New Cosby bio recalls comic’s time at Mister Kelly’s in Chicago

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Bill Cosby himself has told the story several times in print and during at least one college commencement address. But the tale of his early comedy years in Chicago at the famed boite Mister Kelly’s on Rush (current site of Gibsons Steakhouse) is more fleshed out than ever in a new authorized Cosby biography by Mark Whitaker.

While Cosby was playing Chicago’s Gate of Horn folk club, opening for Alan Arkin’s old band the Tarriers, Mister Kelly’s owners Oscar and George Marienthal saw him in action and offered him a stint at their popular club on the city’s hippest strip. Cosby, Whitaker writes, was “over the moon” at the offer, which included $750 per week and round trip airfare and a hotel room.

But on the first night, after he’d psyched himself out in his dressing room and after the Kelly’s announcer had introduced Cosby (at Cosby’s suggestion) as “one of America’s fastest rising comedians,” the soon-to-be nationally renowned comedian froze up and ultimately tanked upon tearing through his 35-minute set in half the time.

Afterward, back in his dressing room again, Cosby apologized to George Marienthal and promised to pay him back for expenses incurred so far. He also declined to go back onstage.

“Good!” Marienthal told him according to Whitaker’s account. “Because you stank!”

And while Marienthal refused to accept repayment from Cosby, he asked him to “Just take your things and leave.”

“Marienthal began to walk out,” Whitaker writes, “but then he turned around. ‘Do me a favor though,'” he said. “‘When you get back to the hotel, tell them that I want Bill Cosby back here at eleven o’clock. Because Bill Cosby is funny, and he owes me another show.'”

That evening and the rest of Cosby’s weeks-long run went swimmingly.

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