Guess who’s back?
Four years after taking the country by storm with his last major tour — 2009’s “ISolated INcident” — Dane Cook is preparing to hit the road again this fall. He’s calling his latest venture “Under Oath,” a loaded name that wasn’t chosen lightly. “As a comedian, I am obligated to tell you the truth, my truth,” he explained to EW in an exclusive interview. “To share with you my beliefs, my perspective. And I think that we forget sometimes that that’s the oath that comics take, that we will go up and share everything — the irreverent, the scary.”
Cook’s words indicate that he won’t shy away from covering tough stuff in the new show, which he’s been honing for years at Los Angeles’s Laugh Factory — subjects like his failed NBC series Next Caller (which was canceled before airing a single episode), joke-stealing allegations that led to a memorable guest appearance on Louie in 2011, and the army of haters determined to pounce on his every misstep. (A sampling of headlines written after Cook controversially announced that he wouldn’t live-stream his performance at May’s Boston Strong charity concert: “Everyone Hates Dane Cook More After Boston Strong Jerkiness;” “Dane Cook Can Even Find Ways to Make You Hate Him at a Boston Charity Show;” “Benefit Concert Unites Americans in Love of Boston, Hatred of Dane Cook.“)
Just don’t expect something dour, heavy, and confessional. With his new set, Cook is aiming to emulate the tone of 2003’s Harmful if Swallowed, his lighthearted breakthrough album — one that was made before his mother died of cancer in 2006, his father died of cancer in 2007, and his half-brother Darryl McCauley was jailed for embezzling millions from Cook in 2010. His understated assessment of that dark period: “Everything was kind of out of whack for a bit.”
But “the last couple of years onstage has been a lot lighter,” Cook continued. “The [new] set is a lot more random. It’s what I think I do best, which is observational comedy, relationships — I love gender stuff. I love getting into the wiring of men and women. So a lot of it really hearkens back to discovering myself in that first CD.” He’s also looking forward to taking his act to theaters with capacities somewhere between the intimate Laugh Factory and the cavernous Madison Square Garden, which Cook has sold out twice — as Cook says, because he got so massively popular so quickly, “I had kind of skipped over the part as you’re going up the food chain and playing larger and larger venues, and [I] never had a chance to play these incredible theaters.”
For more on what fans (and anti-fans) can expect when Cook goes “Under Oath” — as well as his reaction to the Boston Strong backlash, his stance on rape jokes, and how he handles his haters — check out our exclusive interview with the comedian below. P.S. If you’re looking for tour dates and ticket-buying info, just scroll.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I wanted to start out by asking how much of your new show is just you reciting dialogue verbatim from Disney’s Planes.
DANE COOK: [laughs] Can I just first say — I’m like, completely over the moon right now, because this is the first time I’m speaking about the new tour — which I’ve been working on and had under wraps for well over a year. So to finally be talking about it, it’s just an incredible moment. I will not [laughs] be reciting lines from the up and coming Disney’s Planes, but I’m sure that I might be talking about my experience and stuff.
So what sort of topics will you be covering?
My goal initially was, I wanted to do a theater tour. So I always start that process of building a routine based around the setting — do I want it to be really intimate, like ISolated INcident, which was in the Laugh Factory, in front of a few hundred people? Do I want this to be a Madison Square Garden? Is this like an event type of show? And the thing that kept resonating with me was just this intimacy — being closer, being right there kind of in the thick with the fans. It also was fans writing me over the years, saying, “I love seeing you in these huge venues, and it’s like a rock and roll show, but someday I’d love to see you where I can sit two rows back and feel like you’re talking right to me.” So it was a collaboration, a fan collaboration and also something that I’ve been kind of itching to do over the years.
With a tour like this, how much material do you work out beforehand and how much is improvised?
I do try to keep my show very improvisational. I don’t work off a set list; I like to keep it more in the moment. I like to have information about where I’m going, what might be happening in that particular region as well. I like for people to feel like the show is for them.
How do you think going quickly from small clubs to big stadiums affected your development as a comedian?
I don’t know that it really stunted any growth. There were so many years before any of the large-scale shows where I was doing a lot of colleges. Those shows were in some sense theater shows, because I’d be playing a basketball arena, or like, these huge cafeterias. So I was always used to these college settings where people would be crammed in, couple of thousand here, couple of thousand there. With me, it’s all about that theme and vibe and element, and it just felt like that was the right fit for the material that I’m doing now, and where I’m at in my head space, and how I interact with my fans, and the way the show itself has developed.
The fans are really — they’re incredible. They really rally and they root for me, and I feel like we’ve been on a ride together. I think that they also value that, like anybody who’s in this industry, you take your knocks, and you have to kind of take them with pride, and you have to suck ‘em up. Sometimes, I think the fans take it more personally than the person at the center of it. For me, I turn those things into something constructive.
You faced a lot of criticism in May after pulling your Boston show from the Boston Strong live stream. A lot of fans were pretty angry — what was your reaction to their reaction?
Wow. [long pause] It’s an emotional thing to talk about because of how it all started. I would say that was a consequence that I would have never have imagined becoming a greater issue. [It] was distressing. But I love the people of Boston, I love the city of Boston. I shed tears and mourned and felt everything that my family and friends back there were going through, and so, it took a — it’s hard to even really talk about now, because of being in the room that evening and being a part of something that was incredibly healing and a wonderful, wonderful evening for the victims and the people that needed that healing. I would say [to] the people that are still hurt or upset, that I will continue to work as hard as I can at rectifying that. My Boston show [on the Under Oath tour] — my plan is to give 100% of my proceeds that evening to the One Fund.
[Shortly after our interview ended, Cook called back to confirm that all proceeds from the tour's final performance in Boston will be donated to the One Fund, which was formed to assist those affected by April's Boston Marathon bombing.]
In your standup special in 2009, you included a bit about Googling yourself. Do you still do that?
[laughs] Nah. It’s hard, because in this day and age, it’s almost like you don’t even need to go outward. If haters or whatever want to find you — I mean, some of them are so tenacious. You want to hire them to work for you. They’re very, very savvy in terms of how they find you and get to you. Good or bad, I just want to be able to continue to say and share what I do, without letting the integrity get altered by what [other people] think is working or isn’t working.
Did you follow this spring’s big rape-joke controversy?
It’s the one where you start out by talking about not using the word “gay” in a flippant way.
Oh yes, the video game reference.
And then you say we should stop throwing the word “rape” around.
Yes. Yeah, I think it kind of goes hand in hand with what I’ve been working on with the new comedy. The name of my new tour is Under Oath, [and] I think we forget sometimes that comics take that oath. It’s all about getting that pinprick and releasing something through discussion. Do we really want to handcuff our comedians, or do we want to give them the opportunity to get conversation started, and of course to find lightness and humor? That’s our obligation.
Are there any topics you don’t want to touch?
I don’t think you go into it thinking like that. I grew up in an uncomfortable household. We had a lot of hardship. We had alcoholism in my family. We had abuse in our family. And we talked about it, and we joked about it. And we allowed each other to not [only] feel like the elephant was in the room — but we’d be riding on the elephant. [laughs] I want that to be a part of what my comedy is — we can talk about anything here, and I’m not coming at you with malice. I’m not coming at you in a way to make somebody feel ostracized. I’m here to try to say your uniqueness and the things that have hurt you make you special. I’m not a healer — but you come in here, we leave everything outside for the show, and we just enjoy the humor in ourselves: in the things that make us cool, in the things that make us badass, but also the things that make us feel broken or left out. I can look at both sides of that. I’ve lived that life. I have been out, way out, and I’ve been in, way in. I have felt like I am the belle of the ball, and I have felt like I’m sitting out on the edge of the highway by myself. So I understand and I try to reflect that in my comedy.
Which of those places do you feel like you’re in right now?
I feel like the last two years have been two of the happiest of the last decade. It’s kind of the Act 2 of both a life and a career — 23 years into comedy, 41 years into my life. I’m more comfortable in my skin. I make better choices in my life. And I’m also prepared when it hits the fan. I’ve been in the best kind of mental shape the last couple of years.
You’ve had a few setbacks recently, though – your NBC show getting canceled, your Broadway debut getting postponed.
Considering that, do you feel like standup is sort of your safe space?
I think we all realize, especially as comics, that all that other stuff — there’s so many moving parts, and there’s so many people involved. It’s almost like you don’t know how those things even get to the point of success. But we know that on any given night we can find a stage by ourselves. It’s wonderful to still be able to step up on that stage. It feels like the first time I’ve stepped onstage [every time]. It feels exactly the same. It doesn’t feel better, it doesn’t feel worse. It still feels like my safe haven. I start with nothing, and then you form a relationship with the crowd, and by the end of the evening, you feel like you’ve received something and given something. It’s the best.
Are you still personally answering emails from your fans?
I wish people still emailed as much as they used to! But with the new website and once the tour’s up and running, then absolutely, I will still end every day responding to emails.
Well, prepare for a flood of emails to come in now.
I want to start today. I’m ready to start touring right now. The fact that I have to wait a couple more months, it’s hard.
Are you also prepared to start dealing with a flood of negativity from the other side?
I don’t focus on that. I don’t really think of it. I can tell you that there is way more positivity — there’s a lot more heart and a lot more warmth. So yes, let there be hate, to keep it in “Under Oath” theme — but that’s just part of it. I don’t have all the answers, but I do understand one thing — and that is, there’s way more people that are rooting for you than there are people trying to thwart that.
Tickets for Dane Cook’s “Under Oath” tour will go on sale Friday, July 12, 2013 at 10 a.m. ET at AXS.com, LiveNation.com, Ticketmaster.com, and each venue’s box office. Tour dates are below.
Sep 12: Washington DC – DAR Constitution Hall
Sep 13: Philadelphia, PA – Tower Theatre
Sep 14: New York NY – Beacon Theatre
Sep 19: Kansas City MO – The Midland by AMC
Sep 20: Milwaukee WI – Riverside Theatre
Sep 21: Detroit, MI – Fox Theatre
Sep 22: Chicago IL – Chicago Theatre
Sep 25: Seattle WA – Paramount Theatre
Sep 26: Portland OR – Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
Sep 27: San Francisco CA – Warfield Theatre
Sep 28: Los Angeles CA – Orpheum Theatre
Oct 3: Houston, TX – Bayou Music Center
Oct 4: Atlanta, GA – The Tabernacle
Oct 5: Dallas, TX – Majestic Theatre
Oct 6: Nashville, TN – Ryman Auditorium
Oct 11-12: Las Vegas, NV – Venetian Theatre
Oct 19: Boston, MA – Orpheum Theatre