You Don’t Have to Be Italian to Like Pat Cooper

Today we sprinkle a little Holy Water on comedian Pat Cooper (Pasquale Caputo, b. 1929). I’ve seen it expressed that Cooper “often” uses his Italian American identity in his act. That’s pretty hilarious, given that his Italian American identity is his whole act. (Or was, he’s retired now). He tells anecdotes about his relatives, his heritage, his culture, his religion. The only thing that’s not Italian about him is his chosen stage name. He actually chose a name to disguise or mute his Italian identity, despite the fact that it was his entire act. Naturally, that was an outgrowth of the times in which he lived, but not the best advertisement for his brand. (Kay Ballard, very similar. Compare them with, for instance, Dom Deluise, who came just a little later). At any rate, he was a Caputo from Brooklyn, and his mother, whom he often kidded about in his act, was a Garguilo, which naturally makes me to wonder if he’s related to the folks from the Coney island eating establishment.

Anyway, there are a lot of clips of him on Youtube if you don’t know his act. Very fast talking, aggressive, nightclubby kind of act, very much of its time, in that it is full of observational humor exaggarated so as to feed into stereotypes. This is red sauce comedy. At the time it rang as “authentic”; to watch it now is a little indigestion-inducing. I naturally have to wonder if he had some acqaintance with varieta (old school Italian variety entertainment) in his youth. For years, Cooper performed in Vegas and Atlantic City and in New York clubs like the Copacabana, I’m guessing he worked Miami too, since his first big break came on Jackie Gleason’s show (though it’s equally probablE he knew Gleason from Brooklyn. And both can be true at the same time). At any rate, he went on to do the usual circuit: Ed Sullivan, Dean Martin, Mike Douglas, David Frost, Merv, Dinah, Johnny Carson, Kraft Music Hall, etc. He also released popular comedy albums such as Our Hero (1963), Spaghetti Sauce and Other Delights (1966), You Don’t have to Be Italian to Like Pat Cooper (1967) and More Saucy Stories from Pat Cooper (1968). In 1969 he played one of the vaudeville revivals at the Palace in New York, in a double act with Italian singer Jimmy Roselli.

Starting in the ’80s Cooper got his beak wet as an actor, doing TV shows like Vega$, Charlie’s Angels, and It’s a Living, and movies like Analyze This (1999), Analyze That (2002), and Sally Kirkland’s The Boys Behind the Desk (2000), which features an amazing hodgepodge of stars like Captain Lou Albano, Professor Irwin Corey, Joe Franklin, Rip Taylor, Sylvia Miles, and Burt Young! This I gotta see — I practically got vertigo from just listing those names!

One of his last screen appearances I have indeed seen though, a couple of times, and that’s my friend Heather Quinlan’s documentary If These Knishes Could Talk: The Story of the NY Accent (2013), a must see. More recently he was in the documentary series Hey Moe, Hey Dad! (2015), about Moe Howard of the Three Stooges.

For more on the history of variety entertainment, including TV variety, please read No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous