Fredo Isn’t an Italian Slur, Just a Pretty Good Burn

Late Monday, video surfaced of a man calling CNN anchor Chris Cuomo the most vile anti-Italian slur imaginable: Fredo.

Cuomo pushed back loudly, saying that Fredo is like the n-word for Italians. But in his flustered state, Cuomo seemed to forget that Fredo is absolutely not like the n-word for Italians. The name refers to Fredo Corleone, the most inept brother in the Godfather’s Corleone family. As an Italian-American, let me set the record straight: Fredo isn’t a slur. But it can be a great insult when properly deployed. Fredo is an uber-specific dig targeted at an insecure man overshadowed by a more successful brother. And in this case, that’s a pretty sweet burn.

Chris Cuomo isn’t unsuccessful by any means. He’s a featured anchor on CNN, one of the largest cable news networks in the world. But when your brother is a three-term governor of New York (like their father before him), it’s easy to feel like you’re caught in the wash.

And that disillusionment is probably just what Fredo Corleone felt.

Sickly as a child, Fredo became a soft-spoken passive adult who avoided ruffling feathers out of an extreme sensitivity to personal slights. He lacked the ambition and self-assuredness of his mercurial older brother Sonny and calculated younger brother Michael. He acted as his father’s bodyguard and lackey until he dropped his gun in a humiliating display of ineptitude while trying to defend his father from a mob hit. He was then sent to Las Vegas to run the Corleone family’s casino operation, a role he flourished in. Fredo wasn’t stupid or unsuccessful—he was just an incompetent gangster. For most people, his personality traits aren’t a huge issue. But in a crime family they make you the butt of jokes.

Chris Cuomo’s pursuit of journalism as a member of a multi-generational political dynasty sounds pretty similar. His media pursuits will always come second to the family business, no matter how well he does—he’s wide open to charges of nepotism, after all. Chris is on national television every night, but Andrew is (and will likely always be) more powerful. That’s why this Fredo burn runs so hot—you can see how deeply Cuomo feels it. It’s certainly not the first time someone’s called him Fredo. And it’s probably the billionth time someone’s cracked about how he wasn’t tough or alpha enough for actual politics like his brother.

Calling Fredo an anti-Italian slur was a smart move by Cuomo, even if it backfired. It made the guy who used the term seem like hostile and racist and deflected attention enough to limit speculation into Chris’ internal strife about being a second-rate Cuomo. Unfortunately, it was a little too transparent. There are at least half a dozen better anti-Italian slurs and names this heckler could’ve used if he really wanted to attack Cuomo’s ethnicity. Since Cuomo’s seen the Godfather, he’s heard film producer Jack Woltz spit out at a nice representative sample of them.

And look. There’s a nonzero chance the guy meant to say “guido,” which is way more of a slur than “Fredo.” But on what would have been acting legend and Fredo-portrayer John Cazale’s 84th birthday, seeing Cuomo called Fredo couldn’t have been an accident. It was fate, no matter how angry it made him.