‘Cook’-ing Stand-Up Comedy at the Improv
Today in the world of entertainment, there are so many success-stories in music, film and other media whose subjects have little or no control over their own destinies. They might simply take the advice of others and surrender creativity to the ‘powers that be’ in order to rush to the top. Such acts fizzle quickly and the dream they are living is not necessarily their own.
Comedian Dane Cook is no such character. Not only did he never have a shred of doubt as to his career aspirations, but he apparently never faltered in pursuit of his ambition.
‘[Being a stand-up comic] was the only thing I ever wanted to be. There was really nothing else from a very young age,’ Cook said. ‘You always hear that sometimes people are born and you kind of know what you want to do, and that was me. I remember telling my mom and dad when I was in seventh grade that I wasn’t going to go to college because I wanted to be a comic. I’m definitely living the dream right now.’
Such a dream has taken Cook from appearances on ‘The Late Show with David Letterman,’ to his own Comedy Central special, ‘Comedy Central Presents Dane Cook,’ to his self-released comedy CD, ‘Harmful If Swallowed,’ which has sold over 80,000 copies. Cook’s next stop is The Improv at the Irvine Spectrum, where he insists that, like his other shows, each appearance will be a unique one in terms of his routine.
‘When it comes to my stand-up, I like to keep it very free-flowing. I like to take a shell of an idea on-stage and just kind of mold it up there. That’s just always been my approach,’ Cook explained. ‘I found I was more in the moment when I was doing improv. It seems like the laughs that I got, too, were more authentic, in-the-moment laughs. When you go to see a band … you want to feel like the show is for you. I think every crowd really wants that. So I try to do a show that will not be repeated. I just want to be able to take the mood of the day and take improv and bring it together.’
Cook grew up in what he described as the ‘laid-back middle-class town’ of Arlington, Mass. After establishing himself in and around Boston and New York City, Cook decided it was time to expand his outreach and his fan base and visited San Francisco. From there, Cook turned Hollywood upside down and has been building his success there for the past six years.
It sounds as though Cook never lets a day go by in which he doesn’t feel thankful for his success.
‘I’m a fan of the art of stand-up comedy and I’ve always given it so much respect,’ Cook said. ‘I don’t think most people realize the amount of work and dedication it takes to be a comic because most people aren’t even as lucky as myself to get to a point where you sell out rooms or have a fan base that I’ve been really blessed to have. It’s a tough life and at the same time, at the end of the day, you want to bring laughter to people. So I have great respect for it and I watch comedy every night. I love to be in clubs every night of my life.’
Furthermore, Cook thinks comedy should be an escape and accordingly tries to provide this in his shows by steering clear of certain topics that might weigh his audience down.
‘I do think of ideas or possibilities with something political or something happening in the news today,’ Cook said. ‘When I get onstage my brain never really picks those up to play with, even if I’ve thought during the day, ‘This would be a John Kerry thing’ or whatever. I think it’s because the core of what I’ve always wanted my stand-up to be is escapism. We hear so many things about, let’s say, the debates. Even when you’re laughing at that, it’s still like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to vote.’ I don’t want any pressure in my shows. I want people to come in and really forget what’s going on. They can deal with that when they go back to their regular lives.’
Instead, Cook focuses on the balance between the verbal and physical delivery of his comedy.
‘I like to move around a lot,’ Cook said. ‘I like to take the whole stage. Some of the more sarcastic sides or taglines get a lot of the reaction, so it’s great to have a whole physical bit or something that’s a little over-the-top. But I’ve always aspired to be a writer-performer. I never wanted to just be a physical comic or a guy who stands still. I’ve always wanted to be able to have it so that I could have an audio CD and you could listen to it in your car or I could have a video and you could turn the sound down and watch it and still laugh.’
So what makes Dane Cook so funny?
‘I try to keep it so I don’t know predictably what makes me funny,’ Cook said. ‘I almost like to not think about comedy at all when I’m not onstage. I don’t think about stand-up unless I’m coming up with an idea. And then I’ll make myself forget about it. I won’t even think about it until I get to the club, and then I’ll just take it up there. No real method to the madness, just trying to keep it sharp by trusting my instinct.’
So when it comes down to it, what can audiences look forward to on Oct. 21 through Oct. 24 at The Improv? According to Cook, they should expect ‘the unexpected.’