“In the house tonight, ladies and gentlemen – Richard Holbrooke!” Matt Cooper announces to a near-capacity Wednesday-night crowd at the Gotham Comedy Club. “The United States is $2 billion in arrears with its U.N. dues, so don’t forget to leave him a few bucks on your way out.” Cooper isn’t entirely kidding. The U.N. ambassador really is in the house – albeit without a tip jar – along with such media heavyweights as NPR’s Mara Liasson, George executive editor Rich Blow, Nation columnist Eric Alterman, and Time managing editor Walter Isaacson. The secret to Cooper’s wonk appeal? When he’s not joking about Al Gore’s sex life or doing Larry King impressions, he’s the deputy Washington-bureau chief of Time.
“This is an outlet for a lot of stuff that couldn’t find a happy home in print,” says Cooper, whose act includes a list of hypothetical Warren Beatty campaign slogans. “I mean, ‘I Did Natalie Wood’ probably wouldn’t fly in Time.”
His convincing impression of a stoned Bill Clinton (“Let’s listen to side three of Eat a Peach!”) could cause Cooper some hassles on the home front – his wife, Democratic consultant Mandy Grunwald, was an adviser to Clinton’s first presidential campaign and is currently working on Hillary’s Senate bid. But he’s not sure he’s ready to be a prime-time player. “My stuff might be a little parochial,” he says. “I don’t know if you can do U.N. jokes on Conan.”
Cooper, 35, stumbled into stand-up two years ago, after giving “a pretty funny toast, I guess,” at a birthday party for USA Today political columnist Walter Shapiro – also a regular performer at Gotham’s monthly political-comedy night and the other big media draw on tonight’s bill. Last November, Cooper was anointed “Washing-ton’s Funniest Celebrity” at a D.C. comedy-club fund-raiser – beating out American Enterprise Institute scholar-in-residence Norman Ornstein and Monica Lewinsky’s former lawyer William Ginsburg. “Think about all the other midlife crises you could have,” Cooper reasons. “It’s safer than going out and getting a motorcycle.”