Talking With Dane Cook About Comedy’s Greatest Venues, Milestones, and Making Trouble



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Dane Cook has a brand new special coming out this Friday called Troublemaker.  It’s his first new comedy release in four years,  and there’s a lot of excitement over the new hour that is set to debut on Showtime on Friday October 17th.  We got to spend some time talking with Dane about the new special, his career, and some of his favorite venues he’s performed in over the years.

The IBang: Your new special is called Troublemaker. And you definitely are one.

Dane Cook: Yes. This material is road tested and I’ve had a lot of couples either email me or come to me and say, we came to your show and when we left it was over. We knew the relationship had hit its highest echelon and was going down the other side.

The IBang:  Do you have a favorite piece from the special?

Dane Cook:  I wouldn’t say so much a favorite but the whole piece of stuff in and around tech, and relationships and how we communicate or lack of communication through tech and how we present and perceive ourselves through social networking. That to me is interesting. There’s a lot of comedy to be mined in that. It’s also a break from the norm where we’ve done relationship humor to death over the last 30 years of comedy. So it kinds of breathes new life inside that genre and that topic. So to me that whole portion of the routine, comes from really having to endure it myself. We’re all in that world now where people want to be and seem to be keeping up with one another. When your first I love you is through text, you know you’re in a modern day relationship.

The IBang:  You have had so many milestones in your career. Some of them the standard milestones– like hosting SNL or graduating to another size theater– and some of them are uniquely yours like a few records you’ve set. Were those goals you specifically set out to reach? Or did they just happen?

I said, if I’m going to do this, you have one promise from me. I’m going to take this as high and as far as I can go.

Dane Cook:  A little bit of both. I was a big pipe dreamer when I was a kid. I would definitely say lofty. I had lofty goals. But I also think that naivete and a little bit of gumption kind of go a long way. When you’re young and you’re looking at your heroes that you want to emulate– people like Steve Martin, people like Jerry Lewis who entertained the world. I was a student of these guys and I loved the art of stand up comedy. So when I got into it, honestly I turned to my family and I said if I’m going to to do it, I might as well think of this like I want to be one of the best. Why would I half ass it or say, I want to be kind of good. No. If I’m going to do this one thing in my life, and I’m going to forego college, I told my parents, I’m not going to go to school, I’m going to pound the pavement. I told them, I said, if I’m going to do this, you have one promise from me. I’m going to take this as high and as far as I can go. They were psyched to hear that. They knew that I loved making people laugh. So when those things started to come to fruition it was a pleasant surprise to all of us, and yet a little part of the boyish enthusiasm in me- you can see in those moments because part of me is really going, I can’t believe that I’m here. I can’t believe that I did this.

The IBang:  Are you able to sit back and appreciate each thing? Or are you usually ready to take on the next challenge immediately.

Dane Cook:  Well, in retrospect, I’ve been better at looking back and absorbing those moments. I think there was a good chunk of my life where it was just kind of moving. Just constantly– cause things were developing so quickly when I hit 30 and everything really started turning the corner. My grassroots following was really starting to turn into thousands of people showing up suddenly. There was not a lot of time to really take it in– I’m just kind of running [sings Jackson Browne, running on empty] and its like eight years. There’s two things that happen when it breaks open. The number one thing is, you don’t know how long its going to last, so you kind of want to kind of hunt and gather as quickly as possible so you can pay the rent for as long as possible, and then when it seems to be sustaining and you’re becoming a brand and household name, there becomes a whole other kind of responsibility of, now how do I keep it. How do I pay the workers at my company. How do I come through for my team who also want to see me branch out. So there was a good run where I didn’t take a lot of time to look in the rearview mirror. But the last several years I’ve really– and especially with the next generations of comedians coming up– I can share with them some of the perils and I can also give them a little shot in the arm of how things are possible and you can really get to some of those milestones if you keep a healthy head and a strong heart.

The IBang:  You’re on the move a lot– even literally. You might have even been moving more than you’ve stayed still in your life.

Dane Cook:  I would second that, sure.

The IBang:  So when you talk about passing things on to the next generation– do you think that being on the road makes you a better comedian? Or is it just an economic reality?

But I will tell them one thing, which is, don’t grind so hard out there that you party it all away and suddenly you’re waking up on the other side of your late thirties going, man I guess i just didn’t work enough on the vision board of it all at home

The IBang:  Yeah, well its definitely economic. You’ve got to pay the rent and you have to find your fans. The road is a little tricky. And listen, I’m sure everybody’s got a little different perspective. My personal feeling was, too much of the road starts to– I think everybody has to have roots somewhere. And even if that means you’re going to go on the road, you always have to feel like you have a place to come back to that really is a home base.  And so I always tell guys, make sure you pick a comedy city that you really feel like you can flourish in. And at the same time, in the interim, go out, do some road stuff here and there. You know what, I dont give a lot of advice on what you should do, I can only tell you what I did. But I will tell them one thing, which is, don’t grind so hard out there that you party it all away and suddenly you’re waking up on the other side of your late thirties going, man I guess i just didn’t work enough on the vision board of it all at home where I really needed to come up with kind of a business platform so to speak. You’ve got to have both. You’ve got to be a businessman and a comedian in this day and age. And I think a lot of these guys are doing it well, whether they are podcasting, or sharing in each others interviews online offline, I think that’s all smart. I think that whenever they are kind of raising each other up, that’s the modern day comedian. It’s less about just skulking in the background and leaving it all to the performance. If you want more people to see your comedy, you gotta get out there and you gotta really have some kind of business idea of where you would like to see yourself go. And I think you gotta be moving towards that, not just moving towards the next gig on the road.

Dane Cook Names Comedy’s Greatest Stages

We also talked with Dane about some of his favorite venues that he’s played over the course of his twenty year career.  Dane’s played so many venues — some humble, some grandiose– throughout his career making him somewhat of an expert.

The first that came to mind,  a favorite– the Fox Theater in Detroit.  On his last tour, he played the Fox on the night the infamous theater turned 85 years old.  “I had never been in a room like that. I’d never seen an edifice so magnificent. And it was just gorgeous. Standing there, making people laugh in this just palatial room, was something I’ll never forget. Looking up at that ceiling when I was getting some laughs, and I just remember that.”

The Ed Sullivan Stage held special meaning for him.  First, it had personal importance. David Letterman giving him his first late night spot ever.  But it was more than that.  The historic significance of the space was not lost on a young Dane Cook.  “I’m standing where the Beatles stood. I’m also standing where there were dancing bears, but the Beatles stood here.”

Dane also remembered what it felt like to take the stage at the one and only, Madison Square Garden.  “Standing at Madison Square Garden in that Hallway, in the back hallway where you know Zeppelin stood, and Bob Hope stood, and Elvis– everybody stood in that hallway waiting for their name to be said. And to me that was an exciting place to stand. Leaning against that wall that I know many of my favorite artists stood with their butt against the wall bouncing waiting for somebody to say their name, to give them permission to go out and be who they are.”

Of course he also mentioned Carnegie Hall– no list of great venues would be complete without it.

But not every great space is big.  There are also the spaces he referred to as “the small and mighty.”

Among those that are small and mighty are two New York City small powerhouses– the Comedy Cellar, and the new Comedy Underground that is a part of the Cellar.  “Arguably two of the best stages a comedian could perform on. Their ceilings are right up against your head. Everything you see- it looks like you’re inside a washing machine, it’s pretty intimate in there. And yet there’s nothing like it. You have to strive to play those places.”

And in his home city, there’s his home base club, The Laugh Factory. “It’s a tourist spot, you get a nice mix of people. Sometimes comedians think LA is not as authentic. It’s certainly not New York City but I love the Laugh Factory because it’s my home base and people from all around the world and the United States are coming there to see me, so I always feel like I get to hit a nice wide demo in that one place to work out new material.”

But it’s New York City, where he feels comedy really thrives, noting that even though he loves the Laugh Factory he has to “get back to New York.” Really, if I can’t get anywhere else, to go down to the village and perform in those spots.  Spots like Gotham, The Stand, and the new UCB Theater East.

Perhaps his appreciation for a great room comes from his more humble origins– one of his first rooms he performed was a laundry mat.  “I would bring a little gorilla amp, and a very very crappy microphone that I think I borrowed from the local church and I would go in and do shows for people while they were sitting there bored, waiting for their laundry to go through the system there.”

Why?  He wanted to get better, and had always heard, that if you want to get better, play wherever you can play.  Standing in a park, a hallway, or….a laundrymat.

“I think I need to go back there and maybe do one more gig in the old laundrymat back in my old hometown.”

With all of the arena tours, theaters and the occasional laundrymat, what’s left?

He’s still thinking big.

“You know, I’d love to play the Sydney Opera House. I think that would be a wonderful experience.”

Dane Cook’s new special “Troublemakers” premiers on Showtime this Friday at 10pm.



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