Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Let the Chipps Fall Where They May

Everybody needs a role model. I would choose Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge, except it’s too far-fetched. He’s 6-7 and 23. I’m a little shorter and a lot older.

Chipps Cooney is more my style.

Judge is the strapping homerun derby all-star who has hammered 32 taters so far in his rookie season. I didn’t hit 32 taters in my entire baseball career – and I played until I was 55 years old.

Cooney was born in New Jersey, served in the Army and fell in love with magic. Turns out he was really bad at magic, so he became a comedian who makes fun of magic. I was born in Nebraska, was rejected for military service because of flat feet and wanted to become a comedian, even if it meant making bad magic funny.

Cooney’s comic career has taken time to ripen. Suffice it to say, he’s no rookie. Nor am I, but the dream lives on.

Chipps has gotten a late-in-life break by appearing on national talent shows. With his deadpan expression and faux fakery magic tricks (for example, crinkling a plastic bottle, turning away from the audience and blowing it back into shape, ta da!), he made it all the way to the quarterfinals in Season 5 of America’s Got Talent. [He blew his chance to move on by ditching his schtick and instead riding a cart around on stage and then dancing, proving he’s not good at dancing either.]

Now Cooney has surfaced on Little Big Shots: Forever Young, the new Steve Harvey show that features old people doing unexpected stuff – like a 71-year-old Asian lady performing an acrobatic pole routine. (Get out of the gutter, not that kind of pole routine.)

For many, Cooney is just a joke. For me, he is an inspiration. With little to no talent, he converts nothing into something funny. With a similar talent profile, I’m taking notes.

Cooney says the International Amalgamation of Magicians Union is after him for revealing trade secrets. Of course, it’s a joke. He doesn’t do any magic tricks. They are only sight gags, like Steve Martin wearing an arrow through his head. I love sight gags and frequently debut future comedy bits, such as when I stumbled through a door at home while carrying three hot pizzas. After the yelling, cleanup and a return trip to the pizza parlor, it seemed very funny.

You have to respect Cooney for perseverance. He could have quit long ago. Well, he actually did quit long ago, but now he’s trying again. That’s what I like – trying, quitting, trying some more, quitting some more, but never quite giving up. There is always another bad magic trick just around the corner.

Alexander Sperber could learn a lot from Cooney. Sperber was arrested in Fort Lauderdale this week after he robbed a bank, stripped naked and ran down the street throwing $4,700 in small denomination bills to the wind – all in the name of comedy. Sperber told police he woke up and realized his path to stardom as a comedian was through bank robbery. He should have tried magic.

Cooney is giving bad magic a good name. The 77-year-old comedian is a little more withered than before, but just as untalented and funny. He’s my idea of success because when he ran out of illusions, he didn’t run off the stage. Cooney hung around and made fun of himself. I can’t think of a better career goal – or dream come true.

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