Thursday, March 1, 2012
Friday, October 28, 2011
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.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Kliph Nesteroff: I was just watching an appearance you did on The Hollywood Palace.
Pat Cooper: I'd like a copy of that! How dare you do that behind my back!
Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs) You are introduced by the great Jimmy Durante.
Pat Cooper: Yes. Where did you get a copy of that?
Kliph Nesteroff: It was on the internet.
Pat Cooper: Good. Was I funny?
Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, it was great. You looked great too. You were wearing some seriously polished shoes.
Pat Cooper: Was I gay looking?
Kliph Nesteroff: You had the classic horn-rim glasses and a nice lookin' suit.
Pat Cooper: Well, what can I do today to make you miserable?
Kliph Nesteroff: I thought we could go through your career and talk about a bunch of the people that you worked with. And since I just watched that segment, I thought I'd ask you a little bit about that fella that introduced you, Jimmy Durante.
Pat Cooper: Nobody better, Kliph. There was nobody better. He was an honorable, decent human being. A giver. He was kind. He was a great entertainer. He sang songs better than Sinatra and that sounds stupid, but it's a fact. Nobody did September Song like Durante... or Walter Huston, with all do respect to the Frank Sinatras and the Perry Comos who had great voices. These guys had a heart in certain songs that Sinatra didn't have. You've got to understand, when a man looks like Jimmy Durante and sang songs like that he started to look like Cary Grant. You get my flow?
Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, absolutely. Was that the first time that you had encountered him personally?
Pat Cooper: No, I worked with him at Palumbo's in Philadelphia. I worked there and I came in a day early. He was closing on a Saturday and I was opening on a Sunday, but I wanted to work with him. So I came in on the Saturday and did two shows with him. It was the greatest moment of my career! What a wonderful, wonderful man.
Kliph Nesteroff: On this same episode of The Hollywood Palace one of the guests is Ella Fitzgerald.
Pat Cooper: I worked with her in Washington, DC at a special affair. Another great, fine lady. I worked with The Count Basie Band with Sinatra at The Sands. I worked with Joe Williams who was one of the greatest gentleman jazz singers of all time. Wonderful people! I was so fortunate to have that thrill. And a great, dear friend of mine called Sergio Franchi, I would have liked to have worked with him for the rest of my career because we became very close, we lived near each other and we had more laughs than anybody could have. He was a gentleman and a great talent.
Kliph Nesteroff: And before you even got into show business, I understand you used to cut school to go and watch comedians perform...
Pat Cooper: Well, I went, you see, I came from a family that didn't understand [show business]. Unless you sang opera, you were nothing. If you sang off-key you were another Caruso. If you said something funny at the table you were disorderly, you were out of order, and your old man otta throw you out the window. So what happened when I became a name, it annoyed them. And I changed my name. It wasn't because I didn't like my name. I was having trouble with the internal revenue. I was filing my taxes under Pasquale Caputo and working under Pat Cooper and my lawyer said, "You've got to make up your mind. You're either going to work under Pasquale Caputo or change your name legally, or later on in life you're going to have a big problem." I listened to him, I changed my name, I have been legally Pat Cooper for the past fifty years.
Kliph Nesteroff: I always wondered about that as I have owned for years and years a copy of your United Artists comedy LP "Our Hero." I remember when I first got it, looking at the track listings all having to do with Italian themed topics - which I thought was unusual for someone named Cooper. But you were influenced by the great Jewish comedians, right?
Pat Cooper: Well, they had a flow. In my opinion I considered them jazz comedians. Well, what do I mean by that? They had a flow and I learned that's how you got to be a great comedian. If anyone interrupts your flow, you can turn around, go after it, go back to where you started, never miss a moment, never miss a line. But you got to be born with that natural ability. That's why the guys like Milton Berle and Henny Youngman and Fat Jack E. Leonard and Jan Murray and all these guys - they had a flow. They were like jazz musicians. Today you've got wonderful comedians - who've got one subject. It's either drugs, sex or dropping dead. But that's okay. That's what the young people want to hear today and I'm not against that. It's their turn to have their era. My era had the greatest music. My era - we had the greatest country. The second World War, we had no army, no navy and we kicked butt. That's what I try to tell young people today. This country - don't give up on it. Ever.
Kliph Nesteroff: Now what about Jack E. Leonard. A brilliant, funny guy that a lot of people do not talk about today...
Pat Cooper: Fat Jack E. Leonard said that Don Rickles was his road company. Because Fat Jack E. Leonard would talk off... he never had an "act." He went on the stage and spun that hat around and did forty-fifty minutes and destroyed the audience and never repeated in the second show. Very rarely did he repeat the same thing. He was wonderful.
Kliph Nesteroff: Did you get to know him on a personal level?
Pat Cooper: I not only got to know him, he married my neighbor in Vegas and we became very close. He came to my house many times. Very, very complimentary. He retired and passed away, unfortunately had got very, very sick. But a wonderful man and a gentleman. When I drove a cab, and I don't lie to you, he was one of my customers. I drove him to the Copacabana. I turned around and I think the bill was ninety cents. As a joke he said, "Keep the tip," which was a dime. I said to him, "You're giving me a dime!?" He started to laugh and he gave me another dollar. I always told him that story whenever I'd see him.
Kliph Nesteroff: Eventually he and Don Rickles became friends, but do you remember there being any animosity early on? They were the two successful insult comedians of that era - but did Jack E. Leonard feel like Rickles was trying to cop his style?
Pat Cooper: No. There was never... Don Rickles, I never heard say a bad word about Jack. They loved each other, they hugged each other, they kissed each other. They were in a great era of show business and Don Rickles, right now, is the last of the great comedian soldiers. You'll never see or hear another one like him. And whether you like a comedian personally or not, if he's a comedian and he's great, you've got to give him credit. What's fair is fair. If you don't like the President of the United States that's fine, but if he helped the state of the country, you've got to bow down to the man. That's being fair.
Kliph Nesteroff: How about another legend of that era - Jack Carter.
Pat Cooper: Jack Carter had his own program out of Chicago. He was on an hour every Saturday. He was one of the nervous wrecks, but a brilliant guy. He was what you called a Rat-A-Tat comedian. He never took a breath. Everyone thought he was going to have a heart attack, this guy! Nobody spit out lines like this man. That was his thing. And a guy called Larry Storch who was excellent. A lot of these guys worked The Paramount, The Strand, The Roxy, The Loews State. I saw them all in that environment.
Kliph Nesteroff: Larry Storch is still around.
Pat Cooper: I was with Larry Storch about two weeks ago. We were talking about a guy named Mickey Freeman who had passed away. [Storch] was not only brilliant on that television show he was one of the best stand-up comics, he did impersonations, he was wonderful and he still is.
Kliph Nesteroff: I had read that one of your earliest gigs was at the State Theater in Baltimore...
Pat Cooper: Ugh! Don't remind me (laughs) Don't! I had the nerve to go in there without an act! I worked with a dance team called The Kordays. They had a dog and told me at a certain [moment], when he whistled, to bring the dog out because they had a dance and the dog was going to go between their legs. I waited thirty seconds too late and the dog almost got killed. And I don't make fun of dogs, because I love dogs. The man, Mr. Korday, wanted to kill me.
Kliph Nesteroff: How did you get that gig? You were an unknown...
Pat Cooper: Because I'm a liar! I was a liar. An agent said, "Can you work the State Theater in Baltimore, Maryland? It's four shows a day. It's a floor show plus a movie." I said, "Yeah, I can work that!" I didn't have thirty seconds worth of material! I had to do twenty-five minutes and coordinate with the movie. So what I did was about a minute and a half and the closing act was the guy who wrote Are You Lonesome Tonight, Lou Handman. He's upstairs ironing his shirt and he's yelling, "I ain't ready yet! What're you calling me down there for!?" The audience was hysterical. They thought it was part of his act. The manager was throwing up in his dressing room. He finally turned around and gave me some jokes so I lasted the three other days, but without that, had he thrown me out, I might have quit show business altogether. I was a ballsy kind of guy. It got me a long way by not being afraid to take chances.
Kliph Nesteroff: So how did you end up on The Jackie Gleason Show?
Pat Cooper: A guy called Willie Weller saw me at a club. He said, "Listen to me, son. You've got something different. You've got a wonderful flow. Listen to me and I'll get you on the Gleason show within a year." And he kept his word. Jackie Gleason, when we were doing that, we were taping on a Tuesday to be shown on a Saturday. He said to me when he came out of his dressing room, "Let me tell you something, Pat. If you weren't the greatest, you wouldn't be on my show." Boy, did that help me. You have no idea.
Kliph Nesteroff: Did you meet some of the people on the Gleason show like Frank Fontaine?
Pat Cooper: I met them all. Frankie Fontaine had eleven children. That really barricaded him. He couldn't save a dime. As soon as he got paid he had to support eleven children. He was a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful man. Geez, just a wonderful guy. Loved to drink. Never became aggravated with anybody when he drank. Always complimentary and he was wonderful on that show.
Kliph Nesteroff: Did you ever encounter a writer named Harry Crane?
Pat Cooper: Yes! Yes! Yes! One of the original top guys. All of these guys were. You see years ago writers were writers. Not today. Today they ask you to talk about what you want to talk about, they write it down and they give you back the paper. So it's another ballgame today. I don't have writers because nobody could write for my nonsense. All I knew about Crane was... I didn't socialize with him, I wasn't friendly. But over the course of my show business career he would come backstage and tell you how wonderful you were and said, "If I can ever help ya, please call." That was the kind of thing years ago. Today there is a tremendous amount of jealousy and I don't understand why. There seems to be more than there was years ago. Years ago comics protected other comics material. Today they skim off each other and it's a big joke. Nobody has any dignity or character anymore within the show business and it's no good.
Kliph Nesteroff: Along the lines of the Jackie Gleason thing - you mentioned Frank Fontaine liked to drink - did you spend time at Toots Shor's?
Pat Cooper: I was in Toots Shor's and I met Spencer Tracy there. I met Joe DiMaggio there, who later became my friend, believe it or not. Joe DiMaggio never spent a dime, never picked up a cheque, but he was Joe DiMaggio. He thought he walked on water. When I became a little bit of a name, he would walk in and he would sit at my table and I would have to pay for his dinner. He never spent for nothing. Rocky Marciano was my close friend. Every time he brought five or six people. I paid the cheque! I never met a sports person, Mickey Mantle and all these guys, never picked up a cheque. I said it publicly. It used to annoy me. How dare you think I gotta turn around and buy your food! You guys are millionaires! You guys are bigger stars and they would come to The Copa and never pay!
Kliph Nesteroff: What was meeting Spencer Tracy like? He pretty much drank himself to death.
Pat Cooper: Well, I didn't know it was him because in those days there was black and white movies. So, I never knew he was a redhead. So when I walked over to him I said, "Excuse me. They tell me you're Spencer Tracy? You're not Spencer Tracy. How come you got red hair? You dye it?" He said, "Let me tell you something, kid. You got a problem." Then I walked away an idiot. And then Toots Shor said, "You should tell him how much you liked him in the movies, you schmuck!"
Kliph Nesteroff: You were on another episode of The Jackie Gleason Show with fellow guests Jayne Mansfield and the Professor Irwin Corey.
Pat Cooper: Jayne Mansfield was married to some guy from Sweden and no one understood him. He had an accent you couldn't cut with a knife. But she was gorgeous, she had no talent, she had a big pair of babappas. That's all she had.
Kliph Nesteroff: You played the Copacabana several times. Once with Tony Bennett, another time with Steve and Eydie.
Pat Cooper: I worked it with Bobby Darin. I worked it with The Four Seasons. I worked it with Jerry Vale. I don't know who I didn't work with. I worked with Ginger Rogers at the Desert Inn. Here's a man sitting in a theater growing up watching her dance with Fred Astaire, had a hit movie Kitty Foyle and now I'm opening for her at the Desert Inn. Opening night I walked over and I thanked her and told her how wonderful she was. Who walks in the dressing room? Cary Grant. Cary Grant says to me, "You know, you're a very funny man." I said, "Listen. I don't know who you are, but cut that Cary Grant impression. I don't like it." He fell down!
Kliph Nesteroff: What was [the man who ran The Copacabana] Jules Podell like?
Pat Cooper: Jules Podell could be very nice - in a cruel way. If he did something nice and you thanked him, he'd tell you to drop dead. But he would do a lot of nice things, but didn't want you to thank him. He was a very rough, gruffy kind of guy. But the funny thing was, when he walked out of the Copacabana he was scared of his own shadow. But in the Copacabana he was king kong.
Kliph Nesteroff: 1966 was around the time you were opening for Frank Sinatra, right?
Pat Cooper: No. The only time I opened for Frank Sinatra was at The Sands with Count Basie. That was the first and last time I ever worked with him. I didn't want to be nobody's comedian. I wanted to be my own man. Because once you start working for these stars they own you. My father couldn't own me and I was his son. I wouldn't let Sinatra, none of them own me. You couldn't take my dignity away for no money. I wouldn't allow that. I wasn't disrespectful. I was a gentleman. I knew what I had to do ... Nobody had to tell me. That's why I've lasted and I'm eighty-two years old.
Kliph Nesteroff: Just the one gig with Sinatra?
Pat Cooper: That was enough! He told me to take something out [of my act] and I said, "Frank, I don't tell you what songs to sing. Don't tell me how to be funny." That was the end of me. But we became friends. He respected me because he found out, "This is one guy I can't dictate to." He saw in himself that he wouldn't want anyone to dictate to him. And every time he saw me it was a hug and a kiss. We became friends.
Kliph Nesteroff: What did you think of Sinatra's comedian Joey Bishop?
Pat Cooper: Joey Bishop was one of a kind. Joey Bishop could just talk to you and break you up. He had no, what we call, comedic charisma, but he was a great stand-up comic. He had a certain flow that only Joey Bishop could get away with. He was a nice man to me. Sinatra loved him. Sinatra loved Sammy Davis. Remember Sinatra never helped an Italian performer. Did you notice? Dean Martin never helped an Italian performer. Did you know an Italian performer has never helped an Italian performer? Because our culture - we're jealous of each other for no reason at all. We don't help each other and that's the sad part about our culture.
Kliph Nesteroff: Did you know Joe E. Ross?
Pat Cooper: Yes, the guy from the television show Car 54. Yeah, I knew him. I didn't hang out with him. He was very nice. He was just a comic that got a break on that show. He went, "Ooh! Ooh! Ooh!" That made him famous.
Kliph Nesteroff: How about Jackie Vernon?
Pat Cooper: Jackie Vernon died too young. Jackie Vernon, when we were on the same plane together, he'd order a hundred of these little burgers. That was his breakfast. Six o'clock in the morning we'd land in New York, he'd have 'em. But Jackie Vernon was wonderful. He had one kind of a thing that belonged to him. The funny part is, when I came out and said I was Italian, he said he was Italian, Pat Henry said he was Italian, all of a sudden everyone was proud to be Italian.
Kliph Nesteroff: I wanted to ask you about your comedy records. Our Hero and Spaghetti Sauce and Other Delights both have hilarious, memorable covers.
Pat Cooper: I did four albums that sold over a million and a half. The guy that did it was an artist from United Artists. He had control of all the covers and his name escapes me right now. A wonderful man. I had nothing to do with the covers. It was not my idea.
Kliph Nesteroff: It seems like it would have been an ordeal to create the illusion of being covered in spaghetti.
Pat Cooper: Well, absolutely. That was cord and then we threw tomatoes on me. I had to rinse for about three days to get rid of the seeds.
Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)
Pat Cooper: The seeds came from the tomatoes and I don't wanna tell you where the seeds wound up.
Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs) Well, they're very memorable looking covers. Anybody who has ever seen them has never forgot them.
Pat Cooper: Thank you.
Kliph Nesteroff: Earl Wilson cited you a lot in his columns over the years. Did you have a relationship with Earl Wilson?
Pat Cooper: Yes. He was a friend. He came to The Copa and if he asked you to sit down and talk to him you did because he had a number one column. Now Cindy Adams has it. Cindy Adams. She's probably the best columnist in the country. I believe so. She's very, very good. I knew her husband Joey Adams who when I started out was very kind and very nice to me and I never forgot it. I put his name in my book and told about how nice he was. Did you read my book? You better read it because I think it's one of the best things I have ever done in my life. You're going to love it. It tells the truth and it's a very interesting, funny kind of thing, but very sad in certain pages. The name of the book is How Dare You Say How Dare Me.
Kliph Nesteroff: I wanted to ask you a little bit about Ed Sullivan. You appeared several times.
Pat Cooper: Ed Sullivan was one of the most boring, untalented men on the planet! If Ed Sullivan was around today he wouldn't get on slides! That's how bad he was - but we didn't know any better! Don't forget, television was still in its infancy, so we thought that man was a talented man. We didn't know. This guy was the walking dead, for crying out loud! He wouldn't let me say the word "pregnant." I said, "Well, pregnant is funny. I can't say the word 'expecting,' that's not funny!" He didn't understand that certain things were funny. He didn't understand comedy, so he would take out certain things. I said, "Mr. Sullivan, you're taking out my laughs." He said, "Well, then you can't come on my shooooow." I said, "Okay, whatever you saaaaaayyyyyyyy." (laughs)
Kliph Nesteroff: What was the atmosphere backstage like? Was it just a zoo?
Pat Cooper: Everybody was hustling and bustling. You had four minutes and as you were on the air doing your so-called four minutes, you might have been down to three minutes, because the director would start to tell you to cut. The show was live. If he [signaled you] to cut - you'd cut. Or you would never do the show again. Let me tell you about entertainers today, who've never done live television. That was television live. You only had one chance at it.
Kliph Nesteroff: I understand Bob Precht was really the one in charge of that show.
Pat Cooper: He was the backbone of that show, but Sullivan ran everything. Everything came through Sullivan.
Kliph Nesteroff: Ed Sullivan wasn't the kind of guy that you, personally, could go have lunch or dinner with.
Pat Cooper: No. First of all, you wouldn't understand him. If you sat down with Ed Sullivan in a noisy cafeteria, you wouldn't know what the hell he was talking about. He was very low-key, he had a nice smile, but he was very untalented. But he was the number one man and that's the end of that story! You can't knock him. Everyone watched Sullivan on Sunday night at eight o'clock.
Kliph Nesteroff: In the early seventies you did several appearances on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show and then all of a sudden...
Pat Cooper: Well, I only did it once with Johnny Carson and then I did it with [guest hosts] Joan Rivers, Joe Namath... I only did it with Johnny Carson once. I didn't like Johnny Carson and he didn't like me. He was not a nice man. But he was the best at The Tonight Show. But then again, don't forget, when Jack Paar was on, he was the best. When Steve Allen was on he was the best. Johnny Carson came in at the right time and Johnny Carson was brilliant on that show. When the show was over, he was not a nice man. Not a nice man at all. So that's that. And I told that to everyone years ago. I wasn't going to give him an accolade if he didn't deserve it. I didn't give a damn who he was. I told people my father was a pain in the butt, so if I would say that about my father, I'd say it about Johnny Carson or Sinatra. I'm a human being! How dare you take that away from me?
Kliph Nesteroff: There is a story about Johnny Carson peeing on you...
Pat Cooper: Well, I didn't want to tell you that story because I didn't think you'd want me to say it. He not only... I was at Jilly's and he peed on my leg. I yelled at him. He goes, "I'm Johnny Carson!" I said, "I don't care if you're Kit Carson! You can't pee on my leg!" I was living on West End Avenue at that time. I had to jump in a cab, go home and change my pants! I was never on his show [again]. He was not a nice man. A disrespectful man and at that time he was a drunk. He was a big drunk. Then he went to California and he sobered up. Ed McMahon was with him thirty years and went to his house one time. Johnny never spoke to him. And poor Ed McMahon died broke. What does that tell you about these kinds of people? All right? I'm an old, uneducated man and I've got more brains in my pinky because I know common sense. These guys went out and bought million dollar homes, flew in private jets and by the end couldn't even buy a toilet seat.
Kliph Nesteroff: You also did several appearances on The Merv Griffin Show.
Pat Cooper: I love Merv Griffin. Nobody better than Merv Griffin. Nobody. He and Mike Douglas, two of the great icons on television. They were the Regis Philbin of their era. They were the best. We had great shows. I must have done about twenty Mike Douglas shows. What stories we had. Totie Fields, myself, Sergio Franchi and Jerry Vale - we all lived near each other. It was like a reality show! We got along and it was wonderful.
Kliph Nesteroff: Speaking of Jerry Vale, I watched a clip of a low-budget, Las Vegas TV show that Jerry Vale hosted called Jerry Vale's World. It had you, Norm Crosby, Jimmy Dean and Don Rickles sitting around talking about nightclubs. Do you remember that?
Pat Cooper: Yes. I think that was the last time Jerry hosted anything.
Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)
Pat Cooper: Jerry was not the kind of guy to host. It was not his kind of thing. Same thing with Don Rickles. When Don Rickles sat behind the desk, it was wrong. He was much stronger being a guest. My opinion of myself - I'm a better guest than I am sitting behind a table. You've got to know the strengths and weaknesses of your talent. I can't swim, so I don't go in the water. I don't do what I can't do. I can't fix a television. I don't try.
Kliph Nesteroff: This Jerry Vale program looks so low-budget and there's a joke near the end that makes reference to it having been filmed in your house. Was it done from your house?
Pat Cooper: I think so. Jerry Vale was the only one who got paid! Jerry Vale don't do nothing for nothing. Jerry Vale is money oriented. So he got paid and we did it because he was a neighbor. But you know, he doesn't sing any more and he hasn't a friend in the business anymore.
Kliph Nesteroff: Because he was more money oriented?
Pat Cooper: No, no, because he wasn't the nicest man when he was doing great. He was another one who never picked up a cheque! He took me out for dinner - I had to pay the tip! Talk about a cheap human being! He took about six or seven of us out for dinner, the cheque came to around seven hundred dollars. He got dinner complimentary from The Riviera! He said, "You take care of the tip." It cost me around two hundred dollars to get a free dinner from Jerry Vale! Another miser!
Kliph Nesteroff: One of the things I enjoy about watching the old talk shows like Mike and Merv is the combination of guests. In the old days after someone was interviewed they would stick around. They'd move one seat down the panel when the other guest came on and they'd interact. So I wanted to ask you about some of the people that you appeared on these shows with. There was an episode of Merv Griffin that you appeared on with Milt Kamen.
Pat Cooper: Yes. Milt was a wonderful, wonderful - I would call him "a Village Comic." He had a completely different sense of comedy and he was wonderful. And a nice man. A nice man. In those days Merv Griffin would take a chance on a different comic. Mike Douglas would take chances. Today you've got to know the Pope to get on Jay Leno and if you're funny they wanna know why you're funny. You can't be funnier than the guy behind the desk unless you're a bigger name. The people who are booking stars today don't know me. They don't know me today. They only know who's around [from] today. They barely know Don Rickles. They don't know the guys I grew up with. They don't know the Norm Crosbys, the Jack Carters. They don't know and they don't take the time to do their homework. They're on national television, booking shows, and don't know who the hell is out there.
Kliph Nesteroff: How about Buddy Hackett - what do you remember about Buddy Hackett?
Pat Cooper: Buddy Hackett was a terrible human being, but a very funny man. Buddy Hackett had no respect for anybody. He had a filthy mouth. Not a dirty mouth. There's a difference. He had a filthy mouth. Buddy was a great comedian when he went out on the stage. He was one of the lowest, filthiest comics out there and he was successful. Today they make Buddy Hackett look like a virgin.
Kliph Nesteroff: Well, what made him a terrible person offstage?
Pat Cooper: He couldn't handle anything around him. He was Buddy Hackett. It was probably the way he grew up. When he was a child he probably had problems. But he wasn't the nicest guy in the world. I got along with him because I stood away from him.
Kliph Nesteroff: How about Henny Youngman?
Pat Cooper: Well, Henny was terrific. Henny taught me how to be a smart businessman. He said, "Don't worry about the money. Because if you worry about the money you're going to be out of work." I didn't understand. I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "Let's assume you wanted five thousand. You set your price. And they offered you four. And you turned it down. You didn't get the five. You didn't get the four. You're a schmuck!" Go for the four. Get the money. "But no! I'm a star! I don't work for you!" You'd wind up not buying no toilet seat!
Kliph Nesteroff: Dick Gregory.
Pat Cooper: Ahhhh, Dick quit too soon. Dick became political. Personally against the system and he quit. He was one of the brightest guys going and he gave up his career. I liked him personally, he was a nice man. He is a nice man. He was one of the best, but he gave up his career. He didn't like the way things were going and it cost him. Today you'll see him work occasionally and he's not funny no more because he don't have the flow and his subject matter is boring. That's a sad thing because he's a bright man.
Kliph Nesteroff: Moms Mabley.
Pat Cooper: Ah, now you're talking about ... one of the best. One of the best! But she appealed mainly to African-American people. That's what happened, and the same with Redd Foxx, until someone turned around and said, "Let's put them on television." She was wonderful and she was bright and she was too strong for the society at that time. Don't forget, her era was too early. She was around too early. When [the Civil Rights era] happened, it was too late for her.
Kliph Nesteroff: You spent a lot of time in Las Vegas. Did you ever work with Joe E. Lewis?
Pat Cooper: No. I met him. Joe E. was one of a kind. He opened up at The Copa. He was a big, big drinker and a big, big horse player. He was the happiest horse in the race.
Kliph Nesteroff: I heard you tell a story once that when George Carlin got fired in Vegas - you were one of the few that stood up for him.
Pat Cooper: He was one of the best. He stood up to the system and he said, "If I can't say the four letter words - I don't want to be in your show." He stood by those words and he became a giant. That goes to show you about some of these wiseguys who have television series and who have all the backstage knowledge, half of them don't know nothing. That's what the problem is. Kids today don't know nothing about comedy. They don't do their homework. They should go to school and read about the great stand-up guys... and girls. All of a sudden now we've got a lot of good comiedennes, which is great. Years ago they were a curse. You didn't see many of them around because we were all ultra macho. "We can't put girls up. They're not funny." How dare anybody say that about anybody? Now we've got women in mixed martial arts that'll knock you on your ass!
Kliph Nesteroff: How about some of those women of that era. You mentioned earlier - Totie Fields.
Pat Cooper: Totie was on her way to becoming a giant and then Totie did something against the doctor's words, she had plastic surgery, they took off her leg, and a few months later she died. She wanted to be a raving beauty. I said, "You're a raving beauty because you've got a good heart, you idiot! What the hell you putting botox on your face?" I said, "You need a hand grenade in your shorts!" She turned around and she didn't listen and she passed away. There was a girl named Jean Carroll who did stand-up many years ago. She did about twenty Ed Sullivan shows and she was one of the only comediennes around doing stand-up.
Kliph Nesteroff: How about Rusty Warren?
Pat Cooper: Rusty was dirty and the other one - I can't think of her name - they started making headway with the dirty albums. The reason they broke a barrier with the dirty stuff first was because they were white. That was disrespectful to the black culture, because the black culture [broke the dirty barrier first and] was funnier than the white one.
Kliph Nesteroff: How about Phyllis Diller?
Pat Cooper: Now you're talking about... I did a roast with Phyllis Diller when she was dressed up like a man. In those days, they did not allow women in [The Friar's Club]. So she dressed up as a man. Frank Sinatra spotted her, and they threw her out. That's a true story, but she is a doll. A doll. A great human being. And a great talent, great pianist, great artist, great comedienne and a great lady!
Kliph Nesteroff: I'm shocked that they would have thrown her out instead of just accepting the gag and letting her stay.
Pat Cooper: No, no. In those days, no women were allowed at The Friar's. Now they're allowed in The Friar's. They should have been there years ago. Why we holding back? Why do we separate human beings? That's a disgrace. Without women we'd have no children. Let's start with that!
Kliph Nesteroff: How about Jan Murray?
Pat Cooper: Jan Murray is one of the classiest stand-up comics ever. He looked like a... he looked like a... if he had pajamas on, he'd look like he had a tuxedo on. That's how classy he was. His delivery was sharp, his delivery was classy, he had a great show called Treasure Hunt, he made a lot of money and he was a wonderful man.
Kliph Nesteroff: And Gene Baylos...
Pat Cooper: Gene Baylos was the funniest guy of all of them. Onstage he wasn't that funny. But you sat with him at a table, he'd put you to tears.
Kliph Nesteroff: How about Shecky Greene?
Pat Cooper: Shecky was my favorite. One of the greatest I ever saw in a nightclub! One of the greatest. But Shecky today can't get a laugh because, I don't know, he's got problems and I feel bad. But you know, Shecky was never good in movies and he was never good in television. But Shecky got jealous of Don Rickles. He wanted to work the big rooms like Don Rickles. He did work the big rooms, but he didn't come across and this hurt his career. Today he barely, hardly works. He's angry. I'd call him an angry, successful man. He's a sore winner. Did you hear that expression? He's a sore winner. He was brilliant, but everyone thought he was nuts. I said, "No, he's not nuts. He's brilliant. He's brilliant. He's not nuts." That's what he does. I saw him at The Riviera five, six, seven times. I saw him climb the curtain and do twenty minutes from on top of the curtain! He destroyed an audience. He turned around and threw himself on a dice table and says, "Bet me!" That's a fact. Anyway, I gotta be at the 92nd Street Theater tonight, and I'm gonna blow my throat.
Kliph Nesteroff: Oh, okay, I'll let you go. I know you're doing that thing with Colin Quinn tonight, right?
Pat Cooper: Yes. God bless you and thank you for thinking of me. If you want do [more] another time... I don't know what more I could tell you, but you keep talking to me and you'll get an education - because I'll tell you the truth.