Dane Cook is everywhere these days. If you haven’t caught him on HBO during his “Tourgasm” episodes or concert in the round, then it’s likely you’ve seen him on the big screen, smooching it up with Jessica Alba or Jessica Simpson. Come on, you know him…remember “There’s only one October!” during this past baseball season? Yeah, that guy. And now I’m going to tell you a little bit more about him.
For better or worse, Dane Cook is a popular comic/actor/utility funny man in today’s entertainment world. When I talked to him over the phone, his plane had landed early and it was around 6:30 in the morning. His 25-city tour was about to kick off in a mere two days. But there he was, on the dial, sparing 10 minutes to chat it up. And his fans were the first thing on his mind.
“I think if anything, my fans have been very patiently waiting for the new stuff, since Retaliation, which was two years ago,” Cook said, sounding as energetic as ever. “I’ve spent a lot of time and have been very privileged to take my fans into film and emulate guys that I love like Steve Martin and Richard Pryor, who also took their fans into movies. And even guys like Sandler, when I was coming up. It was great to watch their evolution and take their fans into film.
But the difference is with me, I’m a comedian/actor, comedian first. I have all this new material. The new CD that comes out, Rough Around the Edges, is a new hour plus of material. And as I was putting this tour together and really looking at all the details of it, I thought, ‘You know, it would be really great to hit the road, and at the same time be able to do material from the new CD, and open it up and do some stuff from Harmful and Retaliation.’ So it’s gonna be just 90 minutes of anything everything out of my repertoire.”
Fast forward five days later. I’m sitting at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, waiting for Cook to entertain. The crowd is mainly filled with teens, twenty-somethings, and thirty-somethings who are taking pictures next to the stage and sporting the “Su-Fi,” Cook’s signature hand gesture. It’s an important tour for Cook, one that he’s not taking for granted and one that he has plenty of material for.
“Having the 18 years of material, and having the new material, it’s almost like 90 minutes isn’t enough time,” Cook explains. “I did a test set the other night and I was running through some of the stuff and it ended up being like 2 hours and 40 minutes. So people are going to get a mixture of the best of and the new stuff, so it’s just going to be a really great night.”
For this night, a Sunday evening performance, the arena is about half-full, and his crew is working efficiently to fill in all the floor seats with some of his passionate fans who have been re-located from their original nosebleed seats. Cook’s energy, once he appears from the entrance tunnel, is evident from the smile on his face and by his running and skipping around on the stage. The smaller-than-usual crowd doesn’t faze him.
“If you’ve seen the “Vicious Circle” show on HBO, you know the energy that I’m going to bring,” Cook tells me days before the show. “You know that it’s going to be 90 minutes of great stories and something really unique in the world of comedy, so I look forward to sharing that with that people that come out.”
Veering out into his fans that did come out, Cook quickly has them in a frenzy. Somehow, he even gets them doing “the wave,” unusual for a comedian’s audience, but not for Cook’s. Enjoying every second of seeing the crowd flap up and down, he savors the moment before going into his first story of the night. The Dane Cook live experience has only just begun.
“I always want to give people an experience that is above the norm. Stand-up comedians are my favorite kinds of people to hang around with and also watch. I’m a fan of stand-up comedy. But I also want to do something to kind of shake up the art form, which is why I may do a show in the round, or do shows of this caliber because I want to do something that really adds new colors to what is a classic form of entertainment–stand-up comedy.”
Cook covers a lot of ground in 90 minutes. Subject matter ranges from his experiences growing up near Benson’s Animal Farm to seeing his father’s privates for the first time to his fascination with youporn.com. He confesses that he could never go to war because he doesn’t “stand heat too well.” A balmy war in Aruba might work though, he tells his fans, who are laughing and relating with their comic hero.
“The experiences that I share with people, I get a lot of e-mails with people saying, ‘I grew up in that environment’ or ‘I had those kinds of jobs’ or ‘That happened to me in a relationship,’” Cook tells me on the phone before the tour. “But I think even beyond that, what I’ve learned about my relationship with my fans is that, we all have that random sense of humor. Nobody’s sense of humor is one style. Which is why I love to get up there, I like to be irreverent or wry or vulgar or silly, I like to mix it up because that’s what you are and that’s what we all are—we’re not one kind of comedy. And so, I think that the thing that makes me the most relatable with people is I’m kind of saying the things that dance on the back of everybody’s brain, or things that you only talk about in your small circle of friends that makes you guys laugh at experiences within your group.”
But is it really that comfortable for Cook? Does his popularity bring more pressure with each tour and performance?
“No man, people always say, ‘Is it scary getting out there? I say, “What was really scary was 1996 when I was sitting in my underwear playing video games for weeks on end,” Cook tells me with a laugh. “The scary part is over, the scary part was maybe not having the success I had hoped. So now it’s really all about pure enjoyment. I love what I do, I don’t have any fear or anxiety. I feel more at home in front of 20,000 people than you could possibly imagine.”
What he wants his fans to know is that he’s having a hell of a time on stage, expecting each show to be a different party. A simple routine for his tours isn’t something he’s interested in; Cook would rather wait and see what each night has to offer.
“I look forward to that. I started off in sketch comedy and did a lot of improv. You know this, when you go see a band, you want to feel like the show is for you. You don’t want the formula set list, songs one through nine, thank you and goodnight, one encore. You want something that’s going to be memorable to you and once that night is over, you know that’s it—that was a one-night only experience. And so, I bring that to my stand-up. If you go see five of these shows, it’s going to be five very different approaches and topics and jokes that end up coming out. And I think that’s part of what makes it really interesting to people, knowing that I’m in the moment, I like keeping myself on the cusp of ‘what-if’ so that we’re all sharing a unique experience together, and I’m having as much fun seeing my fans entertained as you’re having laughing at me.”
Aside from the tour that is currently sweeping the nation, Cook also can be found in the new film Dan in Real Life with The Office’s Steve Carell. And although Cook enjoys bringing his fans into movies, he’s always thinking about his life as a comedian when working on the set.
“When you’re working on something with an ensemble and it’s a collaborative effort, it’s certainly the furthest thing from stand-up comedy. And yet, during the course of that day, I’m constantly thinking of what-ifs and possibilities for the stage. I start chomping at the bit to get up there, I end up trying my jokes out on the guys hanging out at crowd service, you know try to get three or four people around me and get ‘em laughing.”
Is the whole world laughing? That’s debatable. If anything, Cook’s enormous popularity might have some question if he really is that funny. How does he respond to the guy who says he’s overrated?
“First of all, I don’t know him,” Cook says with a chuckle. “If you want to tell me his name, maybe I’ll give him a call and tell him ‘I’m my father’s son, I’m a contributing member of my society.’ But truthfully, dude, it’s like, there’s gonna be haters, there’s gonna be people that look at myself…I’m eternally optimistic, I come with an upbeat, positive view on things. You know, we live in a cynical world, and sometimes people can be “Doubting Thomases” or might want to believe the rumor mill. And I look beyond that, man, I put all that aside. It’s gonna be there, I know that once in a while I’m gonna take my knocks, and that’s fine because sometimes a little controversy is good for business. All I care about, whether you’re into me, whether you’re not into me, if you’re talking about me and mentioning my name and that makes somebody who’s never heard of me and check into me and it makes them laugh…that’s…I’ve won. I’ve won at that point.”
Glide Senior Writer Jason Gonulsen lives in the St. Louis, MO area with his wife, Kelly, and dogs, Maggie and Tucker. You can e-mail him at: [email protected]
Live photos by Jill Norath