Comedian Dane Cook chats about finding new talent, his big dreams and enjoying the ride
By Jennifer Billock
Comedian Dane Cook is on his way to Chicago. On Friday, November 12, at the United Center, Cook will be performing his Dane Cook Live show. The Real Chicago checked in with him to ask about his tour and his soon-to-be-released greatest hits album, titled Dane Cook “I Did My Best — Greatest Hits.”
Q: What subject matters do you think you’re going to touch on in this tour that you haven’t before?
A: I don’t know; I mean that in the best possible way. It’s such a free-flowing performance this time. The way I operate is when I come off of the last tour and I get rid of the material and I start from scratch, I try to build up enough of a new collection of routines that I can keep it fresh and get up on stage and play. You know, segue in and out of different ideas and thoughts.
There’s definitely certain staple moments. You like to have a strong opening and closing bit to kind of bookend, but I’ve been keeping it kind of going back to a bit of the earlier stuff, which was informed by my sketch comedy years, which was just keep it more in the moment. Allow myself to go on some tangents and just have more fun.
Everything in the last few years was a bit more methodical in that I was sharing more vulnerable moments, and I took a lot more care to stop and let the cameras get in close to show people I’m not f—ing around. This is real life and real events that happened to me and probably happened to you, so you need to connect in a whole different way. Now it’s like the reins are off, and the great thing is now I can use tools that I’ve learned early on in my career. Whether it’s physical comedy or irreverent or witty, wry, vulgar — it doesn’t matter. I can jump into different styles of comedy, and yet through my experiences and maybe, forgive the word, but maturing in stand-up, I can even kind of just stop and let the story tell itself.
In the last two days since we’ve started this tour, it’s probably the most fun I’ve had in years.
Q: In the last tour, you went a little heavier and darker. You’re kind of going lighter this time. Could you explain the process of going from one approach there to the new approach this time?
A: A lot of the materials stem from things that were happening in and around my life that were a bit heavier in tone and formed my act. But having been through that process, I’m speaking a lot about my parents passing away. Both of my parents had cancer, and I lost them both within a year of each other — and yet, there were many, many ways to express and talk about that and other things that had been going on, the highs and lows of fame, and we had a lot of fun with it. It was certainly kind of cathartic, but I found ways to connect with my fans to where we were all on the same page with that.
This time around, I feel like this would hearken back a bit more to when I released “Harmful if Swallowed.” I was really in an absurd humor phase, and I really loved physical and absurdist-type humor and stories. And so I find myself back in that place, maybe a bit more — just all around jovial and enjoying that after 20 years, I’m still kicking around in a pretty tough business. So, a lot lighter affair.
Q: Your past comedy has resulted in a lot of catch phrases and one-liners. Is there anything from this tour that you would particularly enjoy seeing becoming a one-liner or catch phrase?
A: It’s so cool when people have their favorite line. The place that’s always jarring is I food shop late at night, and people will come up and whisper in my ear and be like, “Get the jelly, twat.” And I forget my own jokes, so I’m like, “What? What did you just say to me?”
There’s a few spots. I almost don’t want to give it away because they’re some of my favorite punch lines, but it’s for the fans to decide. I’m always intrigued by what people relate to more, where you think, “Oh, this is the punch line. This is the obvious funny part.” And yet somebody comes up and says, “No, no, no. When you were leading up to that moment, that’s something that I do.” Or, “That’s so weird. Me and my girlfriend say that same thing.” I will say that there is a bunch of relationship stuff in there, which is always kind of great to air out and talk about. That seems to be a fan favorite on the tour so far. Yeah, it’s up for the fans to decide, but I know my favorite babies are in this, and I will certainly sell them as hard as I can.
Q: Do you have any opening acts on this tour? Why or why not and how did you choose them?
A: Yes, I did. It’s that Rolling Stones mentality of like, “Yeah, I’m the headliner in a big gig, but instead of bringing somebody half-assed to make me look better, I want to bring on guys that go out and have a strong identity and really smash it and have a great, great show.” It gets everybody invigorated. Gets the show to a new level.
So, I had so many special guests on last year’s tour. Bill Burr came through. I think Bill is just one of the strongest comedians. I started actually with Bill. We both started in Boston together. We had Nick Thune. We had Mike Epps. We had Robert Kelly. So many people came in and out of this revolving door, and I’m always inviting people. Whitney Cummings, very, very funny comedian. And emerging talents finding their way.
On this tour, I’ve got a few surprises and then guys like Al Del Bene, Ben Gleib who people have been seeing on “Chelsea Lately,” and just a bunch of people that are going to come in and out and jump on the bus with us. I tell them bring your Glade Plug-in. When you’ve got a few guys on the bus, you’ve got to keep it fresh in there. And yet it’s just a blast to be able to share the experience. Some of these guys have never performed in front of more than a few hundred, a couple thousand people, and yet they’re owning it in front of sometimes eight, ten, fifteen, sometimes twenty thousand people on any given night. So, it’s been incredible to put those guys up. And I’m backstage watching the whole thing, just watching them have their highlight moments as I have in my career.
Q: It seems like some people have this strangely visceral reaction against you.
A: Yes, even my family.
Q: Well, what would you say to these people who are still on the anti-Dane Cook bandwagon after you’ve been around for 20 years?
A: It’s almost weird to admit, but it becomes a bit of a badge of honor in a strange way. You learn to appreciate the fact. If you’ve got a group of fans and then nobody else cared, you feel somewhat vanilla. And yet, I find the more that you have detractors and people pounding you, it’s kind of good for everybody. It keeps you in everybody’s discussion. It certainly has helped me continue to find fans because I can’t tell you how many emails I’ll get where somebody says, “Oh, somebody told me they didn’t like your stuff.” Or, “I heard a DJ saying that he didn’t care for you. I listen. I’m a fan.”
And so it’s strange. I’m the least controversial person in my regular life. That’s not how I really live. That’s not the way I am with friends and family, so it was a little strange when that started occurring in stand-up. But I understood it immediately. I just went back and read the books about my favorites and the great comics that I enjoyed, and the one thing that everybody had in common was the moment that I hit it big, it was like batten down the hatches because I’m about to feel the other side of it.
It’s just with the internet, I think in this day and age, we seem to see it with people like myself more because it’s all on the bathroom wall, so to speak, of Google searches and whatnot. But it’s always been there. It’s always going to be there. There’s always going to be the people that embrace you and fill an arena, and then there’s going to be people outside throwing an egg at it.
Q: In Steve Martin’s book, he wrote about not only becoming an arena comic and someone on that level, but the difficulty in being able to process that because that is a level of popularity only a small percentage of comics attain. Did you struggle with that? Is it difficult to justify your talent on that level because it is such a huge level?
A: I’m a person that doesn’t absorb the big, big love or the backlash or hate to any extensive level. My ego doesn’t get too big, and if something fails or doesn’t work, I don’t kill myself over it. And maybe kind of maintaining that balance has allowed me to say, you know what? I played these early gigs, middle of nowhere, no money for eleven people that don’t even care that I’m there. And that stays with me in the same way the first shows with a couple of hundred and then a few thousand or even now shows of forty-eight thousand people in Gainesville.
The entire twenty years of whatever it was, there was always this voice in the back of my brain, like just “Enjoy the whole thing. There’s going to be ups. There’s going to be downs. There’s going to be incredible highlight moments. There’s going to be really difficult, impossible moments. That’s what a career is.” I’ve read the books. I’ve read the memoirs. I’m a fan. I’m just a fan of so many people. The Jackie Gleasons and so many comedic actors and comedians and having met them and worked with them in my formative years and being able to ask that one question to Bill Cosby — those experiences helped me to realize that if the big, big, big dream comes true, that I’ve got to be able to roll with the punches and don’t overthink it. Just enjoy it for what it is. Don’t compare yourself too much and say, “Do I deserve this?” Don’t be the person in the plane crash going, “Why did I live?” Don’t do that. Just take it for what it is.
Remember that it’s about the people in the room. It’s more about them. They accepted you. They gave you your chops. They were the eleven people sitting in the room, and two of them may have said, “Well, I’ll go back and see that guy again and I’ll bring a few friends.” I never, ever, ever forgot even in front of these thousands of people that that’s where it started and this is where it is now. And who knows? It’s going to go up and down again. It’s going to be times when you’re on hot lists and not lists, but I’ll continue to do something, whether it’s TV or film.
I’m looking right now at doing theater. I’ve been approached to do a Broadway play that I’m considering. I do music now. Sometimes we do some of the music on stage. I just want to keep myself busy and creative in any way I can. And while it’s at this high high, I’m not going to overthink it. I just go out there every night and I just want to get laughs. I want to entertain people. Let them forget about their problems for an hour and a half, two hours, and then we all get to go about our business, but we’ve shared something together. I’ve just been fortunate enough to share it now several times over the course of many years. I’m very appreciative. I really want people to enjoy the tour, as I am, and the CD. It’s a great time to feel like I’m at my healthiest and happiest and still be able to share great successful moments after some pretty wretched, dark times too.
Q: Looking back on how far you’ve come, what surprises you most about your success and what did you not expect?
A: Well, I was a big dreamer growing up and I hoped for a lot for me. I’ve accomplished much, but there’s still so many things that that fifteen, sixteen-year-old kid was, “I want to play Madison Square Garden, and I want to be in a Star Wars type movie.” I mean I was a huge, huge dreamer. I’m still dabbling with the idea of going to space camp. It’s like, I would like to perform in space. How can I train for this, practice for this? Keeping my feet on the ground and keeping it in the realm of where I’ve come from and what’s next — I still would love to. I’ve been writing a lot more the last couple of years. I did a lot of reconstruction basically on my team and on my past of what I want to do. I saw a bit of a pattern with the movies that I was making, and I just stopped doing it. I could have made a bunch of the same kinds of movies and played a bunch of the same kinds of characters, but it bored me to death to be derivative. So I decided I’m just going to tour and hone my writing skills, and I’m also going to build a new team of people — much like Sandler did with his crowd or Apatow with his gang or Will Ferrell. I never really had a gang like that.
Next year, I will be producing film and television for the first time. Directing, I’ve got a few — I’m going to start with a few short films and hopefully just build up my skills in the directing and producing end. And most importantly what I did on this tour in the last few years, finding emerging talent. It’s actually been the most rewarding thing for me, being able to share the spotlight and bring guys on these shows that otherwise wouldn’t have found a crowd like this.
My fans are such comedy fans. They’re not like, “We only want to see Dane.” They love comedians and comedy, and they have many different tastes. So I get to show these younger guys and emerging guys to everybody and build up their careers, and at the same time, we have a lot of laughs on the road and we work. We’re all writing and working on scripts and ideas together. I would say that that’s probably what I look forward and continue to seek out, helping new talent find their fans like I did.
Dane Cook will be performing at Chicago’s United Center on Friday, Nov. 12. For more information on his ongoing tour, visit HYPERLINK “http://www.DaneCook.com” www.DaneCook.com or TicketMaster.com