There are two things that non-comedians feel the need to tell me when discussing comedy. One is "Bob Saget is filthy." The other is "Dane Cook is not funny."
Saget's use of profanity is undebatable. But the Dane Cook line is often said in a tone that is part declaration — an indignant tearing down of the curtain from around the wizard — and part question. Take my barber. There's a pause that follows after he tells me Cook is not funny and waits for my reaction, my confirmation.
In the middle of the past decade, Dane Cook was on top of the world. And by that I mean he was in the missionary position making sweet, sweet love to the world — and the world was loving it. Cook achieved a level of success unseen by a comedian since Steve Martin.
He's still filling arenas, but the comedy street cred of our hometown boy has taken a big hit, so much so that he has even been ridiculed by local DJs in an "unfunniest person" competition. And his unique performance style — a high-energy hyper-articulation that highlights idiosyncrasy while also telling stories — has become a caricature of itself. He has been dismissed as a frat-boy's comedian, someone who overperforms bits for screaming girls in outsize arenas. If you are hip, it has become uncool to say you like Dane Cook.
Well, I like Dane Cook.
And I'm tired of hearing that he is "not funny," mostly because the statement is so lacking in nuance. Yes, he is probably more popular than he should be. Yes, there are other comedians equally deserving of fame. Yes, a few of his jokes are too close to established bits by other comedians. But "Dane Cook is not funny" is an extreme oversimplification.
I'm convinced — after spending too many hours talking to people about this topic — that what most people really mean to say is this: "While Dane Cook's earlier work brought me much joy, he is, of late, undergoing a spell that is less than funny, probably due to a number of factors, including his playing unrealistically large venues; some personal misfortune that, while unrelated to his art, still probably affected it nonetheless; and the fact that everything original lends itself — by virtue of possessing salient characteristics onto which satirists can attach themselves — an inherent danger of being caricatured. Yet his sheer talent for performing, combined with a self-awareness he has demonstrated in the past, will most likely see him through this critical point in his career."
But nuance is tough. And if my barber said all this, my haircut would come out terrible.
Speaking of nuance, let's examine the venue where Cook taped his 2007 DVD, Rough Around the Edges: Madison Square Garden. Telling jokes in front of 20,000 people is not comedy. Comedy is a conversation with the crowd. When you have to wait for the sound to reach the corners of a space so large that it can accommodate a full circus, the show usually turns into one. The conversation becomes one-sided and delayed. To compensate for this disconnect, Cook has had to exaggerate his bits even more and hold for three beats where two would do. Fans end up screaming more than laughing. It's this tableau that has turned many people off. If this was my introduction to Cook — rather than seeing him destroying rooms of 300 people — I'm not sure I'd be a fan, either.