January 20, 2009 2:43 AM   Subscribe

Tommy Cooper (1921-1984) was one of Britain’s drunkest and most beloved comedians (but he could still mess you up). Staggering onstage in his iconic fez, his grandmother-friendly one-liners are the stuff of legend, his failed magic tricks spectacularly endearing, his small-screen charisma undeniable. He was also a mean-spirited philanderer, but still we loved him. And then he died. Just like that. (Previously, but I think he deserves a refresh.)

Bonus feature: The Plank with Eric Sykes. Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5.
posted by turgid dahlia (20 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
He's actually the subject of one of the songs on the Dan le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip album that featured Thou Shalt Always Kill. It's not a bad song. Take a listen. It's called Tommy C.
posted by Ghidorah at 2:53 AM on January 20, 2009

Weird. I don't think I've ever heard of Tommy Cooper before, but I know all of his jokes, and I've associated "drunken man wearing a fez" with "comedian" forever. It makes perfect sense that someone named Tommy Cooper existed, but I never knew it until now.

It's as though I knew some stories about chopping down cherry trees, wearing uncomfortable false teeth, and crossing the Delaware, and I associated "powdered wig" with "president" but didn't know the name George Washington. This explains a lot.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 2:58 AM on January 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the post turgid dahlia. I love Tommy Cooper. The biggest compliment I can pay him is that I can't put my finger on why exactly I find him so funny.

'I went window shopping today! I bought four windows.'
Not that funny on paper - almost makes me cry with laughter when delivered by Tommy.
posted by therubettes at 3:15 AM on January 20, 2009

It freaks me out that he died onstage. He was doing a comedy act, and he literally died in front of the audience.

He belongs to an elite group of performers who died while entertaining. Snopes has a list.

I don't know which is scarier; the idea of trying to entertain others while you're dying or the idea of trying to be entertained by a dying person.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:19 AM on January 20, 2009

I was cleaning out the attic the other day with the wife. Filthy, dirty and covered with cobwebs... but she's good with the kids.
posted by pracowity at 3:41 AM on January 20, 2009 [3 favorites]

"I was cleaning the attic with the wife last night. Filthy, dirty, covered in cobwebs. Still she's good with the kids."
posted by Jofus at 3:41 AM on January 20, 2009

posted by Jofus at 3:43 AM on January 20, 2009

"It freaks me out that he died onstage. He was doing a comedy act, and he literally died in front of the audience"
And on live TV. Like most people, I initially thought it might be part of the act, a clumsy new gag to wind up the audience.
posted by malevolent at 3:48 AM on January 20, 2009

Wow. 1984? 25 years? Already? Holy cow. I remember watching this and wondering what the heck was going on.
posted by schwa at 3:58 AM on January 20, 2009

Apparently (or at least, according to my unreliable memory,) Cooper used to begin his solo shows with the house lights going down and a grand announcement, "Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr Tommy Cooper!..." After the sustained applause, there would be a long, uncomfortable silence. Eventually, into the darkened auditorium would come Cooper's disembodied voice, "It's dark in here." Laughter.
"Let me see if I can find the door." More laughter; a long pause; the sound of a doorknob rattling and another long pause. Eventually:
"Its dark in here too."

The point being, that Cooper could sit 500 people in the dark and *still* make them laugh for 10 minutes.

It still makes me uncomfortable when he clutches his chest in mock surprise at the volume of his voice or an unexpected bit of business from one of his props.
posted by Jofus at 4:15 AM on January 20, 2009

I don't know which is scarier; the idea of trying to entertain others while you're dying or the idea of trying to be entertained by a dying person.

I'll field this one! The answer is trying to entertain others while you're dying.
posted by therubettes at 4:27 AM on January 20, 2009

I firmly believe that Jerry Sadowitz is Tommy Cooper's bastard son. Abandoned by Cooper at birth, Sadowitz determined that he too would become a comedian/magician but he would subvert all the family friendly cuddliness Cooper espoused and be like the evil anti-Cooper.

Sample joke: "Terry Waite, bastard. I dunno, you lend some people a fiver, you never see them again."

Note: you can't actually see much of him online because he's very hot on copyright and asks journalists not to quote his jokes.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:59 AM on January 20, 2009

I remember when I was young seeing a skit with him trying to cook a duck that had me in pain I was laughing so hard.
posted by PenDevil at 5:09 AM on January 20, 2009

Doing a card trick: "Pick a card. Any card. No, not that card"
posted by 543DoublePlay at 6:43 AM on January 20, 2009

Thanks for this. I'd seen snippets before, but this post brings the great man into focus.
posted by telstar at 6:55 AM on January 20, 2009

When Cooper was presented to the Queen at the London Palladium for the Royal Variety Show back in 1964, a time when entertainers were expected to defer to royalty, he asked her whether she liked football. When she replied no, he asked her for her Cup Final tickets.

In 1984, once again in a packed London theatre, the big man clutched his chest and slumped to the floor, his trademark red fez clinging precariously to his outsize head.

Her Majesty's methods are slow, but effective.
posted by theroadahead at 7:59 AM on January 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Slow, effective...and telling. He died on the stage of Her Majesty's Theatre. Gotcha!
posted by Dr.Pill at 8:35 AM on January 20, 2009

"I went to the doctor, I said 'Doctor, it hurts when I do this'. He said ' Don't do it then'.

Tommy Cooper makes me laugh just by walking on the stage. Only John Cleese has a similar effect. He was the subject of a truly excellent West End show "Jus' Like That" featuring, oddly, Jerome Flynn who is more famous for being part of a duo who made it their mission to foul up the UK charts with some truly stinky cover versions that sold by the gazillion.
posted by RegMcF at 10:12 AM on January 20, 2009

That Snopes list is a bit of a stretch -- Irene Ryan had a stroke onstage and died 6 weeks later? Jon Erik-Hexum?
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 11:59 AM on January 20, 2009

My dad always says that he's never laughed as much in his life as when he saw Tommy Cooper perform in Bournemouth. Just thought I'd share that!
posted by kenchie at 1:08 PM on January 20, 2009

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