Comedy nerds are getting angry at the picture already.
Doing three shows at The Pearl inside the Palms is well outside the realm of possibility for most comedians, but most comedians aren’t Dane Cook. It’s hard to argue his popularity, but to comedy insiders, it’s also hard to explain his popularity.
His movies, like Employee of the Month and My Best Friend’s Girls have been panned. He’s been accused of stealing jokes from the widely acclaimed Louis CK. Other comics take frequent swipes. Daniel Tosh Twittered about Cook’s new special and invoked his name to quiet a heckler at his recent House of Blues show. Zach Galifianakis, at The Comedy Festival two years ago, held up a sign reading “Dane Cook must be stopped” to thunderous applause. In a story in the Chicago Tribune, former Las Vegan Doug Stanhope said, “”It’s just so American. Dane Cook just takes nonsense and falls down a flight of stairs while saying it and acts like you’re laughing because of what he said. He presents himself as though he’s a legitimate raconteur. He acts like there’s substance, but there’s none. … I don’t hate Dane Cook. I hate the people that laugh at Dane Cook.”
Yet despite the critics, his record sales are bulletproof. Retaliation went double platinum. Rock records don’t even do that anymore.
He’s playing Friday, Saturday and Sunday at The Pearl at 8, 11 and 8 p.m., respectively. Tickets range from $79 to $154. We had the chance to talk to him about the evolution of his act, how success affects comedy and, of course, about the hate.
I was at the Caesars show at the Comedy Festival, and a lot of the material in the new special you did at that Caesars show, so what’s the Pearl show going to look like in terms of the set.
The special, ISolated INcident that just aired last night, when I was at Caesars I was still working out the kinks and trying to figure out how I could make that presentable. Where the set is now, I would say in the months since taping it at the Laugh Factory, I probably have a new 20 minutes that is certainly geared and upgraded more toward event crowds. I wanted to have some pieces that had a bit more of the energy and that big arena element to it. But at the same time, having done the big test show – the big test show that I did in Tampa at the Super Bowl was 18,000 people, and I did the special almost verbatim, to see what the trial by fire, how people would accept the intimate special that I created to have a camera literally looking into my eyes. I didn’t want to be moving around that much. I wanted that camera looking into my fucking soul. I wanted people to know this is my truth. These are the things that I experienced over the last couple of years. This is the next stage in my life, evolution as a comedian. This is me, right now.
When I did it in Tampa, I couldn’t believe the amount of feedback, the e-mails saying, “You know what Dane? This is the best show I’ve seen you do. I love this new material. I felt more connected to you than ever before. Having done that was what informed the tour that I’m on now.” I think the best moments of ISolated, the poignant moments, the cathartic moments are still in there. Retooled and certainly upgraded a little bit so that they are a little bit more user-friendly for the bigger crowds, and then the new stuff on top of that. It’s a great hour-plus, somewhere around hour-fifteen, hour-twenty a night of old and new material.
You just said the 20 minutes you’ve added is a little more energetic. The Caesars show was a little more subdued than I think what people normally see from your comedy. The special certainly was. Are you trying to balance those two elements, or are you trying to move forward into a quieter direction?
Somebody said the other day “How did you approach this special?” I said, “This special approached me.” This was really for the first time in my life where the elements and the environment around me, whether it was living through and dealing with the crisis of family, dealing with a mom and dad dying of cancer, becoming famous in a massive way. Becoming part of a pop lexicon, and then the backlash and the insanity that goes with that, the good and the bad. The good stuff and the pits. All of that was like, “I can’t get around it. This is what I’m living now.”
When I was in my 20s and early 30s, I was coming up with a generation of fans. When you’re doing shows early on in your career like that, and you’re planting that early flag, here’s the thing you don’t do in those early shows with that demographic: You’re not doing jokes about hindsight. Nobody wants to hear about that in their 20s. You’re not doing poignant, cathartic stuff about loss when you’re coming up with that generation of fans. You’re speaking a language to each other. I’m that age, you’re that age.
When I did the show in Tampa and I started getting that feedback, what I started receiving was e-mails from people saying, “You know what? When I got out of high school, I felt like you were talking to me. When I was in college, I felt like you were talking to me and I feel like you’re talking to me now.” I’ve grown up. I’ve grown up with a generation of comedy fans. I did comedy that I loved early on, which was broader comedy, physical comedy. I loved Steve Martin growing up. I loved guys like Robin Williams and Martin Short, so that certainly informed my comedy. But I loved and adored Newhart and Cosby and guys I felt like could slow down and really just tell a story in a new way. It just felt like everything met at that path that was like OK, these things are happening in my life. It’s my job to take the truth around me that I observe and make it funny. It has to be funny, first.
It’s the moment. This is my moment where I’m going to put this out there and people are either going to accept it (or not). I’m not going to be derivative of myself. That’s the past and I’m looking into a new approach. I’ve learned a new trick or can put another tool on the utility belt with my comedy. You’re asking a question that I’m going to have to – I can tell you today just judging from the thousands of e-mails that I got from this special that it’s an amazing outpouring from people. If I were to read you these e-mails, man, they’re just insane. The amount of how deeply people are looking into the special. Of course, there’s only one word that matters at the end of the day, and that’s funny, to me.
You can write a three-page dissertation and just dissect everything. Ask any comic and there’s just one word that’s going to jump out at us and it was funny. I’m getting that, and I’m getting a group of people that I feel like have grown up with me and they’re saying “I love where you’re at now. I’m going to still come out. I want to come out to the big event.” But this is it. This is part of the growth.
In the special, you do the bit on critics on the internet, and there’s been a lot made of that. It’s been in a lot of recent interviews where you talk about that. To me the more interesting angle on that is the way a lot of your peers treat you and some of the things they have to say. What do you think about what other comics are saying about you?
I think that a lot of it is wonderful. When Chris Rock calls you and tells you what he told me, it’s amazing. When you meet Steve Martin and have conversations with him that inform you. I’ve hung out with Bill Cosby when he hosted Letterman one night. I know where you’re coming from. There’s a lot of guys out there man, who – you’re asking me the question that’s the hardest for me to answer. Because the answer that I give is going to come across to a lot of people as possibly looking like I’m frustrated by what they’re saying. It’s the hardest – I’m sitting in a spot where if I say to you there’s a lot of cynical, jealous guys. I’m not going to name names, but I know some of the names that you want to check. You just have to look at their careers. You have to look at where they’re at and what they’re probably frustrated about and you also have to understand that the guys I came up with, the group I came up the ranks with are very proud of me, and they’re the only opinions that matter. Those are the guys that I started with. Those are the club owners and comics I came up with from 1990 up, they’re the ones calling me today going “Wow, you did it again. You must be psyched.”
Some of the names you’re talking about don’t even know me. They don’t even know me, man. I’m talking about some of the innuendo and the word that goes around. They’ve never even sat – Andy Kindler does not know me. I don’t mind saying that name because he’s very vocal. He’s never sat with me. He doesn’t know my passion for comedy. He’s never heard from me my perspective on this amazing occupation. (Kindler said during a show once, “Thanks, MySpace, for inventing Dane Cook. Dane Cook is a pyramid scheme. Tell 10 friends who know nothing about comedy about him. Tell 10 of your most humorless friends about him and pass it around.”) Outside of that, I will say this. It’s funny because there’s another name of another guy that’s maybe one of the most vocal guys. After my mom passed away, this guy wrote me the first e-mail that I got. He said “I remember you talking about your mom at this spot that you and I were in one time on a show together. I just wanted to say how sorry I am. I knew she meant a lot to you. As far as some of the backlash, and some of the things people are saying, it’s all a game.”
He admitted to me he embraced it simply to satisfy his fans. I’m behind the scenes, and I know the real deal with some of the things people are saying. I can tell you who’s the cynics, and I can tell you who’s jealous. I can tell you who’s really proud of me. It doesn’t inform how I live or how I create at all. Not one iota. If it did, man, I probably would have curled up in a ball a long time ago. I just enjoy that I’m still doing it and I can have a day like today where people are just laughing at my stuff, laughing at my comedy.
That raises an interesting dichotomy, and I don’t mean to make it all about you being this hot point in comedy, but, it is –
Listen, listen. Let’s call a spade a spade. Can we put it all on the table? I’m the highest grossing, highest achieving comedian since, they say, Steve Martin. Maybe Dice with his arena tour. When you have six albums today on iTunes, you understand, or maybe you’d need to be a comedian or in this rare air to realize everybody’s pissed because they don’t know how to do what I did. OK? And you know what? I don’t really know how I did what I did. I just focused on fans. I got on MySpace. I used the Internet. I sent links to my comedy. I just got out on the road and I just was funny. I never gave less than 100 percent for any crowd whether it was 10 people or 10,000 or who knows how many people. If we’re really – I don’t know how people are going to read this, and certainly you might be setting me up for disaster right now, but the truth is, man, nobody is doing what I did. I should just wear a bull’s-eye coat. I get it. It doesn’t make me upset or frustrated or angry at all. I get it, but I don’t hang with it. I hang with the same friends I’ve had for 20 years. I have an amazing family. My fans are satisfied. I’m still here. I’m not going anywhere. I feel like I’m in the best shape physically, mentally, comedically. That stuff that you’re bringing up? A lot of it is on the bathroom wall. Some of that stuff you’re reading I’ve squashed with the people you’re probably reading about. It just stays on the internet. It keeps whizzing around. It doesn’t make up anything of what it is that I am or what I’ll continue to be.
Here’s the question I think is interesting about this, and it’s a point you brought up. Some people are going talk about it like it’s a game, and I definitely get that. Controversy helps everyone. It’s funny to have a little fun with it and whatever, but you also say that a lot of is jealousy. Is that a viable defense? Andrew Dice Clay was on the radio and came to your rescue, said “Look, this guy is making a ton of money. Obviously what he’s doing works.” And there is some truth to that, but is that ultimately a defense to a charge where people are saying comedy is an art and they take issue with your art?
Yeah. But isn’t that what we do with everybody? Now having been kind of in an upper echelon and met celebrities, like Mike Dirnt from Green Day. Everybody gets murdered when you hit a new kind of success. I’m no different. I’m not special. I’m not unique. I can’t sit here and say to you like yeah man, look at me, I’m like the Jesus of comedy. I’m not. I’m a funny guy. I hit a high, unlike other people. Some of these comedians have come to me and said, “Dude, a lot of what I’ve said about you is because I’m pissed. How do I do that? How do I avoid having to go through a network, or be on this one show – how can I do that?” They let me even know there is some angst and frustration. Listen man, It’s not all jealousy. Some of is actual – I’m not funny dude. I’m not funny to a lot of people. I’m not funny to more people than I am funny to. When you see a good movie, you tell two people. When you see a bad movie, you tell everybody. I get it. I get it. I smile at it because I talk shit about people too.
When somebody hits a new high, we all want to roast him. I looked at it like, OK. Here’s my hazing. This is a hazing. This is what’s going to go along with when I try to take a big bite out of the universe, the universe is going to take a big fucking bite out of me. It doesn’t rattle me. It doesn’t shake me. I don’t wake up or go to bed thinking about it. It doesn’t, because I know these people. I’ve been around comics my whole life. They’re the best and the worst people I know, comedians. They’re the best people and the worst people I know. They’re fascinating, multi-layered, multi-textured. That’s how they can take the world around them and get up on stage and present it and make it interesting and funny. Some of the guys that even say some of this stuff, I think some of them are brilliant. I’m still fans of their comedy. I may not always understand some of the things, whether it is jealousy or just a simple not being a fan and the ballbusting and hazing that goes along with it, and a myriad of another reasons.
It didn’t take me off my path because my path is not the guy over here. I couldn’t do it the way Steve Martin did it. This guy over here is not going to do it the way I did it. I don’t know. Maybe a college course could study it, but it just goes along with all levels of celebrity now having known other people. I talked to Steve Martin. I got to have an amazing conversation with him one night. I read Born Standing Up. I read that book because at 34 I played my first arena. At 34 Steve Martin played his first arena. I read that book like I was reading his personal diary because I wanted answers. I wanted to know how to deal with some of the shit I know only he dealt with. There were things in that book that spoke to me, that I read between the lines and I got. I went back and watched all the Steve Martin stuff and read all these interviews about the comics at the Comedy Store turning their backs on him. He wouldn’t want to go in there any more. How all the stuff that happened to me, then meeting him and having a conversation and really having an epiphany and understanding it has nothing to do with me. It has nothing.
There’s a great quote I heard the other day. Somebody said, “What other people think of me is none of my business.” That’s how I do it, man. If we’re not talking about it right here, this stuff, it doesn’t come up in my circle, my friends, my family. It’s only when we’re chatting about it with people like yourself who, it’s your due diligence to explore it from every side. I respect that, but I’ve got to tell you, it’ll never resonate with me.
I was doing an interview with Jim Norton and we were talking about how he has books coming out, he has Opie & Anthony, and I was asking him about a growing level of success and how it can be bad for comedy. Do you find you have issues with doing comedy from the same place being successful versus when you were coming up?
I don’t feel any different on stage. When I step on stage, I was just saying to someone recently, with everything I’ve dealt with in my life, the one thing that I know is when I step on stage, I just feel like time, space, all that stuff around me, none of that speaks to me when I’m on stage. It literally becomes that thing of “What have I absorbed around me that’s funny? What are things that have happened to me in my life or that I’ve seen?”
I’ve seen other comics that might get up on stage. I’ve watched them, say, Chappelle definitely struggled since the $50 million man came up on the front page of USA Today. You watched and I’ve watched and I certainly learned from it and really studied from it. OK, if that says $50 million man, and you step on stage and you start talking about, “Hey, I was watching TV last night,” the crowd’s going, “Yeah. On your 90 inch, dual plasma.” How people perceive you when they sit in that seat, you can’t step up there and let things that they’ve read, or whatever they’ve learned or like even what we’re talking about, negative or whatever. All of that will go away. They’ll forget about all of that if you just come with something real.
Norton is right. It doesn’t matter what you’re putting out there or advertising. It’s how you live your life away from the stage that informs what you can talk about. I live in Hollywood, but that’s about as Hollywood as I am. I don’t visit any of these hotspots. I never have. I’m a homebody. If I’m not on the computer doing updates or whatever I’m doing, I live a pretty simple, nine-to-five type life. I do my shows. I do these arena shows. They’re huge. I come off stage, I drink a bottle of water. I don’t drink. I’ve never had a drink or a drug in my life. I go home and I’m pretty quiet, man. I’m pretty low-key. I kind of live very, very simply so I that I can still absorb and look at the world around me and find the little nuggets of funny in everyday human behavior. I’m really happy that I can step on stage even tonight when I go up to the Laugh Factory and work on my new stuff, that it’s just “Oh, something I read today on CNN.com” just, oh, that struck me as funny. And I can wring out those little truthful moments because I’m the same as when I started.
The special at the Laugh Factory, a very small audience. I think 30 people was the number I read?
No, no. That was kind of misunderstood. I was stopping in there and doing the set in front of sometimes 30 people. The show itself ended up being in front of about 400 people. The DVD is me in front of like, oh, 11 people. Sometimes 30 people. Just leading up to the bombs, the good sets and how the material came together.
OK, so obviously, 400, they had announced the show ahead of time and sold out the Laugh Factory I assume?
Yeah, we did it over three nights, one hour each.
I guess some of what I read said it was unannounced and done in one take, so I guess that was incorrect?
No, it was. Thursday night, the whole idea was the Goodfellas walk in and follow me up on stage. Thursday night was a debacle, technically and comedically just nothing worked. The lights. The mic was fucked up. You name it. I walked off stage, I walked up to the director … I just looked at him said, “I’m sure as you looked into my eyes through the monitor I looked dead. Just flush it down the toilet. That sucked.” Friday night I came in and I was really in my head because of all the shit that went down Thursday. It was a very by-the-numbers, not a club set. I just felt almost robotic. These. Are. The. Jokes. I was a bit scared that what happened Thursday would happen. I was just in my head, and I’m never in my head when I go on stage. Saturday night, I guess you could say was almost magical. In that club it was one of the best sets I felt like I had in 10 years. I don’t think I stammered a word. I wasn’t really thinking about cameras. I was just doing what I wanted to do, which was getting up on stage and delivering a show. That’s it. It’s the Saturday night show. It’s one take.
The way Vegas is now your act fits here. Would doing an extended run in Vegas be something you’d ever consider?
Sure. Probably down the road a bit. I think it would be kind of fun. It’s always a blast to pop in and out of Vegas. I feel like it’s part of a history of Vegas, comedically. The Don Rickles, the Rat Pack and everything else. The whole history thing resonates with me when I get there. I feel like I’m living up to the Vegas standard and delivering above, which is just a good show. I want people walking out of there feeling like it was part of the whole mystique of Vegas. Like “Fuck, I saw was a great show” and the world that’s happening outside is part of that energy. I don’t want to let up on people. I want to give that same synergy. I definitely feel like I want to go in and do something unique and special for Vegas. Down the line, I’ll probably do something when I’m a little bit older back in Vegas.