Jordan E. Cooper
The Ms. Pat Show's Patricia Williams
The Ms. Pat Show
While still a senior at New York's New School of Drama, Jordan E. Cooper was workshopping Ain't No Mo' , his satire on living while Black in America, as narrated by a drag queen (played by Cooper). Empire creator Lee Daniels, then looking for new voices for a TV series, saw the play and ended up producing its Obie-winning run at New York's prestigious Public Theater in 2019. He also asked Cooper to develop a pilot from a memoir he had optioned, Rabbit: The Autobiography of Ms. Pat. Cooper, then twenty-three, couldn't believe his luck.
"When I was in high school, and Ms. Pat was on a daytime talk show, my dad recorded her and said, 'Jordan, you got to watch her. She needs a show,'" Cooper recalls. "I watched, and I fell in love with her because Ms. Pat does exactly what I like to do in my work, which is find the balance of laughter and pain."
Cooper has found early success with storytelling that delivers what he calls "unadulterated Blackness and boldness." When he was eighteen, his first play, Black Boy Fly, was produced in his hometown of Fort Worth, Texas. Ain't No Mo' had an off-Broadway run before he'd even finished his BFA. Now he's the showrunner, executive producer and writer of The Ms. Pat Show, now in its third season on BET+ and recently renewed for a fourth.
However, moving Ms. Pat from page to stage wasn't easy. Daniels could not persuade Fox — where he had his development deal — to sign off on young Cooper writing the series treatment. That's when Patricia Williams, aka Ms. Pat, had an idea. "She said, 'Just write the script.' I wrote it and she took my name off," he recalls. Daniels and Williams submitted the unattributed pilot, and the suits were impressed. When they asked who wrote it, Cooper says with a laugh, "Both Lee and Pat said, 'It's that kid you didn't want to hire.'"
Even though his work quieted Fox's skeptics, The Ms. Pat Show hung in limbo at the network, because he'd kept her off-color stage persona front and center in the sitcom. Hulu shot a pilot but didn't greenlight the series. Enter BET+, which, as Cooper says, "decided to take the risk."
The Ms. Pat Show is now one of the streamer's premier comedies; in 2022 it received an Emmy nod for Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series.
Cooper continues to make believers out of naysayers. Ain't No Mo' had a brief Broadway run last year, with Cooper again in the lead role. "I'm a lover of old-school Norman Lear sitcoms," he says. "Before theater was accessible to me, sitcoms were accessible. And to me, sitcoms are just theater with cameras, when they're done right."
The interview for this story was completed before the start of the WGA strike on May 2.
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine issue #6, 2023, under the title "Bright and Early."