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Cooper, the other Manning brother, shows his comedic side

Cooper Manning, brother of NFL quarterbacks Peyton and Eli Manning, stars in a semi-regular comedy segment for Fox's NFL pregame show.

Cooper Manning, brother of NFL quarterbacks Peyton and Eli Manning, stars in a semi-regular comedy segment for Fox’s NFL pregame show.

(Fox Sports / YouTube)

There’s not a lot of levity coming from quarterbacks Peyton and Eli Manning these days. Not with Peyton sidelined for Denver by foot and rib cage injuries, and Eli’s New York Giants holding on to a wafer-thin lead in the muddled NFC East.

So leave it to Cooper Manning to lighten the mood.

Cooper, 41, the eldest of the three Manning brothers, is the football family’s born comedian, even with Peyton hamming it up on “Saturday Night Live,” and Eli with his Catskills comb-over in those DirecTV ads.

While his brothers toil away at their high-profile jobs, Cooper is trying his hand at TV with a semi-regular two-minute segment on Fox’s NFL pregame show. The bit is called “The Cooper Manning Hour (minus 58 minutes)” and features him conducting irreverent interviews with some of the game’s bigger stars.

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“I’ve always enjoyed making people laugh, or at least trying to,” said Cooper, who majored in broadcast journalism at the University of Mississippi. “I’m pretty comfortable with a microphone in my hand.”

Here Cooper is, getting a manicure and pedicure with Carolina quarterback Cam Newton. There he is hooking up Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan to a lie detector and peppering him with questions such as, “What’s your Social Security number?” and “How much of the playbook is actually just: Throw to Julio?”

And who is that outside the St. Elmo’s Steakhouse in Indianapolis, forming a two-man picket line with Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri, protesting the new, longer PATs? You guessed it.

“The goal wasn’t to do comedy, but just to make it fun,” Manning said. “If it happens to be funny, great. But at least it’s showing a side of these players that they wouldn’t be able to display otherwise. I give them free rein. I say, ‘Look, I’m going to come at you and you’re not going to know what’s coming. You can be mean to me, you can laugh, you can tell me it’s not funny. You can do whatever you want. We’ll make you look better than me at the end of the day. Your parents will be proud.’”

This isn’t Manning’s full-time gig. A New Orleans resident, he’s a father of three and a partner at an energy investment bank. After years of part-time radio work, he decided to check out TV and pitched his idea to ESPN and Fox before deciding on the latter network.

“People said if you want to do straight sports, ESPN is the spot,” he said. “If you want to be on the fringe and maybe have it turn into something that isn’t just sports, Fox is probably the place.”

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Manning has been working with Fox producer Don Bui. They come up with a theme for an interview — going to a pumpkin patch in Halloween costumes with New York Jets center Nick Mangold, for instance — then leave lots of room for improvisation. A lot of the brainstorming happens in a weekly email exchange Manning has with a group of his high school pals.

“Cooper’s not afraid to laugh at himself,” Bui said. “Not a lot of people in this business are as self-deprecating as he is. He very much wants people to be laughing at him, as opposed to laughing at the players.”

The character Manning plays is a guy who thinks he’s just on the fringe of superstardom, someone who truly understands the plight of the likes of NFL icons. In the Newton bit, for instance, while the two are relaxing in spa chairs with cucumber slices over their eyes, Manning eases back and says, “We’ve got it all figured out, Cam.… Two SEC legends right here.”

Manning, an all-state receiver at Isidore Newman School in New Orleans, had a full scholarship to play football at Ole Miss, his father Archie’s alma mater, but his career was cut short by a dangerous degenerative spinal condition. He has residual weakness on the right side of his body.

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Cooper stands 6 feet 4 and his looks are unmistakably Manning. Though he’s a dead ringer for Eli, he sounds like Peyton. He’s often confused for both of them.

One case of mistaken identity came in the wee hours in Knoxville, Tenn., the night before one of Peyton’s college games.

“I was in a downtown bar and had a big Scotch,” Cooper recalled. “Some ol’ country guy in a Tennessee sweatshirt comes up to me and goes, ‘Peyton? [His voice rising] Gol-ly! You gotta game to play tomorrow!’”

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“Don’t worry,” the big brother/impostor said. “We’re just playing Kentucky.”

So far, Manning has done eight of the segments, including ones with a couple of his brothers’ teammates: Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and Broncos linebacker Von Miller. On his wish list are Houston defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, and Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

As for interviewing his brothers?

“I’m going to wait till I get really big before I do them,” Cooper said. “Because they’ll charge me.”

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sam.farmer@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATimesfarmer


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