Pat Cooper: People call me a legend and I laugh. I don't know what being a legend means, but I have lived a comedic life. Being an Italian that's not supposed to be right. You're supposed to be a singer. Even if you're bad, you're another Caruso. So I had to fight an uphill battle being in an Italian family and the culture of Italian. Ultra-Italian. Monday to Friday they work, Saturday they go shopping and Sunday they eat Macaroni. You're not supposed to get out of that box. You're an Italian! You're supposed to raise children, become a father, become a grandfather and shut up.
Kliph Nesteroff: Well, speaking of the comedic life - I wanted to ask you about the culture of being a comic in mid-century Manhattan and the many comedian hang-out spots of that era. What do you recall about Hanson's Drugstore?
Pat Cooper: Yes. Now I don't mean to repeat myself, but when you're Italian, you're not supposed to get laughs. If you're a Jewish man or woman and you're sitting at the table and say something funny at the table - the mother and father yell, "They're another Milton Berle!" If you talk out of order at an Italian table, you're disrespectful and you're a buffoon. So I didn't think I had the right to be funny. When I went on The Jackie Gleason Show, the Anti-Defamation League were saying I was insulting and making fun of the [Italian] culture. I said, "No, I am trying to tell you my culture has a sense of humor!" They didn't like that, but I overcame that and here I am at the age of eighty-three still pumping oil.
Kliph Nesteroff: People complained about you to the Anti-Defamation League? Who?
Pat Cooper: Anybody! They didn't understand, [but] people in my neighborhood were saying I was a very funny man because I used to entertain people on the street on the corner. When I became a cabdriver... I didn't realize this until now, but I learned my craft by being funny in a cab and doing things for the people that I was driving. Every time I went home my father told me, "You're a bricklayer and that's it!" So I became a bricklayer for ten years. I was very unhappy. The only time I was happy was in the wintertime when I drove that cab.
Kliph Nesteroff: Did you hang out at some of these New York comedian hang-outs like...
Pat Cooper: No. No, I was a different kind of guy. I was raised that you've got to go to work and pay your bills. After school you had to have some kind of a job. If you want to go to the movies you would have to earn it. I learned that you don't depend on anybody. You go out and you make a living. A lot of comics that I knew didn't want to do anything. I lost a family because I was so committed to show business. I was raised among the greatest comedians of the world. They were ninety-nine percent Jewish and they had a great rhythm and great ideas. A great, great DNA for comedy and for show business. I learned from the best. I used to call these guys jazz comics. I mean guys like Henny Youngman and Milton Berle and Jack Carter! All of these kind of guys. Jack E. Leonard and George Burns - these guys had a rhythm. I don't see that today.
Kliph Nesteroff: Let me ask you about some of the comedians that bummed around the hangouts then. Jack Roy.
Pat Cooper: Jack Roy was Rodney Dangerfield. I don't think he believed he could be successful. When he did become successful he felt it was tough to be successful at his age. He had a rhythm. If you play his records you will hear that rhythm. This is what I am talking about. It's like being a jazz musician.
Kliph Nesteroff: Did you know him before he became successful?
Pat Cooper: Yes. Yes. He was very depressed and in an angry way. He had a family and he had to support his family. It was very difficult and I don't think his parents helped him very much. So he had to work and he took pot shots at the few comedy places he could work. When he opened his own club in New York called Dangerfield's with a partner, that helped open things up for him. All the kids used to go to Dangerfield's and he became a national name from that. It was just a wonderful investment. He could not open Dangerfield's in Vegas. He was not allowed to do that because he had a partner and he did not want to share it with a partner. What happened was he opened a club called Rodney's. It bombed terribly. But Dangerfield's is still open in New York City. I think his partner still runs it and it does fairly well, but it's not like it used to be.
Kliph Nesteroff: What was the stumbling block in Vegas? How did having a partner keep him from using the name...
Pat Cooper: I really don't know.
Kliph Nesteroff: Was there much difference between the Jack Roy act and the Rodney act?
Pat Cooper: Well, what really struck me was that when he changed his name to Rodney Dangerfield - he opened eyes. Like who would name themselves Humperdinc? Englebert Humperdinc became a big name because they changed his name. Under his regular name he couldn't get a job. Everyone says, "What is that? What's a Rodney Dangerfield?" He wrote his own jokes and he had the right flair and he had the rhythm. Years ago when you were a stand-up comic you had to sing, you had to dance - we were entertainers. Today they stand-up and do one topic for an hour. They talk about drugs, they talk about sex, they talk about operations, they talk about dying. There's a lot of desperation.
Kliph Nesteroff: Last time we spoke I tossed a bunch of names your way and got you to comment. One man I failed to ask you about is Lenny Bruce.
Pat Cooper: Well, now you are talking about a man who was twenty-five years ahead. This man had a real rhythm - if you have ever seen some of the film on him and how he talks. He was opening doors and people were calling him a criminal and they were locking him up. How can you call anyone who's trying to get laughs a criminal? Oh, God. This guy smoked more marijuana... but he had to because everyone was against him. And the hypocrisy of some I know - are now all in love with him. Joan Rivers and these kinds of people. I didn't see them speak out when he was getting locked up. I couldn't believe they locked him up because he was funny! A lot of Jewish comics just ran away from him. Now they made a movie, his life story, Joan did a play about him - I'm saying, "Where were you when he needed you?" What people don't know is that this man did Ed Sullivan! People don't know that Lenny Bruce did Ed Sullivan! Again, he had a rhythm.
Kliph Nesteroff: Okay. Jackie Mason.
Pat Cooper: Now, this guy had the Jewish accent, but it was funny - and not insulting. I grew up with that accent. When I used to go to Delancey Street, shopping with my mother, you heard that. The man who owned the delicatessen he spoke that way. The shoemaker spoke that way. This man spoke that way since he was born and he became funny with it. He is a naturally funny man. He got the bad rap on Ed Sullivan. Ed Sullivan said he did the finger. Jackie Mason walks around with the finger! That's the way he talks! He took a bad rap, but he came back and worked on Broadway. Now his career has slowed down to a walk because you can't say the same thing continuously. It's not gonna work. You've got to change a little here and change a little there.
Kliph Nesteroff: Did you know him personally?
Pat Cooper: Oh, yes. We did a year together. We worked a year together and sold out every show. But me and him could not get along professionally, so I decided let's be friends. You go your way and I'll go my way. Jackie is not the happy camper that I am. I look at in a truthful way. I am a lucky guy that had talent and cashed in on it. He has talent and makes a problem of it. I could never understand that. I said, "Jackie, listen. Go to Broadway and do what you got to do." He overproduced Broadway. He did it three or four different times and it got stale. He didn't want to work no place but Broadway. Finally he couldn't put two hundred people in the theater.
Kliph Nesteroff: How come you two could not get along professionally?
Pat Cooper: Very simple. Attitude. Jackie's personal life is not my business. I stood away from it. He was a single guy and I was married. He had things with women, which is fine, he's a single man. But I, having been married, felt that it wasn't right for me to be around that. I'm not putting him down for that. He's a single guy so I took a powder and God bless him. Now where is he today? I still don't know what happened. He's working whenever he wants, I guess. I think he was over-managed. I think he had a manager that almost ate him up alive because she wouldn't let no one talk to him, no one see him. That's his thing and I said, "I gotta get out of here." I'd rather have less and be happy than have more and be miserable.
Kliph Nesteroff: Jackie Miles.
Pat Cooper: Oh, ah (laughs) ho! Oh God almighty. Jackie Miles looked funny and when he opened his mouth and told a joke you had to laugh. He had that certain look of rhythm. You saw a flow. He had been around for a lot of years and he would talk about the race track and he would talk about the gambling. They'll never make them like that anymore. If he was around today he'd be making twenty million dollars. He came around when there were giants and he could not break that mould. A guy named Gene Baylos was one of the funniest guys at a table. Nobody was funnier than Gene Baylos, but when Gene Baylos got onstage - he didn't change a word in fifty years! People were actually throwing the jokes at him. But Gene was marvelous sitting at a table at Lindy's or wherever they went. You'd be screaming.
But those guys - I became their friends and I caught their rhythm. A lot of them, for some reason, were unhappy and the biggest problem with comics - is they worry about other comics' success. While you're worrying about other comics success - someone is going to get your success. I went to work and didn't hang out with too many comics. I raised my second family. All my apples were in one basket and that's why I think I survived all this time. If you go on Amazon you'll see some of my family venting on me for fifty years. I say to myself, "What are you going to do when I die? Who are you going to hate?"
Kliph Nesteroff: How about a guy named Lenny Kent?
Pat Cooper: Ohhhh, Lenny, Lenny, Lenny! Lenny Kent (laughs) - I was best man at his wedding. Lenny became entertainment director at Caesar's Palace. He was just funny, but not so funny as to become a big name. When he was the host at Caesar's, that was his highest success. But he was in show business twenty-four hours a day. He hung out with them, he talked with them, he was like one of the guys, but he never hit the home run. He was as funny as he could be. One of the greatest to me was Jack Carter! Jack Carter was a machine gun comic! This guy would do twenty-thirty jokes in a minute and just not stop! This guy had his own television show out of Chicago and a lot of people don't know that. This guy was one of the funniest, funniest, brilliant... he never got the accolades because he was very nervous and he didn't believe in himself. That's what I said about him. I met him a couple of times. "How can you not believe in yourself? You're brilliant!" But again you go back to family and the days when maybe you were raised by your family and it was unhappy.
Most of the comics I knew had a miserable family life. The only way these guys could save their own lives was to be funny. Here's what Lenny Kent would do. He would watch the show from the back. Then at the end he would come onstage and do a whole thing on the whole show that he just saw. If the show was an hour and twenty minutes - he would capsize the whole show in three minutes. And it was hilarious! That was his material. If he didn't have that to do, it was just the old jokes. But Lenny had that comedic ability to talk fast and put an hour and a half show into three minutes.
Kliph Nesteroff: How bout BS Pully.
Pat Cooper: (laughs) Oh my God, BS Pully. Every time I saw BS Pully - I could imagine him standing on a street corner telling everyone to go to hell. That was his talent. He got involved with everybody even if they didn't want him. He would be sitting in the Copacabana, get up and walk on the stage and say hello to Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Eventually they said, "Ah, he's a good guy. He don't mean any harm." He did a couple movies and he interrupted the Sinatra shows a couple times and they did forgive him. It's like this guy Andy Dick. How does Andy Dick get away with the stuff he does? How? How did Howard Stern get away with his shtick all these years?
Kliph Nesteroff: How about another comic who got away with a lot - Buddy Hackett.
Pat Cooper: Buddy Hackett was... ohhhh... Buddy Hackett could be very evil. Very evil. But I don't think he knew that. I have to tell you one incident. We were at a christening and he was there and there was a baby girl and a lot of people. He got up and said, "Well, that's another blowjob!" They almost killed him.
Kliph Nesteroff: Wow.
Pat Cooper: I don't mean to be disrespectful here on your thing, but I have to tell you that. There was no barricade with his jokes. But he was very funny when he went up onstage and did an hour. He was funny, funny. But he was not a happy camper and he was a very strange man. I got along with him. He used to call me "Mister Tomorrow." I didn't know what the hell that meant! I did the roasts. When I did the Friars Roasts for fifteen or sixteen years I closed them. Nobody as big as Buddy Hackett wanted to close the roasts. They were scared. So they'd put on the Italian to see him bomb, but I never bombed! They'd go on the roast and read off a piece of paper or something. I'd do the roast off the top of my head because I had that ability and I flaunted it. I made enemies because of it. What else is new...
Kliph Nesteroff: How about Jackie Kannon?
Pat Cooper: Oh (laughs). He owned his own club! He owned his own club and that was his success. He went up there and people would see him do an hour and twenty and he was very funny. He was funny there. When he stepped out of his club it didn't happen the same way. He was like the head man and they came to see him. But when that club closed... he closed. I saw comics that were scared to walk down the steps at the Copacabana. That's what the Copacabana did to some comics. They were terrified of this nightclub because it was the greatest nightclub ever in the history of nightclubs. I lived through that fifteen times, but I've seen entertainers that were giants that had to be pushed down the three steps. Jules Podell was probably the greatest nightclub owner when he was in the club.
When he got out of the club he was scared of his own shadow. He was what I call a nightclub tough guy. He didn't really own it. Everyone knew that. But he ran that club the way it was supposed to be run and if you were out of order at the Copacabana he picked up the table, took the table away from you, and you sat there with no table! I worked it fifteen times and I had some of the greatest thrills of my life working that club. There will never be another club like that. Never. That's the history that I have lived. I'll tell you how great that club was. Waiters from the Copacabana are writing books about it! I think it's too late to write a book about the Copacabana because it has been so many years now - you're not going to enjoy that book unless you are of that era. But everybody is writing a book for the sake of writing a book.
Kliph Nesteroff: Sandy Baron.
Pat Cooper: Sandy Baron was Sandy Baron. He did a certain part and that was the end of him. He was not a deliverer. He got a little hot there for a few minutes and then all of a sudden nobody heard from Sandy Baron. I don't know where he is today.
Kliph Nesteroff: He's dead.
Pat Cooper: Well, there were a lot of Johnny-Come-Latelys and there were a lot of people that came up with one idea that didn't last.
Kliph Nesteroff: What are some of the other primary reasons that kept Jack Carter from becoming a larger star?
Pat Cooper: Himself! He was his own worst enemy. I would tell him that to his face. He's been married several times and everything. He drives everyone crazy. He drives everyone crazy. You tell him to do ten minutes he wants to do twenty. If you ask him how he feels he'll tell you to mind your own business. But when he gets on a stage there's nobody better. Nobody! He worked all the great theaters in New York, plus The Copa, the movies, everything! But he could have been bigger. He just got stuck in the mud. I liked him personally. I'll tell you about another guy. Not only Jack Carter, but a man named Shecky Greene. What a great talent this guy was! I say was. I don't think he's working anymore.
Here is a guy who had a hard life, but when he was working in Vegas nobody was better than this man! He worked the lounge, two shows a night, seven nights a week and this guy didn't ever do the same show twice. When I saw him I thought I should quit show business. That's how great I thought he was. Then I became his friend, worked with him, and now nobody knows who he is, which is a sin. He got jealous of Don Rickles - who is another giant. I said, "Don't worry about Don Rickles." He'd say, "If Don Rickles is working the main room, I want to work the main room." His rhythm was magical. Magical!
Kliph Nesteroff: How about Norm Crosby...
Pat Cooper: Norm Crosby (laughs). What a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful man. Norm had his own show and a couple of great things. I don't think he ever did any movies. Norm Crosby did television and he was just a wonderful entertainer. He and Robert Goulet were almost like Dean and Jerry. Just a gentleman and everybody loves him - and we still love him. What more can I say? But I don't think he was a powerhouse funnyman. But he didn't have to be. His rhythm matched him. Same thing with Joey Bishop. A lot of people don't know how great Joey Bishop was. Joey was great and he did not hang out with Sinatra. The only time he did was when he worked with them. But Joey Bishop bought half of Beverly Hills! Joey Bishop was very smart. Joey Bishop had a great sense of humor. Planned, but great. America didn't pick up on him when he had his own talk show. He was a better guest than host.
Kliph Nesteroff: Jackie Gayle.
Pat Cooper: Oh, Jesus. This guy could have been a giant! Jackie Gayle was like a Shecky Greene, but Jackie did not obey the rules and regulations. If they told Jackie Gayle, "You have fifteen minutes opening before Sinatra," he would do thirty. You can only do that one time. If someone said don't do something - he would do it. He made a movie called Tin Cup, I believe. Everybody said he was so great in it and he was on his way. He got accolades and [it went to his head]. He forgot that whoever he was working with was the headliner and he was the opening act and it ruined him. That's what it was.
Kliph Nesteroff: Lou Alexander.
Pat Cooper: He became a manager and he was Mr. Handsome. Lou Alexander was a ladies man. Women loved him. He was gorgeous. He was not a great comic. He had one routine about contact lenses. I loved him because there could be a bomb go off on 37th Street and he would say, "Hey, look at that girl! Ain't that a great looking broad?" That was Lou Alexander. He went on to be a producer and did some nice things.
Kliph Nesteroff: How about Jerry Lester.
Pat Cooper: I knew Jerry and I knew his brother Buddy. Buddy was not as talented as Jerry. Jerry was an out-there ad-libber. Jerry Lester was the start of The Tonight Show - with Dagmar. He never gets credit for that and then Steve Allen came along, then Jack Paar, then Johnny Carson and now we've got Jay Leno who is the biggest fake of all. Now, I mean no disrespect, but he did not belong on The Tonight Show. He did not have that charisma. How he has lasted this long I will never know. How he got that job I will never know. Because in my opinion he is not a funny man. David Letterman is more funny and David Letterman is a better host. If Jay Leno lasts another year he should get down and thank God because he is the weakest of all of them.