Interview with comedian Dane Cook
In five minutes, Dane Cook is going to call me. This is wildly surreal, in that I’ve been putting snippets of his material on mix CDs for years. He’s one of the few comedians that has made me laugh so hard that I couldn’t make a sound. His new album, Retaliation, is filled with paralyzed-by-laughter moments. His bit about being in a heist, and owning a monkey so he can battle it when he gets home from work, is sublime. After a good long stretch when comedy was dead dead deadsky, Cook is a sight for sore eyes and ears.
The phone rings. My Privacy Manager shows “Cook, Dane” on it. Sweet. Wasn’t expecting that.
Dane Cook: Hey, is this David?
DC: David, Dane Cook.
BE: That’s about the coolest thing I’ve ever seen, watching the name ‘Dane Cook’ pop up on my Privacy Manager.
DC: Oh, that’s cool, man!
BE: How the hell are ya?
DC: I feel good man. Fantastic. The Retaliation is upon us! I’m psyched. It’s been a great couple days, getting this motherfucker out there.
BE: How much press are you doing today?
DC: I am doing this with you for, I guess, 20 (minutes), another one, two, three, I’ve already done three before this.
BE: Dear God. Before I forget, my wife wanted me to tell you that she says (whispers) “Thanks for the candy.”
DC: (laughs) Excellent.
BE: We’ve actually been saying that for years. We caught you at the Laugh Factory in 2002.
DC: That’s my stomping ground, right there. That’s my home base.
BE: They put some guy on after you, I can’t remember his name. Matthew, something Jewish. He just died onstage. I don’t know who was organizing the schedule that night, but to put him after you…he was dead before he hit the stage.
DC: One of the things that the owner of that club does, it may not be the greatest thing for the crowd, but his belief, since he’s worked with everybody from Jim Carrey to you name it, is that (adopts Eastern Europoean accent) “I haff to put thee best guys in thee meedle,” so that these other guys get better. It does suck for the crowd, and it certainly sucks for the comic from time to time. But I have watched guys go up after guys like myself, and you do see improvement. (laughs) I don’t know if that guy quit after that night, I can’t remember a guy named, was it Michael Jewish?
BE: Matthew. Matthew Something Jewish.
DC: I don’t know, dude. (laughs)
BE: All right, first thing’s first: What the hell is up with Manny Ramirez? (Cook hails from Boston, and is a die hard Red Sox fan.)
DC: What’s happening, man? I don’t know.
BE: He wants to be traded again.
DC: What is he saying now, this motherfucker!
BE: (laughs) I don’t know, he’s saying he’s never been happy in Boston, and he wants to be traded.
DC: Hey, Jheri Curl, just hit that fucking ball! Shut up!
BE: Did you see him walk into the Monster?
DC: Yeah, dude, he’s like, he’s like a diva! Seriously, Manny, stand out in the field, do your awful fielding, and then come back in and hit a home run.
BE: So when did you start hitting clubs?
DC: I started touring extensively, outside of New England, like ’94. I stayed around the Boston area the first year, and then started doing clubs in New Hampshire, Maine, and then started getting gigs at some colleges. So yeah, I moved to New York in ’95, and then started hitting the country.
BE: I used to follow comedy religiously, and to me, the boom was the mid ‘80s to the early ‘90s. What was it like getting into comedy when it was kind of at its lowest point?
DC: It was kind of funny, because the week I first started hanging out in the clubs, some of the old time guys, who had been there during the boom, they’d say, “Aw, you missed it! Yeah, it ended like a week ago. You’re just starting now! Oh, good timing, really good timing.” It was dead. There were a lot of clubs still, but it was no catapult to fame the way it was in the late ‘80s. It was good for me, though, in retrospect. It’s not like I had the chance to ride the big wave, only to get caught in the undertow. I could take my time, and nobody was pressuring me to be a headliner. I could go up there, find my voice, and figure out what it is that I wanted to do.
BE: How much has your overall routine changed from the beginning?
DC: It’s interesting, because I was just watching an old tape of myself. When I first hit the scene, (I) was manic. There was no material, it was…I shouldn’t say that. There were ideas, it wasn’t entirely improvised. It was just a lot of go, go, go, go, go. I have a lot of natural energy anyway, so it wasn’t a put on. But it was enhanced, it was over the top. As time rolled by in the early ‘90s, I started to tone it down just a little bit, focus more on things like things that were about my family, about my life.
I started watching a lot of comics who were more storytellers. I focused on Louie Anderson, Bill Cosby’s “Himself,” guys who took it slow. So I thought, “How can I put out a CD when 80% of my act is physical?” So there was a moment where I had an epiphany, and I thought, I need to equal it out, and be a writer/performer. So if you bought my disc, if you hadn’t seen me before, you could put (the disc) in and follow it. So we get to Harmful If Swallowed, (Cook’s first album) which was four and a half years ago, and I’d achieved most of (my goal). I mean, I’m proud of it, but there are elements of it that are a little more visual than written out.
BE: Like the shark routine.
DC: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And don’t get me wrong, I’m always going to be someone that people enjoy watching. But I realized that, because I get so into the moment, the year leading up to Retaliation, I really worked on painting a verbal picture. I wanted to use my vernacular, say the right word that says ten things at once. And I did that. I really, really buckled down and did my homework onstage, forcing myself to stand still, not taking the mic out of the stand. And I have to say after fifteen years, the kind of comic I dreamed about being, I’m there. I still have a lot of work to do, and I feel like it’s a work in progress. But it’s great to be at a place where people can listen to me, and not need to be able to see what I’m doing.
BE: Have you noticed any kind of trickle down effect as a result of the Blue Collar tour? I know you have nothing in common, but I wondered if you’ve noticed a boost of late.
DC: Yeah. Those guys are proving that fans of comedy are coming out. But even before they hit big, guys like myself, and Mitch Hedberg-
BE: Ah, Mitch Hedberg. (Hedberg, widely considered a star comic in the making, died of heart failure on March 30. He was 37.)
DC: Yeah, I know. I’ve talked about him a couple of times today. He was building that fan base that was not the norm. He was loved, and he was leaving his mark. So people were coming back to standup in a big way. And it was way past what was happening in the ‘90s, which was really gimmicky, character-y stuff, put-on stuff, really over the top. I think guys started coming out to guys like (Dave) Chappelle, and Chris Rock, because they thought, This is my shit. This is what I think. So yeah, comedy is in a great place, it’s really healthy.
BE: Let’s talk about the Jimmy Kimmel clip. I think my favorite line is, “Don’t bite Nelly.” (Shortly after Tom Cruise stunned the world with his crazy-in-fake-love performance on Oprah, Cook did the Cruise on Kimmel’s show. If you haven’t seen it, you can find it here.)
DC: (laughs) I love Kimmel, he’s really good, man. He’s so good at waiting and just finding those little spots.
BE: Who was the girl that played Katie in that scene?
DC: She worked on the staff. She was one of the interns.
BE: Do you believe for a second that any aspect of that relationship is real?
DC: Aw, man, you know what? I’ve lived (in LA) for so long, I don’t even know what is real and what isn’t anymore. There’s so much stuff that goes on with publicity, beyond “Us Weekly” and what the tabloids even tell you, that I feel that everybody’s in cahoots, man. I actually lived next to a publicist, and he’s told me some stories of what people have done over the years. I don’t know, dude. You know what? They could be very much in love, but at the same time, it’s like, it’s so weird, they both have these summer movies coming out.
BE: I hit your MySpace page. You’ve got more friends than any page I’ve ever seen.
DC: Yeah, it’s crazy, man! That MySpace is the story of the year. Everyone but my mother is on it.
BE: I’ve got a friend request pending.
DC: Hold on, let me tell you how behind I am… I am 5,829 requests behind
BE: You gotta be kidding me.
DC: Yeah. And that’s the thing that blows, you can only accept ten at a time.
BE: I have nine friends.
DC: People are coming in on this thing every day. So what I’ll do, because I’m a late night guy, is I’ll get on there, turn on the TV, and just mass-accept for an hour.
BE: On the DVD, I love the “Shorties Watching Shorties” section. What were those originally made for?
DC: They aired on Comedy Central. They just came to me and said they wanted to take clips of my audio and animate them. I had worked with the producers of the show before, and I knew they would do something quality. It’s a hoot, man, watching those things.
BE: The Heist/Monkey bit just kills me. I also liked the clip from the Denis Leary roast, not just because it’s unedited for language, but you seem to go for a good ten minutes, and only about two and a half minutes of it made it to air. How long do those roasts go?
DC: Oh, they’re just way too long.
BE: Is everybody just smashed by the end of the night?
DC: Yeah, everybody’s fucked up, and all of a sudden the jokes aren’t so funny. But yeah, the roasts are way, way, way too long. I had never done a roast, but I really wanted to, because it’s so different from standup. I don’t like to do the same reading in a show, word for word. But the roast has to be dead on. To be quite honest, every word matters. So it was a cool exercise to do something outside of standup, but still be able to go in and have a good time with it.
BE: And you got to roast one of your Boston boys Denis in the process. Do you guys cross paths much?
DC: We always do the Comics Come Home show every year. I’ve never traveled in the same circles or been on the road with him, but it’s great to work with Denis every year. And he called and asked if I would do this thing in Dublin in September, so I’m going to see him and do some shows in (mock Irish accent) Eyre-land.
BE: I live in Dublin, Ohio, so when I saw that on your web site, I thought, Holy shit, he’s coming here. Not so much.
DC: (laughs) No, not this time. But we’re going to be putting a big tour together in support of Retaliation this fall, and the first notes I wrote down when we talked about routing was ‘new markets,’ to get to some places that I haven’t been in three or four years.
BE: What other comedians are out there that you really like?
DC: One of my favorites was a guy who recently passed away, his name was Freddy Soto.
BE: I’m not familiar with him.
DC: Not a lot of people were familiar with Freddy. But he was a guy that had been working with me for six years here in LA. He was just one of the sweetest guys. He was one of those guys who brought 100% to the stage every time, and would make you laugh out loud. And I don’t laugh out loud at comics a lot. I study comedy, and I tend to be in your head as you’re doing your routine. I like watching and learning your tricks, and your beats, what you’re thinking and when you’re really tuned into what’s happening. But I could forget all that, sit back and laugh at him. He had a brain aneurysm a few weeks ago. He did his set at our old stomping ground, went back to a friend’s place, had a couple drinks, said, “I don’t feel like driving home,” called his wife, went to sleep and never woke up. Brutal, man. He was one of the few guys who could really bring the level of a show up, it would be in a new gear.
Let’s see, who else always makes me laugh? I saw Jim Norton on the “Tonight Show” the other night, and Harland Williams always makes me laugh.
BE: I don’t think I’ve ever seen his standup, I’ve just seen the oddball characters he plays in movies.
DC: I love his standup, he really gets me going.
BE: Do you think Mitch Hedberg is going to have a Bill Hicks kind of legacy? (Hicks, like Hedberg, died way too soon, succumbing to liver cancer at age 32.)
DC: He has a couple of really wonderful CD’s out there, and hopefully there is a lot more stuff we haven’t heard. He was right there, he was a year away from really exploding.
BE: So what’s next for you? What would you like to do?
DC: I’m quitting the business today. Yeah, I’m going to open up an appliance store, I’ve always really been into toasters, and (laughs) I’m giving it all up. I’ve got all this stuff, and now I’m gonna bail. No, I’m shooting a pilot based on my show. It’s with a great guy who’s been writing for “The Simpsons” for years, and “Malcolm in the Middle,” named Jake Hogan. It’s a one-camera show, in the vein of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” I play myself, the same way Larry plays Larry.
BE: My stepbrother has a kid on his team that he coaches, and his name is Dane Cook.
DC: (stunned) What?! That’s crazy!
BE: Do you have any messages for your Mini-You?
DC: Yeah, uh, tell me I said hi.