Bill Cosby takes a look at his midlife in `prime-time style'

Time Flies, by Bill Cosby. New York: Doubleday. 176 pp. $15.95. Mr. Cosby has sold us Jell-O and Coca-Cola, both mostly sugar, neither with much nutritional value. His books are pretty much the same.

``Fatherhood,'' his previous mega-seller, sold like pudding pops, at one time topping a rate of 3,350 copies an hour. Doubleday, his weary publisher, blabs in the blurb that it had to go back to press 34 times! With ``Time Flies,'' they aren't going to make that mistake again. They've shipped an initial printing of more than 1.5 million copies. And if that's not enough, Doubleday is shipping life-size waxwork figures of Cosby to help sales climb even further.

Speaking of wax, the book starts with a 23-page introduction by Alvin Poussaint, the Harvard psychiatrist whom you probably remember as a script consultant on the Cosby show. Dr. Poussaint's commentary is awash with clich'es, pop psychology, and his usual effusive praise for Cosby, which seems a little unnecessary, since we have already purchased the book.

The idea behind the book, besides making money, is that Cosby is 50 years old. He seems to be handling this with his usual grinning, heavy-lidded, is-anyone-writing-this-down? attitude. Some of it is funny, some of it is silly, but not much is very new. He is getting fatter, he's losing his memory, he can't do the things he used to do. The joke is that it is happening to Bill Cosby.

To wit: ``You have to admit that the mound in your stomach that forms after a meal is now taking longer to disappear; it may even take years.''

If you don't know this by now, pay attention: In America today, when things happen to Bill Cosby, everybody doubles over.

The problem I have with Cosby's book and his whole persona is that I can remember the old Bill Cosby, or what I like to think of as the real one. That was a sharp, bright, peppery humor, the product of an incisive mind. Now we have what the blurb calls his ``prime-time style.'' It's not just his success that has slowed him down, it's his personal willingness to take the comfortable route, the exploitative route, the commercial route.

The book is mostly air. It will take you less than two hours to read. The type is nice and big, the margins enormous, and everywhere they can the publishers have put in decorative subheadings and extra pages. The actual text is most likely collected from the scriptwriter's gag file. It is not much for your $15.95.

Jeff Danziger is on the Monitor's staff.

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