also sets the living room couch on fire hoping the monster can’t get past the smoke and flames. Just then, his parents return home and are yelling at him over the loud radio to find out why he has done this. He tells them it’s to protect them all from the chicken heart. “What chicken heart?” they ask. “The one on the radio!” Bill screams. His father says, “Well, turn it off!” After that there is dead silence in the room. Bill says, softly to the audience in front of him, “I hadn’t thought of that.”
That’s the part that I can still relate to. I often find myself listening to conversations, not only on the radio and TV, but in my head, that either scare the hell out of me, depress me or make me doubt my own value.
When I have the consciousness to turn the TV or radio off, I’m usually very glad I did. I feel that same peaceful silence Bill Cosby felt from turning off the radio horror story. When the scary conversation is in my head, it’s not as easy to turn it off. The best I can do, I’ve found, is to think something else. I have to literally change the channel in my head and start thinking about what I’m grateful for, what I’d like to see happen in the future, or things that make me happy. It’s so easy to forget that we often create and invite the very things in our lives that we are afraid of or that we complain about. The link between cause and effect isn’t always obvious but if we tune into how we feel during our conversations or in the middle of watching something on TV, we can get a better idea of how we might be needlessly scaring ourselves. Next time, you get really worked up over something you see or hear, take Bill Cosby’s father’s advice. Just turn it off.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts about any of the above ideas. I look forward to your comments. Enjoy part of Bill Cosby’s audio performance below.