Long before Kevin Hart and Dave Chappelle was selling out stadiums, before Louis C.K., Bill Barr and Sebastian Maniscalco were headlining hockey arenas, there was rock and rolling, brashly observational, often downright silly stand-up comedian Dane Cook doing much of the same thing. Selling out Madison Square Garden. Making upward of $20 million a tour. Starring in hit films such as 2007’s Good Luck, Chuck. Recording double platinum-plated comedy albums such as 2005’s Retaliation when double platinum meant hard units sold and not streams. Yeah, that was Dane Cook.
All that, and still Cook – like the legendary Rodney Dangerfield before him – got no respect, instead getting dissed as being a hack, most famously by Seth MacFarlane and, sadly, even Louis C.K. who accused Cook of plagiarizing his act, not long before C.K. himself had his own crimes for which to contend. Even Cook’s half-brother and one-time business manager stole $12 million from the stand-up comic, adding hurt and insult to injury. What’s a guy to do?
Cook took some time off from stand-up comedy after his last mega-tour in 2013), hit the boards for a small theater showcase – Tell It Like It Is – in 2019. Now, Cook is back on the double attack with a streaming stand-up special, Above it All, that is available at his website, and a series of large scale theaters and big casino shows for 2023’s Perfectly Shattered tour, starting in Red Bank NJ on March 2, followed up by two shows at Bensalem’s Parx Casino’s XCite Center (March 3 and 4), the Yaamava Theater in Highland, CA (March 31), then The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas on – what better time- April Fool’s Day, April 1.
While 2021 saw him reopen West Hollywood’s Laugh Factory for its first post-pandemic gig and 2022 brought with it joy as the 50 year-old stand-up comedian got engaged to his 23-year-old girlfriend Kelsi Taylor, I did this interview with Cook in 2019 in the middle of his Tell Like It Is tour. My guess is, Cook’s words still stand true.
A.D. Amorosi: How does the nature of ambition change with age, as time goes on? Considering all of the success that you’ve had, are you still hungry?
Dane Cook: I still have the same sense of ambition. It’s more about an inward journey at this point, and what I can share with fans and those who continue to check in with me.
A.D. Amorosi: Talk about sharing, you were one of the first comedians to use social media outlets like MySpace and Napster for publicity. You even had your own website, which was a big deal then. Currently, you have like 10 million followers between Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (now including Tik Tok as of 2023) As you’ve progressed, how do you use social media as an expression of who you are without giving way the game or the punchlines?
Dane Cook: That’s my wheelhouse. I love talking comedy and creativity, but what gets me kicking is the hows and whys of promotion. Getting publicity in a world that is very corporate – the question becomes how can you, independently, find your fans and an avenue in which to share art. When I was coming up, the allure was of me sitting in California, and going through this new window where I could talk with a guy in Delaware or a girl in Tampa, and share ideas that were funny, quirky. I was at the tip of the spear on that moment. Today, it is different. You’re up against backlash, naysayers, rubbernecks who just want to cause trouble. So, now you’re a referee doing a lot of defending beyond the art. Still, there’s one thread that remains: you want to be in people’s pockets with ideas and content for people to engage in.
A.D. Amorosi: Discussing the idea of defending one’s art. In the past you faced such a problem by making a joke about the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting too soon, and caught flack. Comedians, now, more than ever, have to watch their words. You picked a pretty odd time to reappear on the stand-up scene.
Dane Cook: This is my 29th year of doing stand-up (in 2019), and what was mission critical on this tour was, as I was putting together new ideas was what people were responding to Look , this moment is heavily politicized. Regardless of what side – red state, blue state. I found that people still wanted to escape. What can I say that someone on a daily nightly news comedy show or during a talk show monologue hasn’t said brilliantly and poignantly? That’s not my lane. So as this tour started,. I’m still about things that are happening observationally. I’m just not pushing any kind of agenda down anyone’s throats.
A.D. Amorosi: You famously auditioned for Captain America as part of the Marvel movie universe. What sort of super hero would you have made?
Dane Cook: What I didn’t realize then – I wanted to bring a lot of the humor that I recognized from the comics to my performance. I loved Michael Keaton– a one-time stand-up comedian – as Batman. I had seen comics play these darker cartoon characters and still bring levity to the part. That’s what I was hoping to do.
A.D. Amorosi: You mentioned haters earlier. You have been in a business where you have been slammed, put down and stolen from and have come out of it sounding pretty gleeful.
Dane Cook: It does feel great. After a time, you actually appreciate the slings and arrows because you wouldn’t be where are now if not for what happened, without having to experience them. The two elements that I always wanted to have that only time could give me is pedigree and being seasoned. I needed to add more life to my arsenal. I needed to go through ups and downs. I’m the most present I’ve ever been as a performer.
A.D. Amorosi: As gentlemanly as you are here, will the idea of karma come up on stage, a message to those detractors of yours, some of whom – face it – are in far worse places now than when they dissed you?
Dane Cook: A.D. It is just important for me to be emotionally honest up there on the stage. Like I said earlier, it is about observing and reporting, I grew up loving George Carlin – who, yes, was often somewhat political – because he could shift into so many gears and tell so many different kind-of stories in so many different ways. When I get on stage, I still have a love of the game. The enthusiasm is organic, not put on. I do have dark corners though. I definitely feel like I have joy at having had – and still do – a successful run at this industry. I can also articulate when the dark corners better. Playing into the karma idea, how this stuff all comes full circle, is part of all this.