Friday, December 29, 2023

Hot Hero Sandwich — Off-Stage with Cast Member Paul O’Keefe

by G. Jack Urso 

Paul O’Keefe brought with him to Hot Hero Sandwich an impressive resume. While usually noted for his role as Ross Lane in The Patty Duke Show (1963-1966), when cast as Ross, O’Keefe already had an impressive Broadway background, including roles in the musicals The Music Man (1957-1961), Sail Away (1961-1962), and Oliver! (1963-1964). Prior to Hot Hero, O’Keefe studied music at the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music, setting him on a long path in entertainment. 

In my conversations with various Hot Hero Sandwich cast members, O’Keefe’s experience and professionalism was invariably noted. He brought great gravity and maturity to the cast of young people, helping to anchor scenes, whether in broad comedy or more dramatic moments. Cast as Ted, Hot Hero Café’s owner, he served the café’s teen clientele as a slightly older almost-peer and reluctant role model.

Perhaps O’Keefe’s signature role on Hot Hero Sandwich was Stanley Dipstyck. With a paper bag permanently covering his head, Stanley’s weird sartorial choice was never mentioned, let alone explained. The psychological truth of Stanley’s complicated identity came across in Paul’s subtle and eloquent performance. His Stanley character was emboldened by his disguise — no longer shy but weirdly confident and resolutely true to himself — the epitome of awkward adolescent confusions, conflicts, and contradictions. Some may have assumed that Stanley was Hot Hero’s version of comic Murray Langston’s creation, The Unknown Comic, a then-popular one-liner Gong Show comic whose gimmick was wearing a paper bag on his head, but Stanley’s bag revealed a much more resonant meaning. What teenager hasn’t wanted to pull a bag over their head and just disappear? Though we never did get to see what was under that bag, the audience knew that if we ever did get a peek, we might see a little bit of ourselves. 


NBC promotional photo (front and back) for Paul O’Keefe and Stanley Dipstyck who actually looks a little frightening in this photo! (author's collection)

Tracking down the Hot Hero alumni has been something of an adventure in and of itself. Most have no social media presence or interact with it minimally. Yet, when I do manage to get through, despite Hot Hero Sandwich being only a very brief stopover in their careers, it is obvious that they still retain a great love for the show and for the creators Bruce and Carole Hart. After many months of dead ends, when I had almost given up on reaching O’Keefe, I got a note from him (one of my attempts did get through!) and he was only too happy to share his experience with the fans and with the Hot Hero family. 

In this interview, O’Keefe shares with us how he got involved in Hot Hero Sandwich and the VW van he drives in the opening credits. We also learn more about Ym and Ur, get some behind-the-scenes notes, and, of course, learn more about our very own Stanley Dipstyck. 

It’s a lot of territory to cover, but don’t worry Hot Heroes, I got this one, shall we say, in the bag . . . . 

Ae13U: At the time of the series, it seems you were partnered with Neil Kirby, appearing at least once January 28, 1980, at the West Bank Café which, for our readers who don’t know, was (and still is) a pretty hot place for performers to appear. In fact, it had only been around at that point for two years. Can you tell me a little bit about this performance? Were you and Neil a regular act, and if so. what kind of things were you doing in your performance?

From the Hot Hero Sandwich archives, an original O’Keefe and Kirby poster from their appearance at the West Bank Café (author’s collection).
Paul O’Keefe: Neil Kirby was a drummer and a very good friend. He and I played together in several bands, and at the time that we played the West Bank Cafe, he and I were a duo, with me playing keys, guitar and vocals. It just occurred to me that you might not know I'm a musician! I can provide more detail on that if you wish, but for now I'll explain that we played the WBC as one of many occasional dates we played around the NYC area. We played popular rock tunes and some of my originals. As you said, the club was pretty new back then. I was there to meet with some friends recently and thought about that date. It was a fun gig, except for moving our gear up and down the stairs! 

Ae13U: How did you get involved with Hot Hero Sandwich? Did they catch your act like they did with Andy Breckman? 

Paul O’Keefe: I auditioned for the show. There was at least one callback as well. 

Ae13U: Why Hot Hero Sandwich at this point in your career? Were you looking for a series? Did your agent tell you to give it a shot? 

Paul O’Keefe: An agent submitted me for the project, and I auditioned at the time when casting for the group was going on. I wasn't looking for a series and was doing theatre and TV and radio commercials in addition to my music work. 

Ae13U: This is an obscure question, but I have to ask about the Hot Hero Van. How was it that you got picked to drive it? 

Paul O’Keefe: I don't know why I was chosen to drive the van. I was one of the older members of the group, so maybe they thought that I wouldn't crash! I did have a full-size van in real life, but I don't know if the casting folks knew that! 

[Note: Series writer Sherry Coben believes O’Keefe was selected to drive the van because he was cast as Ted, the Hot Hero Cafe owner — and indeed, the café is where the gang ends up at the end of the credits. Ted was envisioned as someone a couple of years older than the rest of the Hot Hero Café crew, the guy who didn't go away to college after high school and stayed in their hometown.]

Ae13U: I love the old Volkswagens, but that van looked like it had seen much better days.  Do you recall what it was like to drive it? 

Paul O’Keefe: It was fun to drive. I think it had a stick, so I enjoyed that. My own van was a GMC, which was bigger, but I think the choice of the VW bus was perfect for the show. 

[Note: For background information on the opening credit sequence, please read Hot Hero Sandwich — Short Take on John Nicolella, Consultant/Location Producer.] 

Ae13U: Stanley Dipstyck is without doubt my favorite character. There’s not a single teenager who hasn’t wanted to just pull a bag over their head and disappear. How was it that you came to be Stanley Dipstyck? It strikes me as the sort of role an actor might not want to do because your face is covered – and I have to admit, I recall at the time it took me a couple episodes before I realized you were the man in the paper bag. 

Paul O’Keefe: I'm flattered that you liked Stanley! We had meetings at which cast members could occasionally volunteer to play a character in a sketch. No one volunteered for Stanley, so I was assigned to play him. I don't remember if he was intended to be a running character, but the writers came up with some funny situations and we made it work. As you mentioned, it had an appeal for teens and even those who were no longer teens. I was a bit concerned about having the bag on my head, but it didn't turn out to be an issue. 

Ae13U: I was reading the script for Episode 1 where Stanley Dipstyck’s original name was Stanley Bunghole. This was one of the writer’s scripts so I don’t know if the actors ever saw it, but were you aware of Stanley’s original name? 

Paul O’Keefe: I remember that his original name was Stanley Bunghole, but I think it was changed because it would have freaked out the censor department!

From the Hot Hero Sandwich Archives, the shooting schedule for Aug. 9, 1979. As intriguing as it sounds like, "The Dipstyck Love Story," didn't make the final cut.

 Hot Hero Sandwich Episode 8: The One about the Whale.

In this scene from episode 8, Stanley Dipstyck tries to check out a book with a suggestive title by the librarian who immediately confiscates Herman Melville’s classic work of whale hunting! This is a good example of using the audience knowledge of something to make a joke without actually saying the punch line. The topic of censoring school library books was unfortunately prophetic.

[Note: Series writer Sherry Coben wrote this sketch which, ironically, given the subject matter, Bruce Hart fought an epic battle with network censor Jane Crowley to keep the sketch in the show.]

The Eternal Dipstyck 

No matter what time period or bizarre scene the Hot Heroes find themselves in, Stanley Dipstyck never tries to be anything other than what he is  awkwardly earnest. No matter the situation he may find himself in, Stanley is always Stanley, emphasizing his outsider status, as in these sketches from episode 9. 

Hot Hero Sandwich Episode 9: Stone Age Nightmare High

Stone Age Nightmare High [Scene: Pre-history, when everyone’s name was Ugh.]

Teacher: Please answer when your name is called. Ugh?

Ugh 1: Here.

Teacher: Ugh?

Ugh 2: Here.

Teacher: Ugh?

Ugh 3: Here.

Teacher: Stanley Dipstyck?

Stanley Dipstyck: Here.

Hot Hero Sandwich Episode 9: Space Age Nightmare High

Space Age Nightmare High [Scene: The future, where everyone has a number for a name.]

Teacher: Please answer as I call the roll. 6515?

6515: Here.

Teacher: 6241?

6241: Here.

Teacher: 7347?

7347: Here.

Teacher: Stanley Dipstyck?

Stanley Dipstyck: Here.


Ae13U: Regarding Ym and UR, do you recall how you got assigned to play Ym? 

Paul O’Keefe: I think that Denny and I were tapped to play those parts. As you noted, there was a lot of sly commentary that I enjoyed very much. I should point out that the writing for the show was very well done. It gave us a lot to work with. Since they were aliens, we had some latitude in creating bits for the skits. You may be surprised to hear that physically the roles were very demanding. The spacesuits had no ventilation, so they were very hot under the lights. The makeup was very extensive, and needed to be worked on because we would be sweating it off. I wish I could remember the name of our makeup lady, but she and her father (also a makeup man) developed a special color and type of makeup for the aliens, and she would work on us between takes. The bald cap also needed attention, but she did a great job keeping us looking like we came from outer space! 

NBC Promotional photo for Denny Dillon (left) and Paul O’Keefe (right) as Ur and Ym
(author's collection).

[Note: According to Denny Dillon in her interview with the project, the make-up was devised and applied by Barbara Kelly, the daughter of Bob Kelly who founded Bob Kelly Cosmetics, a theatrical supply company. Barbara Kelly would later go on to do the make-up for such films as Fame (the movie), Three Men and a Baby, Birdy, Desperately Seeking Susan, Big, Tootsie, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Star Dust Memories, and Ragtime. All Ym and Ur sketches were written by Richard Camp.]


Ym and Ur Segments
  • Episode 2: Cults, Countries, Football, War, Peace.
  • Episode 3: Parades, Religion and Staying Young.
  • Episode 4: Politics and Beauty Contests.
  • Episode 8: Race, Slang, and Communicating.
  • Episode 11: Parting comments. Going home with special guest stars producer Howard Malley as the alien dad and writer Andy Breckman (creator of the TV show Monk) as the Puberty Fairy!


Ae13U: I’d like to see if you recall anything about the following clip, “Dealing with Death,” with Denny where your character deals with his grandfather’s death. The key to the scene here is that your character couldn’t visit his grandfather in the hospital because it was just too much for him and he didn’t want to see his grandfather ill. 

[Note: The scene of Ted (O'Keefe) dealing with the death of his grandfather was written by Sherry Coben.]

 Hot Hero Sandwich Episode 7: Dealing with Death

The reason I recall this is because my grandfather died the previous December 1978 and, like your character, I didn’t have courage to visit him in the hospital and see him like that, so the this really connected with me. Do you recall anything about this scene? How, as an actor, do you approach protraying such intense emotions? 

Paul O’Keefe: I didn't know that HHS was on YouTube, but since everything else is there, I should have guessed. Thanks for the links, but I remember the skit you talked about very well. We didn't do a lot of serious stuff, and I thought this was a good topic for the show. I tried not to overplay it, but I hope that the feelings that happen to us when we experience the passing of a loved one came across. I thought Denny was particularly good in that segment. Sometimes actors can intellectually think about the audience out there in TV land and hope that they are moved, but we don't always get to hear from someone like you who was directly affected. I hope it helped you cope with your loss. 

From the Hot Hero Sandwich Archives, the shooting schedule for Aug. 7, 1979, when the “Ted’s Grandfather” sketch was filmed.
Ae13U: Another small point to cover while I have you, some of the cast remember whose Saturday Night Live’s cast member’s dressing room they were assigned to during filming. Do you recall whose dressing room you had? 

Paul O’Keefe: I don't remember whose dressing room I used. 

[Note: Nan-Lynn Nelson had Laraine Newman's dressing room, L. Michael Craig had Dan Aykroyd’s dressing room, and Vicky Dawson had John Belushi’s dressing room.] 

Ae13U: Regarding learning about the show getting cancelled. There has been a mix of different responses. Some cast members figured there would not be a second season, some hoped there might be, and in one case, Vicky Dawson, reported Fred Silverman’s office told her there would be a second season and her character was killed off on Another World because of it. 

You were a bit more of an industry veteran at that point, so I wonder if you recall what your thoughts were at the time. Did you have any contact with anyone at the network about a possible second season or could you tell by the way things were going the likelihood of a second season was small? 

Paul O’Keefe: I don't remember getting the word that we were cancelled. I had done enough TV by then to know that sudden and unexpected death was always a possibility. The show had a good time slot, but it was very expensive to produce compared to the ad revenue that the network could charge for that time of day, so that may have been a factor. I was very proud of the show and was pleased with my work in it, but economics plays a large role, particularly in TV. 

Ae13U: Did you have much contact with the Harts during or after the series? 

Paul O’Keefe: Both Bruce and Carole were on the set nearly all the time, and they usually participated in the meetings that we had with the writers. They lived in my neighborhood, so I used to see them every now and then after the show was off the air. In particular, Bruce would want to know how I was doing. I think he felt like we were his kids, and I know he was proud of the show. 

From the Hot Hero Sandwich Archives, the shooting schedule for Oct. 25, 1979, includes the Hot Hero Band taping the song "Ted's Grandfather," which was cut from the show.

Ae13U: Finally, now that we’ve had a chance to speak for a while, are there any stories about your time on the show that come to mind you can share? 

Paul O’Keefe: I haven't thought a lot about this project for quite a while. I could wax on with memories, but I'll try to summarize a couple of things that came to me as I answered your questions. You might not know that in addition to being the home of SNL, 8-H was originally the radio studio for the NBC orchestra. It had very good acoustics for a TV studio, and I really enjoyed our music days. When Sister Sledge played, the band prerecorded the music. They sounded awesome! It was a terrific moment to listen to them do their thing. The ladies (real sisters) were very nice and unaffected, and they sang beautifully. 

HHS was my first experience doing improv, and I learned a lot. Some skits were fully written, and we would rehearse them with the writers present. Other times it would just be an idea or a draft of a situation, and we would improvise on it with the writers and develop it in rehearsal. I don't know that I was ever as good as some of the folks in the room, but it was fun to help develop the piece, and the more I did, the better I became at trying ideas and lines out as we worked. I have used those skills many times since. 

Ae13U: Thank you for your time Paul. You’ve really helped put together another piece of the Hot Hero Sandwich puzzle! 


Concluding Thoughts 

Paul O’Keefe brought with him to Hot Hero Sandwich a deep resume going back over two decades before the series to the initial Broadway runs of The Music Man and Oliver! (the same production with the Monkees’ Davy Jones as the Artful Dodger). He treaded the boards with the indomitable Elaine Stritch in Noel Coward’s last musical, Sail Away, and was a regular on a classic sitcom, The Patty Duke Show. Yet, O’Keefe didn’t stop evolving as an actor. Prior to HHS, O’Keefe returned to Broadway in dramatic roles in A Texas Trilogy: Knights of the White Magnolia and A Texas Trilogy: The Oldest Living Graduate (both in 1976), then expanded his tool kit to include sketch comedy with Hot Hero Sandwich, all the while working as a gigging musician. 

To this day, O’Keefe has continued to parlay his stage and musical experience having recently served as the assistant musical director for the 20th anniversary tour of Rent, as well as assistant conductor and playing the keyboards and guitar for performances. Theater and the stage is more than just a vocation for Paul O’Keefe. It’s more than just a calling. 

In fact, you might just say — with all due deference to Stanley Dipstyck — it’s his bag.   

The many faces of Stanley Dipstyck.


How Stanley Dipstick Taught Me to Be Proud of My Name 

The abbreviation “G” in my name represents my first name, Giocchino. Among Italians, at least in America, this is an exceedingly rare name and growing up in the 1960s and 1970s the name stood out like Stanley Dipstyck at a plastic bag manufacturers’ convention, so I never used it and went by my middle name, “Jack.” In fact, all my school records omitted the name and none of my friends even knew about it. I never knew or heard of or read about anyone with my name, until that is this one Nightmare High scene with our very own beloved Stanley Dipstyck: 

Hot Hero Sandwich Episode 7: Nightmare High Excuse of the Week with Stanley Dipstyck.

I can still remember my excitement at hearing my name on TV for the first time. My bizarre “Oh-my-God-Mom-please-don’t-tell-anyone” name, and that it belonged to a famous composer, Gioachino Rossini! Then I found out my version of the name, “Giocchino,” was misspelled by a well-meaning, but otherwise flummoxed hospital clerk. It may be an unusual name, but a famous composer had the same name and I heard it on my favorite TV show. So, maybe I wasn’t as much of an outsider as I thought. 

That’s how I learned early on that representation matters. Everyone deserves a place at the table — even Dipstycks. 




  1. Another great interview. Interesting consistency with actors and actresses on how the creative environment of HHS. Enjoyed concluding thoughts.

  2. The Dealing with Death sketch -- well done, thanks for sharing your personal experience. I am sure many of your readers can relate and connect to it.