An Ex-Cosby Kid Takes the Stage

Malcolm Jamal Warner may always be known as Theo Huxtable, the teen son on The Cosby Show. But in his one-man show, Love and Other Social Issues, Malcolm shares a raw, personal view of his life post-Cosby. He talks with host Farai Chideya.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Actor Malcolm-Jamal Warner is known to generations of television viewers as the lovable and sometimes sneaky Theo Huxtable on "The Cosby Show."

(Soundbite of clip, "The Cosby Show")

Mr. BILL COSBY (Actor): (As Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable) How do you expect to get into college with grades like this?

Mr. MALCOLM-JAMAL WARNER (Actor): (As Theodore Huxtable) No problem.

Mr. COSBY: (As Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable) Huh?

Mr. WARNER: (As Theodore Huxtable) See, I'm not going to college.

Mr. COSBY: (As Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable) Damn right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WARNER: (As Theodore Huxtable) I am gonna get through high school. And then, get a job like regular people.

Mr. COSBY: (As Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable) Regular people?

Mr. WARNER: (As Theodore Huxtable) Yeah, you know, work in the gas station, drive a bus, something like that.

CHIDEYA: But the former Cosby kid has come a long way since the show's end back in 1992. Over the years, he started a number of shows including UPN's "Malcolm & Eddie" and the Showtime drama, "Jeremiah." And he plays bass in a jazz band called Miles Long. But we really see Malcolm emerge in his one-man show, "Love and Other Social Issues." The production is currently running in Los Angeles and sitting here with me is Malcolm himself.

Great to see you.

Mr. WARNER: Hey, how are you doing?

CHIDEYA: I'm doing great. You know, I just have to tell you a story before we move forward.

Mr. WARNER: Sure.

CHIDEYA: It must be incredibly weird growing up in public, which is something that you had to do. But I just want to let you know how much the impact that show had. We recently had on a young man who fathered his first child at 15, and was about to drop out of high school and one guidance counselor convinced him that he could become what he dreamed of, to be a doctor, because he had seen Dr. Huxtable.

Mr. WARNER: Wow.

CHIDEYA: And he really wanted to be a doctor. Now, he's got three kids. He is an MD and he's in his residency. And he's married to the woman who's the mother of all of his children.

Mr. WARNER: That's right.

CHIDEYA: So there is something really magical about the impact that you as a virtual family had on some members of the African-American community.

Mr. WARNER: Certainly.

CHIDEYA: So can you accept that in a way that allows you to still grow and move forward as you seem very much to have?

Mr. WARNER: Oh my gosh, yes. I mean, during the show, my whole focus as an actor and as a director was life after Cosby. So in terms of how I live my life and my careers, you know, that almost been my obsession, if you will. But I am so proud to have been part of that show that has been such a staple in not just black America but in white America as well. And I would not give up that experience. I will not trade that experience for anything in the world.

CHIDEYA: So many reviews of your current stage show say that if you see this, you will never see a Huxtable (unintelligible).

Mr. WARNER: That's what everyone said.

CHIDEYA: …when they look at you, why is that?

Mr. WARNER: Oh, I think. You know, obviously "The Cosby Show" still runs and it's just in the case and so people on a daily basis are used to seeing me as Theo. And I think a lot of people, you know, don't really get the concept of I'm 36 years old and that was, you know, Theo was really essentially a different era. And I think it's such a pleasant surprise for people to come see my show and see the growth, not just as an actor but really as a man. And as the (unintelligible) has been in this industry for more than half of my life and, you know, still somewhat ground and, you know, I'm not going down the way we've passed.

CHIDEYA: Well, I just want to play a clip from one of the pieces you performed, "This Dope Called Hope."

(Soundbite of clip, "This Dope Called Hope")

Mr. WARNER: Have you ever seen a real man cry? I mean, boo-hoo, like only a woman supposed to and don't know why? So I stumble on into my humble home, with fears that the women beside me can see the Achilles heel of my masculinity so I slap her around as diversionary tactic when in fact it's me who feels abused.

CHIDEYA: Malcolm, what does that piece mean to you and where did it come from?

Mr. WARNER: That particular piece, "This Dope Called Hope," is about, you know, several different addictions. And about, you know, a young man who was trying to find himself in the midst of juggling these different images of who he is and the man he's supposed to be and be influenced by the media, being influenced by hip-hop, being influenced or rather not being influenced by positive role models and trying to find his way.

CHIDEYA: Kevin Powell has - a hip-hop activist who we've spoken to before, has made a point of admitting that he once struck a woman in his life. Does this come from that depot well or is it more of an allegory for things that other people are coming to?

Mr. WARNER: It's kind - a really combination of both in terms of my personal life, I've never hit a woman ever. But I understand, you know, as that particular piece says, you know, I do it as a diversionary tactic. So it's kind of, you know, understanding, you know, being the voice of a person who is in that situation and really getting to the root of it. I mean, men you know, men who are in these situations, you know, generally lash out at those who are closest to them. So we're trying also to put a human voice behind those kind of domestic violence issues.

CHIDEYA: We've just finished up a Sex and Sexuality series. We do one series each month. This month is hip-hop. And what kind of reactions do you get from men to your play and women?

Mr. WARNER: Men and women both love the show. Men and women both love this show. Men, you know, really come from the perspective of, wow, this really is my voice. I mean, you basically said everything that's been going on in my head. Women really love being able to hear the kind of honesty and the kind of vulnerability that I bring as a man to the show.

So I think it really helps. It helps men understand, do better understand who we are and I think it gives women a good glimpse into what's going on in our heads. There's a piece in a show and on the record called "Confessions of a Confused Romantic" and in that piece, you know, I talked about, you know, women who say they want sensitivity however if I cried, every time I felt like it, would I still be the man you want? You know, is sensitivity really what you want or is that (unintelligible)?

CHIDEYA: That's definitely something folks talk about and yet this is an album as well as the stage show, "Love And Other Social Issue" is one of your albums under the Miles Long title. How did Miles Long get started or become a part of your life?

Mr. WARNER: Well, Miles Long is my jazz song band, which I play electric and the electronic bass and that really came about - I started playing bass, literally the first season of "Malcolm & Eddie." I was working, you know, for UPN and working for UPN was really stressing me out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WARNER: Because, you know, I mean, I had some from, you know, not just NBC but what I call, you know, the University of Bill Cosby. So, you know, I come from a show that made history by not relying on black stereotypes. And here I am, you know, at UPN I'm sitting like I'm in junior college, saying hey, I come from a show that shows we can be successful and be funny by not going down the same path. So it was just really stressful because I felt like Don Quixote and I realize I needed some, kind of, release so bass which start out as strictly a hobby. I didn't want it to be a career like directing have become a career, writing have become a career. I suggest I picked up a musical instrument, I would never start a band. I would never record a CD and this (unintelligible) so this is my second CD. I've been playing jazz festivals over the last couple of years. I would like to play, boy, jazz festival this year. And it's just -you have something that started out as just a hobby and just a release has become another career but is still such a wonderful release from the regular day-to-day politics of my acting career.

CHIDEYA: We don't have too much more time, but I understand that your mom is your manager, and she encouraged you to do this show. How - I have trouble just talking to my mom about some regular everyday things, how can you have someone who is your mom and your manager, and you're up on stage talking about sex and all that. How does that all work?

Mr. WARNER: You know she's been very supportive of every thing that I've done in all aspects of my career, and it was really her idea to do the one-man show. I was a big part of the researchers of the underground Spoken Word Movement here in L.A. dating back to '93. So, she would come to the different Spoken Word venues, and really about nine years ago she came up with the idea of doing this one-man show. And it just took me so very long to catch up to her idea.

CHIDEYA: All right. Well, it leaves a lot of intrigue. Malcolm, thanks so much for coming in.

Mr. WARNER: Hey, Farai, thank you for having me.

CHIDEYA: Malcolm-Jamal Warner stars in the one-man show "Love and Other Social Issues." The show runs through July 8 in Los Angeles. And it's also the name of the new album from his band, Miles Long.

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