Love him or hate him, Dane Cook is one of the biggest stand-up comedians of this generation. And though he’s been in a handful of high-profile movies the past few years, 2009 is the year he promises to “replant the flag” of stand-up comedy he had established years ago. He’s already in the middle of a national arena tour and premieres his new hour special for Comedy Central, Isolated Incident, on May 17; the album version is out in stores May 19.
The material on Isolated Incident helps reassert Cook’s position as a masterful entertainer, deft storyteller and just plain engaging. But more importantly, it establishes him as a versatile comedian who’s unafraid to dip — however lightly — into politics, the relatively recent death of his parents and the hordes of faceless message board posters who seem to hate the fact that he exists.
And this time he does it all in a much more intimate setting — his home club, the Laugh Factory in Los Angeles — than he did on his last two releases; 2007’s album Rough Around the Edges and 2006’s HBO special and DVD Vicious Circle were both recorded at arenas, proving he doesn’t necessarily need a raucous crowd of 15,000 to prove he’s funny. Dane took some time in between tour dates to chat with us from his home. We captured the whole thing using iChat video. What follows is both the video and transcript of said interview. Enjoy.
All right, I can’t promise – I’m hoping this will look OK. It looks OK now.
I hope it doesn’t.
You hope it looks like poop?
Isn’t it great when you have great technology and two people just fucking it up completely?
No, I think it’s going to be good.
I just want to apologize briefly, too, for the setting. My portal to heaven is behind me here. So, this is the only light that I could get for us. And if you’re wondering if this is the chair from Return of the Jedi that the emperor sat in, you would be correct.
It is? Oh, wow, OK.
Do you have –
The actual chair. I bid on it at Auction, Dylan and I won it.
You’re not (Dane shakes is head no) – OK. You can never tell. You comedians. You comedians are always joking. Do you also have the red – I don’t know what to call it, but the red guards that guarded emperor? Did you buy them as well?
I have all the figurines, Dylan. I’m not ashamed to say that I grew up a Star Wars junkie, fanatic. And so I not only had all the figurines, but I also had an army of storm troopers. I didn’t just have one storm trooper, I had 11 storm troopers, Dylan.
Eleven? That’s quite a bit.
And I used to make them have gay sex with one another.
Sorry about that.
I would think C3-PO and R2D2, I think that would make more sense.
Yeah, actually he was C3-Pee All Over Me, was the nickname for him. And it was Handy Solo and Luke Guybopper. It was disgusting.
Wow. You were advanced even at a young age, Dane. So, listen, obviously I want to chat a little bit about the new album, which I got to listen to once. So, forgive me if my questions aren’t as probing as maybe they would be if I was allowed to listen to it more than once.
You downloaded it once, and you’re telling me you didn’t use any kind of technology to rip or record for multiple listens?
Should I have? If you say I should have, then maybe I did. But, no, I didn’t.
You sir, are an upstanding citizen. And I appreciate that about you.
I did take notes on it, though.
All right. Copious notes. What have you got, Dylan?
All right, so the first thing I noticed, after listening to the whole thing, is I feel like it’s a bit – you’re kind of go – there’s certainly stories in this one, but I feel like you’re going back to doing quicker bits, more quick in, quick out. Very economical as far as words go. It’s more like a Weezer album, than it is, say, a Rush album. Was that kind of a conscious decision to do that?
Very much so. I think that with – a lot of people who were maybe introduced to my comedy say in 2001, with the first Comedy Central special, I was certainly, at that time, much more a maniac. The comedy absolutely was more from a boundless energy and physical point of view. And that was on purpose, because I loved guys like Steve Martin, Martin Short; I loved John Ritter. They definitely informed my stand-up comedy. And once that special was kind of out there in the world, I went back to the lab, so to speak, and wanted to come at my comedy from a different perspective. I wanted to learn more words, and be able to use vernacular in ways that tell better stories quicker, and more straight to the point.
But at the same time, I was really loving listening to some of my old Newhart albums and listening to – I especially like Bill Cosby, Himself. So, when Vicious [Circle] came along, it was long-form story telling. And so some of those bits were like eight, 10 minutes. There’s some LPMs in there, but after that was done, really this more about random quick in, quick out, like you said— and not as wordy, to put it quite simply. Unlike that answer, which was much like a Meatloaf title in 1978. I apologize. I rambled a bit, Dylan.
That’s OK. You can ramble as much as you like. You’re in a safe place right here. It’s OK. It’s interesting you bring up a Cosby. I just saw Cosby two days ago, and he’s still doing those two-hour shows. It takes the man 25 minutes to tell a story about how he used to hide condom in his wallet. I mean, it’s funny, it’s good, and I love the guy. But, it’s a very – it’s an interesting thing to see somebody old school do that kind of comedy where it’s not for the MTV generation. Where it’s not so quick and punchy. The man takes his time.
I was certainly influenced by him. I was in junior high school when Himself came out. And that was also really the first year of my life that I said, out loud, that I want to be a stand-up comedian to friends and family. So, a lot of leading up to Vicious Circle and certainly Rough Around the Edges, I was really – it was still glamorous, the idea of not doing that kind of quick edit, MTV generation comedy. Even though, technically the cameras could make it broader and more visually esthetically pleasing. I wanted to tell seven, eight, 10-minute long stories with jokes in them at that time.
And that’s not to say, I don’t want to mislead anybody who’s – who will purchase the album when it comes out, May 19. There are certainly stories on this album. They’re just a little shorter and a little more compact. But you’re still definitely telling stories.
Dylan, I just want to stop us for a second, because I think the viewing audience is wondering if you’re experiencing an earthquake.
Am I getting all pixilated and stuff?
It was like this for a second. (Dane shakes his screen)
No earthquakes here, no.
I want to make sure you’re OK. You should go stand under a doorstop for a moment.
Yeah, I could go do that. I could. I’ll take a chance, though.
The other thing, I’m guessing this was also a conscious decision. You recorded it at a much smaller venue, at The Laugh Factory, kind of your home club there. Why do that as opposed to capturing a live performance at a much bigger venue?
I guess it’s a multiple-choice answer. The first one being that I spent most of my time after the loss of my mom and dad in that club going through those experiences and talking about everything that you ended up hearing, and will see in the special. And it was an important place for me, because it was kind of like my therapy. I took a lot out on crowds in that club, and I certainly turned a lot of that negativity and frustration into hopefully entertaining material.
And then on the technical side, I didn’t want to be derivative of myself and do just another big grandiose, broad show, because I did that. And I wanted to challenge myself to take on a completely different element. And one thing you haven’t seen, because I know you only heard the audio, and it’s a surprise. But visually, the way you’re going to finally see this presented is going to be very, very different from what you’ve experienced before. Which is part of why it’s commercial free. I don’t want to give it away, but it was a challenge to shoot the show the way I did. And I look forward to seeing what you think of it after it airs.
|Dane Cook – Suicide Note|
You mentioned your parents. In this album you do a few jokes centered around your parents. Was that – was it ever – I mean, where you ever conflicted as to whether or not you wanted to include that type of material in the new album?
I don’t want to say I was conflicted, because – and not to come off as morbid, but if you knew my folks, they had very wild sense of humor. And I spent a lot of time with my mom, especially, in those last few weeks of her life, where she was like ‘you’ve got to make a joke about this. You can talk about this onstage.’ And again, it was like we were laughing and crying together. But I felt like after my mom and dad passed, it was really my obligation, and also a challenge, given what people knew of me, and how I had blown up, to go back to square one and do old school comedy, in a club, presented with a wide array of truths that I was experiencing.
If I skipped all that, and didn’t talk about haters, didn’t talk about losing my folks, then I would probably deserve a lot of the superfluous crap people like to sling at me. But, I think it’s a nice way to face comedy head on, share it; make it entertaining. That’s my job, first and foremost, to make it funny. But also show people I’m not a one trick pony.
Right. And it is funny, you know. It’s not like – it doesn’t get very sad. And you know, I kind of thought it was very – it was very Robert Schimmel-esque. He has a great ability, obviously, to talk about really horrible, horrible things, and make it really funny. I think that takes a lot of thought and skill. And I think you’ve done it.
The audience will be the judge of that ultimately. But from what I experienced, not only in front of that crowd, that night, but now taking it on the road with the tour, and doing that 400 seat performance in front of upwards of 20,000, and getting the response back from long term fans, it seems like I’m right where I’m supposed to be. It’s so far so good.
Yeah. You know, you seem – just seeing you on television, and talking to you the few times I have, you seem to be a pretty well-adjusted fellow. Comedians are not so known for being the most well adjusted people. And you address it in your album, that you’re not the type of guy that has ever contemplated something like suicide, or sometimes you can’t even understand the concept of that. But I guarantee if we polled 100 comics now, 75 of them would have – would admit that they definitely considered suicide. So why are you so well adjusted, Dane? Come on.
I mean, look, I’ve got my skeletons. I have my dark periods, but I don’t linger on anything. I wasn’t raised that way. It’s not how my siblings were raised. We’re the kind of people that if we’re hurting about something, we would fight about it, or talk about it. And we never really buried things down for the most part. So, I think part of it is just in a very natural way, I don’t like to keep things in the pit of my stomach too long. I’ll either talk about it on stage, or share them with friends or my family.
So – and I never let the whole – you’ve got to realize, too, I – when I got famous and hit kind of that mainstream level, it was really a howl. I felt like I was watching somebody else named Dane Cook on my television. I’d be sitting with my family, I’m a pretty low key guy. When I’m not doing shows, I’m kind of a homebody. And whether it was the accolades, or some of the strange innuendo and rumor, I would sit back and kind of be like, wow, I never really saw myself as either of these things. I’m just kind of a go to work, get it done, go home type of person.
Are you now any more used to that? I mean, every once in a while, your face popping up in kind of the weekly entertainment magazines and things? Is it still strange to you, or is it kind of whatever?
Look, let’s face it: what celebrity was when we were a little bit younger, even 10 years ago, your face – 10 years ago your face would pop up in a magazine next to Bruce Willis and Halle Barry and you’d be like, ‘oh, my gosh, I’m beside A-list people.’ And now there’s so much junk and it’s great, I’m next to Spencer and Heidi. Celebrity sucks. There’s nothing really unique and mysterious about it anymore. So you just kind of hold on to the scraps of it that are informative, in the creative atmosphere. And the rest of it, if you really believe any of it, or live in that world, I think that it will suffocate you and ultimately end your creative journey. That’s truly what I feel.
So, I kind of – it doesn’t mean that much to me when I’m in a magazine now, or there’s an entertainment show. As long as they’re talking about the comedy, and fans are finding it and laughing, I don’t give a shit about any of the other stuff.
You talk about some of your relationships on the new album with females. You tell a few stories, especially the “isolated incident” story, and a few others about your dalliances, if you will, with females. Do they kind of know that anything that happens between you two can be fair game for millions of people to hear about?
I have them sign a confidentiality agreement on our first date. It’s the first question anybody asks. Am I going to end up in your comedy act, is pretty much the first thing. And my first response is always, ‘absolutely, yes.’ You better expect it. Probably not. But, we’ll see where the date goes, and what kind of strange hooligan you might be, and we’ll see where it lands.
You’re upfront and honest. Girls like that, right?
You have to be really a no bullshit person. When you say, ‘hey, listen, I’m a professional comedian. I’m an actor.’ This world is kind of a tornado, there’s a bit of the during that introduction, you are from F-list to A-list, there’s a little bit of the Elvis syndrome where you’re going to be treated differently, you’re going to be adored, you’re going to be… people are just going to go gaga when they’re around you. And no matter what level people consider me at, or that I’ve been at, every girl that I’m with, I have to tell them, it’s rarified air. And sometimes you breathe it in, and you have to absorb it and live it a little bit, and kind of roll around and get messy in it. And then sometimes you have to block it out completely, and attempt to live whatever a normal lifestyle is. I don’t do it perfectly. I definitely have had my highs and lows in relationships. But, I’m always honest right off the bat that it’s not going to be a smooth ride.
All right, all right. I want to ‘shift gears’ as professional interviewers are want to say when they change topics. I know you’re very excited about your new iPhone application.
You’re almost as well known as being a very smart business person and marketer as you are a comedian. So, tell me: why launch an iPhone application based around your comedy?
Well, I think that the impetus was – well, going back a little bit when MySpace was first in my life, and at the time the Napsters and the Friendsters were being utilized, I found that because after the shows I’m a homebody, I’m not the kind of person that – once the shows over at the club, it’s like that’s the only show with me. I don’t look for the after party, late night experience.
|Dane Cook – Cell Phone Club|
I was spending a lot of time at home, receiving e-mails through my early websites. And what I found with the early version of the social networking was it was a great way to find fans, and it was a great way to pass information to people regarding comedy. Now it’s come to close to 10 years later, everybody’s on these social networking sites, and what I was finding was, about a year ago, as I started talking to companies like Zannel who I did the app with… OK, how can I take the standard HBO documentary, or social network updating, and how can I have a running diary/documentary that I can share with people in their pockets?
So, we started working on the iPhone app, and it’s – I think it’s going to be the next thing where now you can follow, whether it’s spoken word performers, musicians, comedians, I think it’s a great way for these people to forget all the stuff we were talking about a minute ago with the BS celebrity stuff, and what level you’re at, and who is doing what with who, it gets rid of all that. And it’s a direct connection; it’s my creativity, if you’re interested in that experience to you. And that’s what I’m trying to now build upon and how I will present my stand-up in the years to come. My next comedy special might not be necessarily on Comedy Central or HBO, it might be directly to your phone in your pocket.
Do you feel you could ever become too available to your fans?
It’s a valid question. And that’s why when people say, would you want to do a reality show? I would say, well, the difference there is – and what was very tricky with Tourgasm is probably more so with comedians, it’s good to have a bit of mystique. But it’s even better – let’s take like Richard Pryor, back in the day. He lived through these horrible experiences; there was drugs, being on fire, suicidal thoughts. If that had been a show you would say this is great television. It may not have – it would not have been, and may not have been, funny. But with his time and perspective looking back on it, it became entertaining, and cathartic and beautiful, and funny.
So, what is the line? I don’t necessarily know myself. But what I do know is you can still have a mystique and keep the stuff that’s about family business, that’s personal, the stuff that’s about who you’re dating, the stuff that’s just hardcore home life personal, and still put forward creative information. Example, Twitter. If you can get on there, isn’t it great you can follow a comedian who has a point of view, see something during the course of his day, takes a photo of it, and shares a funny thought or moment that may never have met the stage. But you’re getting a glimpse into their creative process.
If I could have followed Steven Wright on Twitter, when I was in junior high school, to hear his moment to moment updates on whatever he was experiencing that may not make the stage. I think that would’ve been a really great way to keep informed with people that I admire. So, I hope I use it the right way. And I hope that people receive it the right way. So far the response has been, in just a few days, really outstanding.
Do you – we talked a little bit about you acting, you being in movies. Are there any – I checked the IMDB before we chatted, I didn’t see any upcoming Dane Cook flicks.
The goal this year that I had decided by November of last was I want to replant this flag. I want to spend as much time with fans, old and new, on the road. Yes, the tour is what you see now. But it’s certainly going to be extended, just judging by the early way it’s been received and ticket sales and whatnot. So we will go further. I passed on a few different films, because I think it’s an important time for me, in my comedy, metamorphosis, as I’m growing now, getting older with a group of fans that I started with in college, and now are growing up with me. I think it was an important time, a crucial time, for me to get back in settings where I could connect with people.
So, no, there’s no TV. I have a Comedy Central deal to even put together a show, I put that on the back burner. I passed on a few films that I just didn’t feel like this was the time. I am writing something that I hope will move next year. But it’s all comedy, all the time.
All right. Fair, very fair. What do you think – and maybe this is an odd question to be asking you, maybe it’s a better question to ask another comedy analyst. But I mean, I’d be interesting in hearing what you have to say about this. What do you feel your overall effect on the national stand-up comedy scene has been?
Well, I’ve certainly got people talking about stand-up in a way that – I guess that the whole controversial element was interesting, sometimes entertaining, sometimes head scratching to sit back and see how people were slinging my comedy or my name back and forth. Controversy, definitely, is not bad for business. It was great to sit back and kind of watch it unfold.
But, I would think that absolutely in the promotional aspect, that’s been my high-water mark. And I would tell comedians, you know, early 2000, 2001, 2002, the old days of one night on The Tonight Show, becoming an overnight sensation is long gone. And it is now our obligation to be business people and to reach out, using media, using this, find people that are interested in keeping us on the map and paying us forward to other people looking for entertainment. And that goes for all forms of the arts, I think, falls in that category.
I jumped on it early, and I think that people gave me some nice props for that. But I didn’t reinvent the wheel. I just did absolutely what came naturally to me at the time, which was how could I not sit in my underwear and play video games for 23 hours a day. And get off my ass which is – it can be a procrastinating ass, and do something for myself and for my future, so I can have a family, pay the rent, send my kids to a great college some day, and deliver stand-up to people for the rest of my life and career. So, I don’t know, man. It’s definitely – its’ a question that everybody that you ask, and even people that write me and reach out to me, they put me in such different places in the echelon of the history of comedy. But I don’t think about that. It really never mattered to me, at the end of the day, what place I came in, as long as I found fans.
Do you feel more people have been introduced to stand-up comedy that maybe otherwise would not have been? More people are going to the local stand up comedy clubs, that maybe have found you first, and then realize there are other comedians, and there’s other local comedy that they could be going to see?
I think that there was a period during 2001, ’02, ’03, certainly before Harmful If Swallowed came out, I was told, and it was no secret, that the comedy album is dead. That’s what everybody said to me, the comedy album is dead. And what I found was, well, people just weren’t putting a lot of care into the entire presentation. Not just the silver disc in a crappy looking case with a black and white smoky picture of a comic leaning against a brick wall. It’s all in the presentation. If people know you put time, effort, and care into the comedy and into the way it’s delivered to them, they appreciate it. They spent their hard earned dollar on something that you really gave a shit about.
And so I think that I certainly had a contributing factor in the way that it’s presented, and also floating people back into the clubs during that time. Certainly not solely, you had the Chappelle’s and Attell’s, and Bill Burr popping up, and Stanhopes, and a lot of great, strong acts at that time. So, it was like me and this group of guys that I think were helping to bring the comedy back to some of these clubs that were languishing.
|Dane Cook: Uncensored – 15 Cents|
All right, the last thing, I don’t want to keep you too much longer, Dane, I know you’re a busy fellow. The last thing I kind of wanted to talk about is, you kind of brought it up before, when you were talking about the controversy and the “superfluous” crap that you – and you again, you even talk about it on the new album with the firstname.lastname@example.org bit you do. Why do people have such a distaste for you?
There’s a lot answers for that, man. And some of it is jealousy and some of it is because people get frustrated at where they’re at in their lives and careers. Some of it is legitimate: ‘I don’t like his comedy. I don’t get it.’ And it’s that thing where if you liked a movie, you tell two people. If you hate a movie, you’ll tell 10 people. I think why I tread so lightly on this is because I admire some of the people that these very things started with. And it’s tough to fight lies, and it’s tough to fight – or go up against people that you really respect, and don’t necessarily understand entirely what their motivation is. Some people I do.
I can tell you, and I’m not going to name a name, but somebody very high profile in the – leading the hate o’clock news, if I may, a person that you would probably talk to, and they would come out and tell you that I sucked and they don’t care for me or the way I do comedy or anything about me. The first e-mail I got after my mom passed away was by one of these very people. And again, I’m not going to put out the names, because I’m not going to try and do what they do, and I’m not going to try and make this into me trying to one up. I’m simply giving you an example. Somebody that you would know came to me and wrote me a letter and said, I remember you talking about your mom with a bunch of us backstage one day, and how important she was to you. And at the end of the letter it said, as much as I may say some of these things, and do some of these things, it’s all a game.
And I have this letter from this person. I read it once in a while to remind myself that it is a game, and that person has an obligation to their style of comedy, and their fans, and they feed into a certain platform of presentation. And it kind of goes with it, man. So, it’s a tough thing, Dylan. I got to tell you, man, it baffles me to this day, some of it, how some of it sticks on the Internet bathroom wall. The same very thing that I certainly held tight on to, is – it can be the same thing that sometimes is an anchor on you. And I think that bathroom wall needs a scrub down from time to time. Because I dealt with a lot of the demons in the past, and yet it still sticks. And I think that the people that hurt the most from it are not myself or even the people that may have had issues at the time, it’s the new fans that come in, that want to know about your comedy, and drum up these old hates, and this old crap, when it’s been squashed, or it’s been taken care of. And that’s the last thing I’ll say on a very long answer, which hopefully you’ll edit down to be more radio friendly.
The last thing I’ll say about is, some of these very incidents were already taken care of the same way comics take care of these very same back and forth in a club. This stuff happens every night in a club. Two comics have an issue with a routine, or a bit, or a tagline, or a parallel thinking, or whatever it might be, and they squash it in a club. And that’s the way that it normally happens night after night. I became, at a point in my career, one of the biggest comics in the country, bar none. And unfortunately those same back room conversations took place here. And so the conversations were justified. They really were. It’s just a shame that it has to become part of a Wikipedia entry. You know what I mean? That’s the tough stuff. That’s kind of – that’s forever on a webpage, when I dealt with that, with the man or women that needed to be dealt with, behind the scenes. So, that’s kind of where I stand with it. I don’t fully, completely understand it. I embrace it. I lived through it. I dealt with it the best way I could in my comedy. And I’m moving on, man. I did move on a long time ago.
Well, Dane, thank you very much for chatting here. I want to remind everybody, May 17 is when your comedy – when the Comedy Central special airs, correct?
Absolutely. In fact, you know what? Let me do something cool. Let’s see if this works. We have iChat theater, right?
Let’s see if this works. This is the exclusive Comedy Central commercial. Hold on. Let’s see. Let’s see if this screws up.
COMMERCIAL: Without 50,000 screaming fans. Without commercial interruptions. Without a net. Dane Cook, Isolated Incident, May 17, only on Comedy Central.
That’s crazy. So you – you were just saying how bad you are with technology, and there you are.
No, no. I’m a geek with the technology. So, anyway, I thought I would share that with you.
Thank you, I like that. So, May 17 the special airs. May 19 the CD is in stores. Your tour, your big national tour, lasts through June 27th, I believe.
For now, yep.
For now. Also on the road with you is Bobby Kelly.
I’ve got Bobby Kelly and Al Del Bene, on most of the tour. And we’re going to get some special guests, a couple of people who will be swinging through. So you never know who might end up on the show.
Nice. Very exciting. Dane, thank you so much for talking to me, and for reading Punchline Magazine, I appreciate it, man.
Dylan, thanks a lot for your time, and this was really cool.
For more info, check out danecook.com.