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Visit by star of ‘Sopranos’ a fine episode

Doug Clarkdoug Clark The Spokesman-Review

If there’s one lesson watching every episode of “The Sopranos” at least twice has taught me, it’s this:

Some people deserve to get whacked.

Especially the ones who show up for a special appearance by a “Sopranos” cast member yet don’t know a Soprano from a basso profundo.

For the record, Steve Schirripa plays the lovable but dim Bobby “Bacala” Baccalieri on HBO’s brilliant dramatic television series about life in the mob. He was at the Coeur d’Alene Casino Saturday night to sign autographs and chat about his role on the Emmy-winning show.

It was quickly apparent, however, that many (if not most) of the audience of 200 or so didn’t know from Shinola about him or the show.

“Is that the guy we’re here to see?” asked a woman at the table next to where my lovely wife, Sherry, and I sat.

The stranger’s attention was focused on the projection TV system that was airing a “Sopranos” episode prior to Schirripa’s entrance. The lug who had caught her eye on the big screen was not Bobby Bacala.

It was James Gandolfini, aka Tony Soprano.

As I soon discovered, no one at the woman’s crowded table counted themselves a “Sopranos” viewer. Nor were two people at our table of six. The man and woman said they had stopped at the casino to buy cigarettes and heard about the free pizza being served at the equally free Schirripa appearance.

What a bunch of jamooks!

Thank goodness for the die-hards. Casey Wilson, for example, puts my “Sopranos” affection to shame. The 18-year-old came decked out in a baseball jacket, ball cap and wristwatch all bearing the show’s logo. One of his hands clutched a “Sopranos” calendar he brought for an autograph.

While waiting for Schirripa, I discussed the show’s best whackings with Chad, another fan. We settled on “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero being sent to sleep with the fishes after Tony found out he was a rat for the feds.

“When they took Pussy out on the boat, man, that was awesome,” said Chad.

OK. I know what you lightweights think about “The Sopranos.”

Too much violence. Too many bad words…

Fortunately we live in a victim-based society. That way I can blame my parents for my predilection for the bloody art form that is Wiseguy Theater.

I was an innocent, impressionable child when mom and dad let me stay up to watch “The Untouchables” on TV. They gave me an Untouchables play set one Christmas. So picture little Dougie on the morning of our Savior’s birthday, making tommy gun noises while re-enacting Al Capone-ordered hits on the floor in front of our tinseled tree.

Explains a lot, huh?

I was truly hooked when the first two “Godfather” movies came along. That I’d become a “Sopranos” freak was a no-brainer. Just watching a few first-season episodes at a friend’s house prompted me to order HBO. I’ve been paying outrageous cable TV bills ever since.

With the show on hiatus, seeing the Brooklyn-born Schirripa in the flesh was the next best thing.

He didn’t disappoint. Despite the tough crowd, the burly actor won everyone over by being likable and funny.

Asked by an audience member if he ever tired of hearing the F-word on “The Sopranos,” Schirripa quipped that, naw, he says it “more in real life than I do on the show.”

You could sense that the 47-year-old still counts his lucky stars. According to his bio on “The Sopranos” official Web site, Schirripa took acting classes while working at a Las Vegas hotel. “It’s fortunate for him that a large Italian man with comic timing was needed,” states the site.

Now a veteran actor who has appeared in 22 feature films, Schirripa has also written two books: “A Goomba’s Guide to Life” and “The Goomba’s Book of Love.”

Sample: A goomba is someone with more pinky rings than pinkies.

As Tony would say: Fuhgetaboutit!

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