Defending Dane Cook

Before I start I want to stress that I don’t know Dane and I’m not doing this to get any kind of edge with him. The closest I’ve got to working with him is when I had to follow him and Dave Attell one night at a Comedy Juice show at the Hollywood Improv. I’m writing this because I read about the backlash he was getting for blocking the live streaming of his performance at the Boston Charity Event and I completely understand where he is coming from.

Dane Cook bashing is on its way to becoming a strange American past time. It is starting to feel like no one even knows why they do it anymore. Can anyone really answer why one man deserves to be so violently criticized for almost everything he does? And yes, when strangers wish a person goes to hell, that is a tiny bit violent of a wish. He evokes the kind of hate Andy Kaufman received during his wrestling career but Andy actually encouraged it. To be honest, there are plenty of comedians who deserve the backlash that Dane constantly receives. I could be an asshole comic and say, “I would take it if I could be as famous as him,” but that’s just dumb. You can say what you want about Dane’s fame but one thing I’ve never heard is, “That guy did nothing to deserve what he has.” All I ever understood is he worked hard. Like really hard. In fact, almost every comic that is famous put in an amount of work that most people would crack under. I wish I could figure out how to work even half as hard. But I don’t want to get off topic.

The reason I defend Dane’s choice is because he says he was performing unreleased material. To realize how important this is, you first have to understand what makes a joke work: The Reveal. The funniest jokes are those that leave the audience wondering where the comic is going to take them. The more you make an audience forget the trip, the stronger the punch is, especially if it ties everything together neatly.

I once saw Robbie Knievel jump two Budweiser trucks at the Capitol in Austin, Texas. The excitement of the night kept everyone on a high. I was up in the front when I saw Robbie get on his bike and drive down two blocks to where he would start. There was a sense of fear since the weather was threatening to change in a moment. We could see lightning in the distance. Robbie’s team informed him he had to complete this jump quick. He raced down the street and zoomed right past the ramp. Everyone expected him to make the jump but he was just prepping his bike. He rode back to the starting point. He revved up again and headed towards the ramp only to slow down upon reaching it and parking perfectly on top of the first ramp in between two American flags and the Texas Capitol. The crowd went nuts. This guy knew how to sell the moment. His handlers climbed up the ramp, took down the American flags and Robbie once again went back to the starting point. This was it. He raced down the street, straight up the ramp, over the two trucks, huge flames shot up into the sky and he landed perfectly on the other ramp. The crowd erupted. He got off his bike, ran up the ramp and raised his arms to the sky. It was one of the coolest things I’d seen and I recorded it all.

Then I watched the tape. Yeah it was cool but it wasn’t the same. In fact, if he tried the jump again immediately after, I’m pretty sure it would have been half as exciting. Nothing like the first time. That’s exactly what happens with a comedian’s routine.

Preparing for a performance, especially as a comic, is nerve wrecking at best. The venue has to be lit correctly with all the light directed toward the stage and as little as possible on the audience. This allows the audience to relax as they are no longer visible to each other and can laugh without judgment from their peers. Any type of distraction has to be immediately handled because people’s attention spans love shiny objects. The sound can be thrown off by a bad mic, misplaced speakers, no artist monitors, long walls and even high ceilings. Yes wall and ceilings can mess it all up. If the venue has long walls and/or high ceilings, the sound waves shoot off into all directions and bounce off the walls incorrectly. If you’ve ever sat in the back of a dining hall and wondered why the person giving the speech sounds terrible, it’s because the acoustics of the room are off. The architecture of a building can be worse than a heckler sometimes. Now assuming that everything is set up correctly for a live one time performance, is it also set up for a live recording? A comedian can be absolutely killing onstage but if the audience doesn’t have a recording mic set up for them, then on video it looks like the comedian is barely getting a response. He looks like he is doing terrible but only because someone forgot to record the laughs. This has ruined plenty of comedians’ personal clips, much less a live streaming.

Okay now let’s say everything was set up perfectly for filming, and the comedian decides to let his performance be filmed. That material is now what comedians call “burned”. According to the rules of comedy, that material should no longer be performed for filming and quite possibly ever. Pieces of the material can be performed as an encore if the crowd wants it but never the entire set as a whole again. Yes, it’s like that. Comedians work years to film the material once and then work hard to never repeat those beloved stories and jokes ever again. Why? Because the audience knows the joke and even if they love it, there is no sense of discovery so they are simply waiting for you to finish so they can cheer. The two Budweiser trucks have been jumped, what more is there to see.

You can argue that the other artists didn’t block their performances. Well that’s because musicians can perform the same song and dance from years without anyone giving a shit. Even then all the audience is waiting for is the chorus to sing along to and for the band to finish so they can cheer.

Let’s imagine now that Dane decided to just perform old routines like the other artists. Everyone would have torn him apart for “calling it in” and “doing old, tired shit.” That would have been probably the nicest comments.

Dane could have taken a risk and performed specially written jokes for the event and only about Boston. That could have been a big win or a huge loss. The only way a comedian knows if a joke works is to develop it for months before “burning it”. We all know Dane didn’t have months to get extra new material ready to burn on top of working on his current new material to burn, so this option could have been riskier than performing his old winners.

Let’s take a moment to remember how crazy it was to see the Tupac hologram. I must have showed the video to dozens of people. How awesome was that! But did anyone care to tune into the second week’s repeat performance? Nope. We got it. The reveal happened. The chorus was sung. The moment passed and we didn’t look back long.

It is always a huge risk for a comedian to perform at an event, especially with rock stars and even more so at a charity event. You know what happened after Katy Perry sang “Firework” with the cute autistic girl at Comedy Central’s Night of Too Many Stars. The crowd cheered as they wept and then Bill Burr had to tell jokes. It wouldn’t be easy for anyone and he probably had the chance to prepare extra new material.

Dane took a risk. It meant a lot to the people that were there and we should leave it at that. If he hurt you intentionally, then you should be upset. But until you can answer what he really did wrong, stop getting hurt by the man. I don’t think he has any ill will towards any of us, maybe we should stop flipping out on him.

I am upset with one thing though. US Weekly called Dane’s performance a comedy sketch. Hey World, a stand up comedian’s routine is not a sketch. We don’t write our material with a “Fade In” moment in mind. There are no exterior/interior shots that we have to set up. It’s called a set. We perform our sets. It isn’t a sketch, a skit, a skitch or little jokes. Can you get this right from now on? Jeez!

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3 Responses to Defending Dane Cook

  1. Marlene Bocanegra says:

    I didn’t know about the “controversy”, but I really learned a lot about your job! Thank you! I can’t wait to see you do your little sketch when you come to San Jose again!

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