Exclusive Interview: Dane Cook (@danecook) Talks Stand-up, Fans, and Jerry Lewis.

The highest charting comedy album in the last three decades belongs to Dane Cook. Yet, there seems to be an obsession for hating on the comedian. 

He recently called in to talk about his upcoming comedy special, “Troublemaker,” on Comedy Central, his relationship with his fans, and how he ended up on the same list as Nickelback, Sarah Palin, and the New York Yankees.

Your new special, “Troublemaker,” will have its network premiere on Comedy Central on January 25th. This special marked your directorial debut. What was directing the special like and how did you come to that decision?

It was really something I had hoped would come to fruition probably about 10 years ago when I did one of my first Comedy Central specials. It was that feeling when it was completed of, ‘Well, I would’ve done that a little different,’ or, ‘I would’ve maybe put the camera here.’ I was already kind of examining, I would say, the notion aesthetically of what I would like to see myself as if I presented to the populous.

Ultimately, I got to know Jerry Lewis over the last years. I’m a student of his, he’s become a mentor to me and a very good friend. I think it was a conversation I had with him about a year and a half ago that finally led me to feel like I should go for it. And if I was, investing completely in myself. My money, my crew, my time, my timetable, and to be able to say, from start, middle, end, exceptions, ideas, to post, to graphics, as an artist, this is my complete vision.

This is your fourth stand-up special. In 2006, “Retaliation” became the highest charting comedy album in nearly 30 years. Having reached that success, what expectations do you have for future specials? What’s the next level to reach?

Wow. That’s an interesting way to kind of pocket it because I don’t know if I’d been… it’s nice to reach the upper echelon and be able to tout that, more so for the fans. For me it isn’t so much about, ‘Rah, rah, me,’ so much as the fans going, ‘Wow!’ With that being said, now that I’ve gotten a little bit older and hit the act two of my career, it’s been less about up and more about over. Let me try something that’s further left field. Let me go a little deeper and try something that’s more internal and revealing. I don’t think it’s trying to do a bigger and better, Evel Knievel stunt every time until one mishap ends it all. I think it’s more just about growing and taking the brand upward. 

You will celebrate 25 years in stand-up comedy this year. With sites like YouTube, where my neighbor can post a video doing stand-up, do you think stand-up comedy and comedians in general have evolved the last couple of decades or is the market over saturated? It seems to me there’s more of it, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. 

The most saturated I’ve seen it was during the ‘90s. There was the boom in the ‘80s and it was almost like there was an open mic in every nook and cranny, every Chinese food restaurant you had a mic in the corner somewhere touting a comedy night. For me, I believe I’ve seen it at its all-time worst. 

I think it’s definitely different. There are new elements to the game. Some of that being just the audiences are keener to things being routine. You watch the ‘70s or ‘80s and people are like, ‘Maybe that’s how Redd Foxx was all the time.’ Now you’re watching documentaries, listening to podcasts, I think the current culture knows that comedians are multi-faceted and kind of deeper thinkers. Somebody even wrote me the other day that said, ‘I feel like comics that I watch today are more like philosophers.’ To some extent there’s a connection now between performer and fan that I have literally changed to some extent by doing meet and greets and letting fans get to know me online. Writing something in 2002 kind of got me into hot water when I said on my website, ‘If you’re not a fan of my risks, you’re not a fan. Don’t come back here. I’m going to take risks. I would like for you to support that.’ I lost some fans and found some new ones.  

I think that when a lot of comics were saying to me, ‘Meet and greet? That’s not what we do man. We skulk around in the back.’ David Cross used to say I pandered because I wrote people back on… I’m not trying to throw him under the bus because he’s a very talented guy… he had an issue with me at that time. I believed I was seeing what was the next phase of audience and talent participation which is, it’s going to be closer. It’s going to be in closer proximity. They want that. A true fan has a more insatiable appetite. They want to read your tweet, or see your Instagram. They want to feel like they’re in your pocket. They need day to day entertainment connect and that thing only you can give them. I like to think I was at the beginning of an important shift in comedy which was, it was going to get closer to you. Your inner circle was going to be your relationship with your fans.

(Photo credit: Nick Spanos)

I’ve always thought that with social media – I’m about the same age as you – that being connected so much, you lose the mystery.

Yeah, that’s the keyword. Mystery has always been the one thing where I was like, ‘Well, how do you maintain that in a place where everything is about reveal and being revealing and whether you’re hearing it or the media is going to come digging for it, the TMZ’s and stuff. For me, what I would do, I would always shut the door of controversy. I would allow controversy to remain the mystery. Why isn’t he speaking out on it? Why isn’t he talking about why he’s polarizing us? There was my little place where you can still be mysterious as long as you’re willing to take the hits. You’re going to go through the spanking machine more often than not and I still think that’s what keeps people tuning in. They know they’re either going to laugh at you or they’re going to have a bone to pick with you. 

You’re one of the biggest names in comedy. You’re definitely one of the most recognizable comedians working today. From Dane Cook’s standpoint, where do you rank yourself among the greats like Jerry Seinfeld, Steve Martin, etc.? How would you compare yourself in terms of quality of material, delivery, relevance, etc. with the greats? 

Yeah, I don’t know (laughs). I think if you ask me, the onstage persona, the kid who comes to life in the spotlight, if you talked to him you’d like to believe you’re going to have your name retired, or your number someday. I come from an athletic background with my family and my dad so I guess I kind of go back to sports. You hope there’s a shirt that a kid can look at. ‘Dane Cook. He was a performer.’ But me personally, I don’t know. I feel like I’m a work in progress. I wake up some days and I’m not funny, I don’t know what funny is, who am I fooling? (Laughs) It could be torture, man. Then, there are those moments where you go, ‘I got an idea. I think I’m on to something.’ And then it’s up to me to go into a small club, on an off night in front of a handful of people. They’re going to let me know if my idea sucks, or are they going to let me know if it’s something that matters to them? I want to say that stuff like that is for other people to decide. All I’m trying to do is grow. 

There seems to be this ongoing hatred for you for some reason. It’s like an obsession. It’s like Dane Cook, Nickelback, Sarah Palin, and the New York Yankees on this list. I’m sure you’ve been asked about it many times but I wanted to go a step further and ask, WHEN did this loathing for you begin? Do you remember the specific moment? And how did it get to this extent? 

I remember when I was born, a nurse just turned and walked out of the room. 

She said, “What a douchebag!” 

(Laughs) She said, ‘Fuck this baby, I’m out!’ And she just dropped (laughs)… you know, these are conversations I’ve had with my therapist ad nauseam. I’m cut from an interesting cloth of men in the Cook lineage. I come from a group of men, my dad, my grandfather, my uncle, there’s something inherently scary about the guys that I grew up with. Intimidating. Athletic build, broad shoulders, big chest, and we kind of, the Cook men, we all kind of walk in a bit of a, almost like leaning in. We have a lean in walk. I guess alpha is what a lot of people call it these days. And given that, my experience, way before I even picked up a microphone, which by the way, the minute I did that there was somebody at an open mic saying, ‘We’ve got to get this guy out of here. We don’t like him.’ That’s how it was in high school. That’s how it was in junior high. I had a lot of turmoil. A lot of self-loathing at an early age. Even into my twenties, a real heavy anxiety about why I couldn’t seem to have a community around me. A lot of solitude. A lot of loneliness, man. It was really, really hard. It was hard because when I got into stand-up I thought maybe like athletics, it was a bit more of a communal thing where there would be more support. Unfortunately, what you find is, you know in your graduating class with the guys you came up with, there’s going to be some dudes in front of you that don’t want you catching up, and there’s going to be some guys behind you that maybe they’ve never had an opportunity. That, coupled with, like you said, reaching the Billboard charts with ‘Retaliation’ and a lot of people going, ‘Who the fuck does he think he is?’ 

These are conversations I’d have with my dad, my mom, and say, ‘What is it about Cook men?’ I don’t know. I still don’t know the answer. It’s a bummer because there are comics I’ve admired and loved over the years and I’ve taken some hazing. Yet, I couldn’t leave this part of the conversation without telling you I’ve got way more support in the people, comics especially, that have come to me. I get phone calls, randomly, once a week from Jerry Lewis. I almost can’t believe it. Every time I pick up and he goes, ‘Hello, my boy!’ and I talk to him about comedy. I talk to him about life. He’s 89 and he’s been in showbiz for 85 years. I’m really appreciative of the people that do get me and do support me.


Jason Tanamor is the Editor of Zoiks! Online. He also is the author of the novels, The Extraordinary Life of Shady Gray, Hello Lesbian!, Hello Fabulous!, and Anonymous. Visit him at www.tanamor.com. Email him at jason@zoiksonline.com.
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