With a gold record in hand, film roles a plenty and a new book, Dane Cook is poised to become this generation’s most influential comic.
By Dylan P. Gadino
ThereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a sturdy yet playful register in Dane CookÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s voice as he strides into his office. He leaves behind the warm, cottage-like feel of his living room Ã¢â‚¬â€ replete with high, 80-year-old wood-carved ceilings Ã¢â‚¬â€ and enters a room with enough gadgetry and stimuli to satisfy your every diversionary whim. Monitors, video games and what seems like every action figure he has ever owned all have a home here. His collection of Cracked and Mad magazines are nearby. And thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a menacing group of Spawn toys from Todd McFarlane overlooking his desk.
Then thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s something in a frame. Ã¢â‚¬Å“This is one of my prized possessions,Ã¢â‚¬Â Cook says. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a bit large, and on it the words read, Ã¢â‚¬Å“WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re very excited that our next guest is making his network television debut with us tonight. He can be seen in Boston at the Comedy Connection October third and fourth. Please welcome, the very funny Dane Cook.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I got that the first time I did Letterman,Ã¢â‚¬Â Cook explains. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I was leaving the Ed Sullivan Theater, and I asked the cue-card guy if I could have it.Ã¢â‚¬Â A few days later, it arrived in the mail, framed and signed by Dave himself.
That appearance was eight years ago. Since then, he has been back to the show three times and has added another frame Ã¢â‚¬â€ a gold record inside Ã¢â‚¬â€ to his officeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s dÃƒÂ©cor.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The success of Retaliation [his three-disc sophomore release that dropped this past summer] has definitely changed my life,Ã¢â‚¬Â he says. Ã¢â‚¬Å“IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve had 15 years of a pretty consistent standup career. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been moving along nicely, earning new fans and achieving baby steps. But when the album hit number four on Billboard it was like someone put me in the Millennium Falcon and hit warp speed.Ã¢â‚¬Â
For the past few months, Cook has traded in the traditional leisurely lifestyle of a comic for days filled with meetings with directors, writers and producers. Besides his recent role in the Lions Gate comedy Waiting, Cook has signed on for at least two more movie gigs, and as of press time, is set to star in Sony PicturesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ Cooked, a single-camera comedy in which Cook is co-executive producing. The man is even writing a book. Though he wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t reveal its subject matter, he promises it will be Ã¢â‚¬Å“comedic.Ã¢â‚¬Â
For now, however, his top priority is standup. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s in his blood; itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s what he was born to do. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Standup is one of the few places in the entertainment realm where there are no filters,Ã¢â‚¬Â he says. Ã¢â‚¬Å“On any given night you can hear from my brain to your ears without anybody impeding on that. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a magical thing to go to a show and watch a guy by himself make a room full of people laugh with just his thoughts.Ã¢â‚¬Â
THE WAITING IS THE HARDEST PART
ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 8:15 p.m. in Los Angeles and Dane is getting his thoughts together, waiting for his set at the Laugh Factory, the Sunset Boulevard venue that has been his home stage for the past few years. He hates waiting, and itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s easy to tell why. It takes fewer than five minutes of talking to Cook to realize the kinetic-but-controlled presence he emanates from the stage every night is not just part of a performance persona. He is that guy. Whatever he does, he does it with full attention and with a level of commitment far surpassing that seen in most modern marriages. This is a guy who, when he was young, would climb on top of his refrigerator in the dark and lay there for 40 minutes, waiting for someone to arrive Ã¢â‚¬â€ all so he could add an element of surprise when he made the fridge talk.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Waiting is the worst,Ã¢â‚¬Â he says. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Once IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m in the club, I love the smell. I love seeing the comics. I love being around the energy. I love hearing the host. I love when there are mic problems, and theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re working it out Ã¢â‚¬â€ the whole kit and caboodle. I just want to be in that world. I adore it.Ã¢â‚¬Â
And it shows. Cook thrives on stage. The first thing you notice is his physicality. He bounds around like the front man of a rock band, darts back and forth and urges the crowdÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s cheers with a series of yells. He might even flash the SuperFinger Ã¢â‚¬â€ SuFi for short Ã¢â‚¬â€ a modified middle-finger gesture he created by using both his middle and ring fingers. He has also been known to douse himself with water, kick the wall behind him and writhe on the floor. Keep in mind, these antics come from a pure place; Dane doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t drink at all and has never done a drug in his life.
But Cook has too many weapons in his arsenal to be labeled as just a physical comedian. Instead, he uses that raw energy to push along a constantly revolving catalogue of absurd, seemingly off-the-cuff ramblings.
In a bit where he lists things he has always wanted to do, he says he wants to tell a driver, Ã¢â‚¬Å“You ever turn around in my driveway again, and IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m gonna cut your fucking head off. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m gonna put your head on my antenna and drive around with your head on my antenna.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Add to that his penchant for throwing in quick subtleties. When telling the crowd about his new vehicle, a cement truck he named the CT2004, heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s sure to explain that when his friends are in Ã¢â‚¬Å“that big thing that turns in the backÃ¢â‚¬Â he feeds them Jolly Rancher watermelon Ã¢â‚¬â€ and only watermelon Ã¢â‚¬â€ candies.
And while CookÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s legions of fans are attracted to his coolness, he doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t shy away from cornball antics. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the type of guy that juxtaposes a bit where he sings words to fit the sound of a car alarm or tries to personify laundry in a dryer Ã¢â‚¬â€ pure cheesiness on both counts Ã¢â‚¬â€ with a bit where he explains how he once catapulted a cashew into his mouth with his erect penis.
That cool-frat-boy-meets-total-dork formula is working. If you havenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t been paying attention, this good-looking 33-year-old comic from suburban Massachusetts has had a jolly stranglehold on the stand-up world since Retaliation came out. Not since Steve MartinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 1978 release, A Wild and Crazy Guy, has a comedy album done such chart damage. And not since 1990, when Andrew Dice Clay sold out arenas, has there been such an intense following, like that of a rock star, for a comedian. While Clay Ã¢â‚¬â€ brilliant in his own right Ã¢â‚¬â€ relied heavily on shock and bad press to fatten up his fan base, Cook took a more contemporary approach. By now, the stories of DaneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s self-promotion strategies are famous, both to industry insiders and to his fans.
First, thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s MySpace.com, the online social-networking system where Dane has over 500,000 Ã¢â‚¬Å“friends.Ã¢â‚¬Â HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s on the site constantly, personally responding to e-mails, posting new photos and updating fans on his current instant messenger address. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a perfect supplement to the official site he launched in 2002, a user-friendly and incredibly interactive piece of work.
About a decade ago, Cook also decided to shed his baseball cap and sit-at-the-back-of-the-club mentality and start making an effort to meet all his fans after shows, routinely signing every last autograph. These days, the occasional female fan Ã¢â‚¬â€ and he has many Ã¢â‚¬â€ will have Cook sign a breast or two. And once, by request, Dane signed an overzealous fanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s nut sack. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t so much sign it as I just hatched and dashed and swatted at it,Ã¢â‚¬Â Cook laughs. Ã¢â‚¬Å“After putting some hieroglyphics on his balls, I threw the marker as far as I could.Ã¢â‚¬Â
ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s commitment, folks.
A NEW BEGINNING
Cook grew up outside Boston in Arlington, Mass. His mom, Donna was a homemaker, and his dad, George, who now works at a golf course, at different times managed and ran a lumber yard, a window business and a rock club in Cambridge. Ã¢â‚¬Å“My mother is like a Looney Tunes cartoon. SheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s wiggly,Ã¢â‚¬Â Dane says. Ã¢â‚¬Å“She has the ability to tongue in cheek a lot, and do it in a way where sheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s being physical. My dad is the polar opposite. He always had a little Ã¢â‚¬Ëœwhat the fuckÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ in his voice. Even if he knew nothing about what he was talking about, he could sell it. So I looked at these two extremely funny people and created a style of comedy from absorbing their actions.Ã¢â‚¬Â
HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the second youngest of seven siblings; thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a younger sister, one older brother and four older sisters. Ã¢â‚¬Å“ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s ten breasts if you do the math,Ã¢â‚¬Â he says. Ã¢â‚¬Å“ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a little fun fact.Ã¢â‚¬Â
As he tells it, his comedy didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t grow from pain or a need to fill some emotional void. Though he does admit he was more than a little introverted when he began high school. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Some days, I couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get two blocks from home without dry-heaving or throwing up,Ã¢â‚¬Â he says. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I was a firecracker in the house, but once you got me outside, I was really fearful of everything and everyone.Ã¢â‚¬Â
To help break through his shell, Cook took up drama and eventually fell in love with improv and sketch comedy. Later, in his teens, he would learn what it meant to be a standup. He was enthralled with comics who werenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t afraid to sweat on stage Ã¢â‚¬â€ Richard Pryor and Robin Williams Ã¢â‚¬â€ and was equally taken by those like Steven Wright and Bob Newhart, who could ignite a crowd while standing in one place for an hour.
In 1995, Cook moved out of his parentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s basement to New York City and began performing in earnest. Eight years ago, he shuffled 3,000 miles west to LA. But the laid-back, sunny lifestyle of California hasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t tamed Cook. And the movie deals and piles of scripts on his floor havenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t changed his attitude much, either. But he doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t deny there may be some updates to his life down the line. Ã¢â‚¬Å“IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m definitely entering a new realm of my career,Ã¢â‚¬Â he says. Ã¢â‚¬Å“This is a really great time. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll always be able to look back on this time and say that it was the end of those first 15 years. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m in that position where I achieved everything IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve dreamed about wanting. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s where I am now. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m standing at a new beginning. So where does this take me?Ã¢â‚¬Â
Dane Cook’s CD/DVD Retaliation is now available. For more information, visit danecook.com.