Dane Cook chats with Marc Maron: A study on first impressions and the 'real' self

By | July 1, 2010 at 12:13 pm | 16 comments | News, Opinion | Tags: , , ,

Dane CookMarc Maron

I just listened to Marc Maron’s incredibly enlightening Dane Cook interview from this week’s episode of WTF with Marc Maron. It got me thinking about my own experiences getting into comedy under the shadow of Cook.

Shortly after I started doing stand-up, I was talking shit about Dane Cook. It seemed, at the time, a rite of passage for new comics. It seemed that people, who, when they were 14 or 15 had seen his 30-minute Comedy Central special and loved it, had to – with the coming of adulthood – distinguish themselves as having matured, having moved past the high-energy style-over-substance salesmanship epitomized by Dane Cook.

Basically I was taking potshots at a silver-back because a critical part of the development of new authority is the challenging of the old guard. I also talked shit about him because I didn’t know who I was on stage, and it helped me carve out a sense of who I wanted to be, by making clear about who I wasn’t.

Dane was at the forefront when or the early aughts comedy boom. Along with Carlos Mencia, Larry The Cable Guy, and Jeff Dunham, Dane was one of the four horsemen of “Big Comedy,” people who had corporate sponsorships and fanatical devotees, and could fill stadiums.

Mass appeal is a tricky thing. Of course there’s always The Beatles or Steve Martin (one of Cook’s comedy heroes), artists who simultaneously appeal to both committed enthusiasts and the casual consumer. But more often than not, mass appeal equates to Britney Spears or Two and a Half Men—artistic representations that are so broad it’s deemed offensive by so-called artist snobs.

You see, snobs like me prefer doomed indie-esque gems like Arrested Development or tragic heroes like Elliott Smith or Bill Hicks. When someone is really good *and* an underdog it can be easy to get lost in the fanatical devotion of being on the right side of a good cause.

I can still remember the day my attitude changed. I remember because I was talking with Seaton Smith, a comic from the DC area who I respect tremendously and with whom I was performing in an Improv group. Seaton is just a few years my senior and had gotten into stand-up at a younger age than I did. What I remember is that when I first started doing stand-up, Seaton was already well-respected within the that community; by the way, he’s only gotten better since.

He’s also kind of an egotistical asshole, but in a really lovable way.

Seaton and I were in a CVS waiting for rehearsal to begin when I was talking shit about Dane, and saying how much I preferred Mike Birbiglia with whom Seaton had recently worked. What Seaton essentially said was, “Yeah I don’t bother focusing on the negatives. I try to find something I like in anyone I see. That way I can learn from them.”

The broader lesson is this: It’s not so useful to spend your time focusing on what you’re not; in the end it’s better to define yourself positively, by the things you love.

This five-minute conversation, was really kind of a revelation for me. I started paying more attention to things that were said by other people I respected, people like Louis CK and Jim Gaffigan, both of whom in talking about Cook said that while he wasn’t their cup of tea. Louis said “he just aesthetically bums me out.”

That’s not to say I stopped talking shit all at once, or indeed that I never talk shit these days. I still have really strong leanings in terms of my tastes; I’m still a snob. But these days I’m wary of not getting caught up in backlash or underdog fever. If I dislike something, it’s for my own reasons. It’s not to act with or against what the rest of the world is doing. That’s the difference between non-conformity and anti-conformity.

When you define yourself by what you aren’t, you’re not marching to the beat of your own drum, you’re marching to the off-beat of the other guy’s drum, and you’re still letting “them” decide who you turn out to be. These days I try to take Seaton’s advice to heart, to really focus on what it is that I like, what it is that’s working when someone is on stage.

Whether I like a comedian’s style or I don’t, if they’re being authentic and making it work, it’s always a good thing for comedy. And by that measure, Dane certainly is good for comedy.

Author Mike Blejer is a comedian. You can learn more about him at mikeblejer.com.

About the Author

Mike Blejer

  • Rob

    I didn’t listen to the podcast but I have my opinions on Dane Cook and stand-up. I think Dane deserves a certain amount of criticism for stealing material if he did steal the material. However, there is a substantial part of his act that is still authentic and very funny. Under rigorous aesthetical criticism, he would probably rank above average and he’s certainly better than many comedians who have “made it.”

    This being said, I know the craft well enough to know that people like Louis CK and a few others are in a higher stratosphere. Particularly when it comes to writing, conveying theie own experience, and the depth they possess.

    But let’s not forget, too, that Dane Cook is a masterful performer with great energy and stage command. You might say that about Gallagher, as well. But Dane is not Gallager and to say he sucks and dismiss him is unfair and really not an appropriate way to treat him. If you listen, the man has some really good, entertaining stories – not including the ones he’s supposedly taken.

  • Lexa

    I think Rick said it best.

    In the podcast Dane Cook credits the the industry’s turn against him as his rising fame being measured against failing comics which in turn caused them to resent him.

    Dane Cook’s comedy changed flavor the more popular he became. The frat generation embraced him as a comedic god, though the quality of his comedy disintegrated the more he became. I don’t think centering an entire routine around the shape of a woman’s pubic hair or the sound of the word “twat” is all that clever or original. And Dane Cook proved his own pomposity by likening his status to that of Chris Rock or Bill Cosby.

    Dane Cook is like McDonalds. Once upon a time McDonalds had a product with quality ingredients. Now, it’s a mass-marketed piece of crap that may feel good for a moment but in the long run will probably kill you. Same goes for Dane Cook.

  • http://punditfight.blogspot.com/search/label/wrestling American Pundit Fighting

    That was very wise and mature Mike Blejer. It’s definitely something I’ve tried to adopt in my own life in recent times.

    Though your distilling of Cook as “high-energy style-over-substance salesmanship epitomized” is actually what motivated me to ask Maron in an interview if he thought Dance Cook was not unlike American political pundits, Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly. Same applies for some politicians. Amassing a following captivated by the theatrics of a person rather than the content of their words. Which is essentially the appeal of wrestling.

  • Travesty

    While I haven’t listened to this interview(I will when I have time. I ALWAYS sit down, and actually listen to Marc Marons interviews. He’s the best), I still can’t get over him stealing material. I mean, if you guys listen to Breuer Unleashed on Sirius, than you may have heard the Dane Cook interview 3-4 weeks ago, where he basically admitted to stealing from Louis and others. He said he felt bad, and didn’t want to piss off Louis, but wasn’t “exactly sure” if he stole or not, but said he sometimes hears jokes, and then “Danes it up a bit”. So he said he doesn’t know if he accidentally stole, but then two seconds later said, “well, sometimes I take other jokes, and Dane them up”. Seriously, what the fuck!?!?

    Anyways, I don’t know what was covered in the WTF interview, but I just wanted to chime in while I have time. I may come back later to comment, if this isn’t already dead.

  • http://coreymonroe.com Corey

    Nice article. I agree with it 100%. I’ve worked with seaton also, he is a professional. I never understood talking shit on other comics, even if their complete hacks. Comedy is a business, and when one comic does well its good for the business. We’re all in this together.

  • http://seatonsmith.com Seaton

    I’m self involved. There’s a difference.

  • RG

    Check out Dane’s interview on FitzDog radio. Way more entertaining. Especially the part about abortions.

  • T.K

    Dane Cook is a fad and his style was funny while it last, and his substance is suspect. He should just act, he doesn’t have to do stand-up. Much love to Marc.

  • http://mikecomedy.com Mike Blejer


    I think you’re right that it’s fair to criticize someone’s material, but three things:

    1) I think it’s easier to focus on the negatives, but ultimately not as useful. Easier because it’s reductive; it’s simpler to say “this guy sucks, I don’t like him” than to say “well I don’t like the substance but the craft is excellent,” but for a lot of comics (and people), ego gets in the way.

    2) Dane worked in comedy for YEARS before he became huge. He did plenty of time on the road going to audiences before he started playing stadiums. If he were only in it for the success or the business he would have quit long ago. Or he would have quit once he became huge. Nobody gets into comedy for the money, or if they do, they don’t stay in.

    3) We all sell ourselves to some degree (facebook being the personal branding platform of the last few years), and within comedy you have to be an advocate for yourself because, as an early Jewish Comedian said “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” And at the end of the day, bills gotta get paid; it’s hard to write jokes when you’re worried about your next meal, or when the lights get shut-off. The trick is to compromise without compromising yourself. Check out the short online feud between Patton Oswalt and David Cross over Alvin and The Chipmunks for more on this kind of thing. As for whether Cook goes too far in his salesmanship, to the detriment of his stand-up, I’m sure it’s a tough balance to strike and again I think it’s partially just an aesthetic thing. It turns me off a bit, but I don’t begrudge him his success.

    Ok, I’m running late, but thanks for the comments everyone!

    – Mike

  • SDC

    Dane Cook was amusing when he did a couple phone calls on Crank Yankers, but I was only able to listen to his 1st comedy album one-and-a-half times, and since then have just accepted he’s ‘not for me’ and moved on.

    Dane Cook kind of reminds me of Mill Vanilli. He’s not quite a fraud at that level, but a reminder that you really can achieve a high level of success without there really being anything there. I would like to see Milli or Vanilli (I can’t remember which one is still alive) give Tom Waits a lecture about ‘you don’t know what it’s like at the top’.

  • Alex

    I enjoyed the interview, but I also got a feeling that Dane was putting up a front. Trying to be the ‘every man’ comic, when he is clearly not. That said, awesome interview from Marc. You always nail these interviews and they are throughly enjoyable.

  • Bryon

    Nice article, Mike. I’m an avid listener of WTF and really enjoyed Marc’s interview with Dane. It definitely seemed for a long time that it was “cool” to hate on Mr. Cook; if you liked him, that made you a douche. I understand the whole “style over substance” argument, but just as Jim Jefferies pointed out on a previous WTF episode….if it makes people laugh, so what? Some people like Britney Spears. Whatever floats your boat. There’s no need to look down on others because they don’t “get” what you’re into; just let it go. Enjoy what you like, and let others do the same. What a crazy idea!!

    And in regard to the stealing jokes thing, I really think it’s a non-issue in Dane Cook’s case. It’s not like that demented mind of Mencia’s that lives in some make believe world where he believes his own lies. I think it’s a shame that Dane will have that stigma now throughout his career. I don’t think it is deserved.

    Having said all of this, let me make it clear that I am not a Dane Cook fan; that shit’s beneath me! I listen to WTF. I am cool!

  • Chase

    I’ve never been much of a shit talker when it comes to comics. I am honest about who I like and dislike, but I think that’s fair. Not all material is going to relate to everyone. What I enjoyed most about the podcast was Dane talking through the stealing accusations. It gave me a wider perspective,

    I would like to say this, Cook mentioned that he had no idea Comedy Central was going to air his 1/2hr as much as it did. I have a hunch that his manager was gunning for that thing to air A LOT and that Dane was probably very much a part of that strategy.

    I love Dane, I respect him tremendously and I think He deserves all the success he has. I just call shenanigans on that statement.

  • Rick

    thanks for sharing your honest thoughts.

    I disagree with you in one regard which I guess I would summarize like this: How can you ever say someone is totally awesome if you can’t point out how someone else is completely shitty?

    I know popularity gets in the way of things; it’s tricky to not criticize someone based on the fact that they may be an easy target. But it you really believe a comedian’s material is bad, I think it’s okay to say so.

    FWIW, Cook came across as someone trying for some indie cred on Marc’s show. Doesn’t mean he’s a bad person, just that he is a businessman first, and a comedian second.

  • http://www.JohnGirdwood.com John Girdwood

    Good article. I find it interesting that the article seems to proportionally refer to your liking/disliking Dane Cook’s comedy. I’m wondering of myself how much of my perception of him has been influenced by interviews he’s given, the SNL episode, etc. and not specifically the comedy. I still think that old 30 minute special is good. But, he’s not a guy I’d want to play golf or video games with.

  • Alex Herrera

    Loved this interview. But it was the first WTF podcast where I was impressed by a comedian who could give shit back. I’m talking about the part of the interview where Dane succinctly told Marc, and I’m paraphrasing here, that Marc doesn’t understand about some of the things that Dane has gone through because he wasn’t at that level. He said Chris Rock knew and he threw in a couple of other big name comics.

    I was blown away by that little exchange. I’m not a comedy nerd, but that’s not the reason I love this podcast. Marc is an amazing interviewer. Keep up the good work.

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