Everyone laughed and laughed: they thought it was part of his act.
Because the fact is that Tommy Cooper was the opposite of your smooth comedian who holds his audience in his capable hand. Tommy Cooper would come on blinking with nervousness and gaze round at his audience with sheer naked terror.
And then nearly all his magic tricks (he did a magician act) would go wrong.
But this is a language blog, so what we want to know is, not what he did, but what he said. Well, he told old fashioned gags of the open-the-gate-straight into-a-bear-trap sort:
This guy walked up to me the other night and said: 'Quick, did you see a policeman around here?' I said no. He said: 'Good. Stick'em up.'
He based his act on being the biggest innocent in the room:
I sleep like a baby. Every morning I wake up screaming at 2 o'clock.
and explored the comedy of bafflement to the full:
They say start at the bottom if you want to learn something. But suppose you want to learn to swim?
I met my wife at a dance. I thought she was at home with the kids.
or he would take a turn of phrase and stand it on its head:
I said: 'How long will the spaghetti be?' The waiter said: 'I don't know. We never measure it.'
Most of all, this big man gave his audiences the impression that he was failing to live either successfully or comfortably in a huge, terrifyingly complex world over which he had almost no control. And yet he still found life of startling interest and (sadly doomed) possibility:
You can lead a horse to water but teach him to lie on his back and float and you've got something.
Perhaps that was why, despite being well-known for giving taxi drivers tips consisting of a single tea bag (get yourself a drink) he was so much loved.
Word To Use Today: cooper. A cooper is a maker of barrels. The word comes from the Middle Dutch cūper, or Midde German kūper, and is related to the Latin cūpa, which means cask or vat.