As fans of the hit television show America’s Got Talent already know Chipps Cooney is a crazy and hilarious magician. What many don’t know is what Chipps does know, which is how to make it and stay in the entertainment industry. Just following his weekend opening for Gilbert Gottfried on Thursday and Dave Attell on Friday and performing on Saturday at The Stress Factory in New Brunswick, NJ, I was able to catch up with the legend and get some history.
Q. Chipps, how did you do The Stress Factory for two separate headliners?
A. Vinnie Brand had me open for Dave and since I was already there for the weekend, Omnipop asked if I could open for Gilbert.
Q. You must know everyone. How long have you been doing this?
A. 30 years. I used to play in a band, as a drummer, just goofing around on the stage. My first gig was at a jazz club, Brady Haze. I don’t think they’re around anymore.
(He won’t tell me how old he is but he says he went to BABE RUTH’s funeral.)
Q. You’re from New Jersey, right?
A. Born in Newark, raised in Lyndhurst. I was in Newark for about 3 days. Then we lived in Lyndhurst for 17 years and now I’m in Edgewater.
Q. AMERICA’S GOT TALENT… how did that happen?
A. My good buddy, Buddy Flip called up. He says “Chipps, there is a new show on TV, and you’re perfect for it. You have a tape.” I says, “Yeah, on YouTube.” Buddy sent in the YouTube clip. Passed NY, Passed Vegas, Passed Hollywood, as top 35 out of 70 thousand people. I did that show in 2010. People still recognize me from that.
I don’t get excited anymore.
Q. The movie, The Bench Warmers with Adam Sandler?
A. I used to work with those guys (Sandler and Chris Rock). Adam stayed in touch while I was on the TV show (AGT). Chris and Adam were not stars yet while we were together. I still contact Rock.
I also met Arnold Schwarzenegger, on the set of Bench Warmers. He wasn’t there for a political reason. I thought he (Schwarzenegger) was one of the players in the movie. Then I found out his kid was there. So now I can say, I was working with his son, but not him.
Q. Do you have kids?
A. No children, but nephews. I love them and they keep me entertained.
Q. You did the Drew Carey Special, Roseanne Barr’s Special, and The View Comedy Night.
A. The View, once a week did comedy. I did the magic. It was weekly thing, and it was fun. That’s where I met the model, Hemingway. Her uncle was Earnest Hemingway, so that was pretty cool.
Q. You also have done the Jerry Lewis Telethon.
A. That was really cool. I thought we were going to be hanging out with Jerry a lot more, but we were with the kids. They have their own place. He got to relax with them and play with them. They get so happy. They really know what life is about, just living. You would never see a more appreciative bunch.
The only thing I wish I did was talk to Jerry. It was a quick interaction and then we parted ways. But when you do the telethon, it’s a pretty big deal. It’s big for you, people who know you, and those kids. They are just so excited.
Q. So, what happened with Drew Carey?
A. This beautiful girl told me “I’m your assistant”. I said I don’t need an assistant, You’re too good looking. She told them and they found something else for her to do.
It’s not that I didn’t want her around. A really pretty assistant takes attention away from the act. I’m not that kind of magician, so I don’t want the diverted attention. People start looking at her too much and they miss what I’m doing. I told her the story and she was okay with it.
Q. And how about Roseanne?
A. She came with her entourage. She said she liked the act and said to send it in, so I sent in the Chip and Dales thing.
Q. Did that lead to other gigs?
A. Well Robin Williams, and this is kind of crazy, asked if I wanted to do some Improvs with him. So of course I said yes. The day of, I get a call at the place, “Chipps you have a phone call, and it’s Robin.” I thought they were messing with me. I pick up and sure enough “Hey Chipps, I’m sorry man, I have to record something at the studio. But I will talk to you later.”
Later on he comes down and all these comics are all over him and there are fans too. He is mobbed with people and asks everyone to relax for a minute and starts calling out for me “Chipps…Chipps…Anybody seen my buddy Chipps?” I thought that was a really nice thing. All those people and Robin Williams is calling out for me. And not just ‘Hey you’, but by name.
You might think that because they are celebrities and they have money and power that they couldn’t care less, but all the big names that I have worked with have been just regular quiet people. Not like those people that think they are important so they have to make demands and yell at everyone. It’s like they are just regular people doing regular things, and they just happen to be really good at what they do.
Q. Do you have any advice for young comedians?
A. You have to have the determination of a salmon. Staying up late and laughing is good for your health says Chipps, he’s been doing it for a long time.
Q. What is your 5 years plan?
A. Just keep going till I can’t go anymore, what am I going to do retire and do cross word puzzles. There’s no retirement plan in this business. You do this because you want to do it forever.
Chipps Cooney is doing The Gong Show with LESLIE GOLD LIVE off Broadway on the Second Thursday of every month.
He will be performing this weekend at Jokers Wild in CT on July 26 and 27, and at the Mohegan Sun on Aug 31.