Meet Dane Cook, the guy with 374,026 friends, and counting
On a steamy Miami night, August 28, to be exact, Hurricane Katrina had just left her calling card, dousing the city, and the sky shrieked with fireworks, but there were far flashier things on the ground. MTV’s Video Music Awards, that extravaganza of attitude and bling, had rolled into town, trailing Hummer limos. At American Airlines Arena, paparazzi awaited the arrival of A-list names and their posses, the glint of 200-carat chains, the flesh and fashion and sheer fabulousness, the profusion of sunglasses, the exhibition hair. Up the red carpet, down a gauntlet of screaming fans, strolled rap stars and rock stars and movie stars, hangers-on and handlers, the wannabes and the will-never-bes, the indicted and the acquitted…and one comedian.
Make that one very brave comedian. The VMAs were a sensory assault, and he’d be taking the stage without pyrotechnics or sound effects or water bombs. He’d be attempting to charm an ADD-addled audience more concerned with the location of the after-parties than with laughter, which threatened to smear their mascara. He’d be up there without so much as a sparkler to wave around. Just a guy and a mic.
By the time Snoop Dogg, natty in a fedora, introduced him, the show was more than two hours old. ”Make a little noise for my boy Dane Cook!” And the 33-year-old man MTV had dubbed ”your new favorite comic” emerged on stage through a smoky tunnel and did two fast minutes of stand-up, an hors d’oeuvre of wit. ”We like a little violence in this country,” he said, pacing the stage. ”And I know you’re like me — you can’t deny it — sometimes, when you see someone walking down the street in a Superman T-shirt, you just want to shoot them in the chest.” A knot of fans waved their arms, but their cheers were lost in the cavernous venue. Truth is, it didn’t really matter how the audience responded — more important was the attention this show focused on his new album, Retaliation. The three-disc set had dropped on July 26 and debuted at No. 4 on Billboard, right on the heels of Mariah Carey. This surprised everyone, Cook included, given that comedy albums have long been stuck in the doldrums. Retaliation not only escaped that fate but has become the genre’s most successful showing since 1978, when Steve Martin unleashed A Wild and Crazy Guy. The New York Times weighed in: ”Comedy’s Newest Breakthrough Star: Dane Who?”
The notion of Dane Cook as a new and somewhat unknown comic would amuse Jamie Masada, owner of The Laugh Factory in Los Angeles. His club has hosted stand-up royalty since 1979, and it’s Cook’s home base, a place he sells out anytime he plays and where he has performed for almost eight years. Masada considers him a rare talent, a combination of comic chops and charisma that comes along once in a blue moon: ”Jim Carrey had the same aura, the same electricity about him. Richard Pryor, 26 years ago, he had it.”
To get to the beginning, you have to go back to Cook’s teenage years in Arlington, Massachusetts. Which was when his father, George, a former radio personality, gave him an old tape recorder complete with external microphone and Cook discovered his true love: cracking people up. He went after it with a vengeance, poring over videos and albums by the masters — Cosby, Carson, Carlin; old-timers like Red Skelton; all of them — parsing the details that lit up an act. One of the best places for inspiration, he found, was the family dinner table. Between his five sisters, his older brother, and his parents, someone was always funny. Today, Cook describes his style of humor as a mix of his mother’s endearing exuberance and his father’s dry sarcasm.