As many of you know, my life in the performing arts, before settling into the operatic repertoire, was spent in the night club business: The Catskills, The Poconos, Atlantic City, Miami Beach, and other showrooms up and down the Eastern Seaboard….when such showrooms and night clubs still existed and thrived. Fortunately, I caught the last few years of a glorious era that was quickly coming to an end. 60’s Retro acts, Philadelphia Rock bands, and a new brand of comedian were being courted by the grand hotels, resorts, and casinos that once housed acts like mine, but were now trying to attract the “young crowd”, or “yuppies”, as they referred to them back then. I knew my days (and that of many of my colleagues) were numbered; as I performed the classic songs of yesteryear that would have been attributed to Sinatra, Bennett, Sammy Davis Jr, and the other great singers of that era. Dance sets, live orchestras on-stage, and classic entertainers were becoming a thing of the past.
Last week (Tuesday August 14) here in New York City, I was fortunate to attend a benefit at Caroline’s Comedy Club on Broadway, the proceeds of which went to support fighting autism. The headliner was one of the truly great comedians of the ‘generation/era past’ to which I referred above. Pat Cooper, at the age of 81 is still going strong and delivered a blistering 1/2 hour set that left the audience virtually destroyed!! So hilarious (in his own caustic way) was he, that he left my ribs hurting…one audience member was laughing so hard that I thought he would require a hernia operation when Mr. Cooper was finished.
Cut from the mold of Don Rickles (still performing at 84), Shecky Greene, Joe Mauro, Jackie Mason, and others of his generation; Pat Cooper’s comedy last night remained as relevant as ever. Why or How, you may ask?? The answer is simple…he basically tells the absolute truth about what he sees, the way he sees it. He had jokes about Lady Gaga, popular restaurants and restaurateurs, his Italian heritage as it relates to modern day 2010, the nature of show-business, his own hearing loss, and so much more. The wit was sharp, biting, and lickity split. There isn’t a comic around who can deliver it faster…believe me, I have seen hundreds of them–right up to current day.
I worked with Pat Cooper in the Catskills more than a few times in my day; he was hilarious then, and he is hilarious now. He said something to me over 22 years ago at Kutsher’s Hotel and Resort that I had never heard before then, and will never forget; he said: “Kid, just remember this….you’re only as good as your last performance.” If that is the case then; Pat, you’re still worth your weight in gold!!
Don’t, however, think for a minute that Mr. Cooper didn’t move along with the times in other ways. He has appeared several times on Letterman, was featured in a very famous Seinfeld episode, appeared in films such as Analyze This and Analyze That (with another one of the great comics of our time, Billy Crystal), and was a regular guest on Howard Stern’s radio program. I spoke with him after his show, and he was most cordial and very thankful. We took a brief trip down my version of memory lane, took a photo together and then I left. As I walked out of the club, I found myself walking out with Frank Pellegrino of the famed Rao’s Restaurant here in New York. Cooper skewered him for about 7 minutes of his 30 minute act (referring to “$36 plates of pasta that we can all make at home for 36 cents!!”). I said to Mr. Pellegrino (whose generous auction gift of dinner and drinks for a table of four at his New York City location garnered an auction high bid of $4,000), “I didn’t realize that you were going to be the butt of so many jokes tonight!” For the record, he took them all in great stride, and I do daresay that he laughed among the hardest; but he did reply, “Neither did I!!” (Mr. Pellegrino and I continued talking about the old days of show-business as we stepped out onto Broadway together, as he has known Pat Cooper for decades, but I didn’t get an offer come to visit his restaurant!!–most people wait over a year to get a reservation–something else Mr. Cooper riffed about with great enthusiasm.)
So you just keep it up Pat; stay ornery, and keep talking loud…we’ll be listening. I live by the “last performance” motto you provided for me so many years ago, and I thank you most sincerely for that! And for those of a younger generation who say may say to me, “Pat Who ?”, when I refer to this evening: I will say back to them in my loudest voice, “Pat COOPER, damn it…that’s who!!!”