Dane Cook on his personal evolution of telling it like it is

Interview: The Arlington native reflects on changing times and his own changing as a person as he launches the 'Tell It Like It Is' tour.

Via Artist

The last time Dane Cook graced a Boston stage was October 2013. Nearly six years have passed since his last major national stand-up tour, but the Cambridge-born, Arlington-raised 46-year-old is feeling a renewed sense of enthusiasm, and he’s more than ready to get back on the horse for another ride across the country. And this time, he’s telling it like it is.

Kicking off his “Tell It Like It Is” tour in Huntington, New York on Wednesday night (February 20), Cook has a new, matured set of material in hand, and a new goal in mind as he opens the next chapter of his illustrious 30-year stand-up career, and re-emerges as a rejuvenated edition of the man that skyrocketed to comedy superstardom in the early-to-mid 2000’s.

Vanyaland recently caught up with Cook to discuss the tour and what this trek means to him, as well as how he has kept himself busy during his time away from the national spotlight, and just what the chance to play The Wang Theatre next month (March 9) represents for him in terms of nostalgia as it pertains to his success and rise through the Boston comedy scene all those years ago.


Jason Greenough: You’ve got the “Tell It Like It Is” tour coming up. How does it feel to get back out on the road after almost six years off the national tour circuit?

Dane Cook: It feels good! People keep asking me why I’m doing a promoted tour at this point, and there are so many factors that go into that, but primarily, after I had done the “Under Oath” tour, and I was still coming off of some gnarly stuff that had happened in my personal life, I found that that tour was exciting, but it was so draining because I had lost my parents, all that stuff happened with my brother, and so many things were happening with my career, that it was almost tricky to get into a real groove, and quite frankly, have fun with comedy the way I had for the 18 years prior. So I did that last big tour five years ago, I did a run in Canada a few winters back, and I did a sort of underground tour last year, and that was really just to try and get myself back to a place where I’m genuinely enthused, but also evolved in my comedy, and I feel like I’m in that place now.

Now, what does that mean? I used to be enthusiastic, bold and boisterous, and then as my comedy changed, I became more observational and I honed my writing a bit, then I wanted to get to a place where I could be both observational and introspective, and it took me 29 years to trust myself to be both of those things without losing the funny.


So the reason I’m calling this tour the “Tell It Like It Is” tour is because I’ve put together, over the last two-and-a-half years, my most direct and personal material, that still has that flair that a lot of people dig about my comedy. All those pieces came together, also I really wanted to do something where I could play some beautiful theaters, like Radio City Music Hall and do a big homecoming show at The Wang, and do something that I’ve never really done, since I went from comedy clubs to colleges, to arenas and stadiums.

Twenty-thousand people at Madison Square Garden is an event, and it’s a blast, but you can’t slow down. In theaters, I’m able to think, and take a breath, and have those little moments with the crowd. All of these things are the new tools in the arsenal. I feel like this is a chance to turn a corner, and hopefully show people what the next 10, 20, maybe 30 years are going to look like.

That kind of answers the follow-up I had set for that: Do you still find yourself building and evolving as a comedian?

Absolutely. It is a never-ending therapy session. I started doing comedy in Harvard Square in 1990, right out of high school, and from ages 20 to 30, I was talking about things in my life at the time. I was talking about sex, and although I don’t drink, I told stories about my friends getting drunk. Whatever 20 year-olds and college kids were relating to. Then something fascinating happened, because as I was approaching 30, I knew I wanted to evolve. But as I hit 30, it was clear to me that people had walked into this persona of a kid coming out his twenties with all kinds of fun and over-the-top material, but already starting to talk about personal stuff and things that were a bit more grown-up in a sense.


The response I got when was between 30 and 35 was all the people that were like ‘Hey man, I’ve grown up with you,’ and once people started saying that, I now have people telling me that they have their kids into my material, and they’re bringing their kids to my shows. So, once I saw that I was growing up with an entire generation of comedy fans, I felt it was my obligation to grow up, and evolve the way I watched Eddie Murphy evolve, from being crass and irreverent on stage, to doing more family-friendly things. I don’t necessarily want to say that I love every single one of Eddie’s choices, but I admired that he knew he needed to grow with the times. I’ve really worked diligently to do the same and make better choices about the movies I do, the kind of TV shows I do, and figuring out where I really want to be reflective and open up to people, and there’s no better place to do it than standing by yourself, on stages across the country.

You mentioned growing up with your fans. Now, having been away from the national touring circuit for this long, have you thought about how your brand of comedy may be perceived in the current social climate?

Yeah, I’ve thought about it, and as someone who has always given constructive criticism to myself, I feel relieved that my act is where it is, given the atmosphere. By that, I mean it’s all personal material. And when it’s personal, it’s philosophy at that point, and you can get into the minutia of life, and still do it in a way that is relatable to the exterior, but most of what I’m talking about when you see me now is stuff that has happened to me, and how certain things have affected me, and because of that, I don’t find myself in situations like that, where when I was younger, you could’ve said ‘Oh, he’s talking about women and body parts, and has all this crude language,’ and it could easily be looked at as misogynistic today, and that’s par for the course. Obviously, I think that’s a conversation that could be had. But now, where I’m at, those aren’t topics of conversation for me, so I’m not out there sidestepping controversies. That’s not to say that I don’t have things that could be controversial, but I’m certainly not in the business of ostracizing people. I’m more inclusive.


So, what are you looking forward to most about getting back out on the road?

I think just sharing the new routine, and in certain ways, looking toward the future with it. I think a lot of where my stand-up is going to go over the next few years is going to be reliant on what I learn out on the road this year. I’m glad I still get to do what I love, 30 years in, at a high pedigree and success rate in a business that is very fickle, and to put it bluntly, fucking hard when people want to click on to the next article immediately, and have that next rush of dopamine. I do the same thing, so I’m not a hypocrite in saying I should be this or that, but I do know that the one thing that time sharpens more than anything is your ability to reflect on all the shit that life throws at you. Because of that, I can be on stage, I can have fun and enjoy it. I can share ideas, whether they’re physical and animated, or stark and caustic, or wacky and weird, I’m covering all those bases, and I’m having a blast. I’m truly having the best time of my career right now.

You certainly haven’t been bored while off the road. You’ve kept yourself pretty busy! What are some projects that you can let folks in on that you’re excited about?

I think what I’m most excited about is the short film I co-wrote and directed with a friend of mine, Monib [Abhat]. About a year ago, we started putting this idea for a short together that we thought was really relevant and, for me, uniquely different from anything in my stand-up. As someone who wants to continue building his career behind the camera, as I love directing and writing, I want to grow that side of my industry and brand more. This short film came out tremendously. It’s my favorite thing I’ve done in terms of being behind the camera, and we got into the Santa Barbara Film Festival. From there, I just want to continue building a template with my directing.


I’m also writing a feature film, and I would love to direct that, as well. Hopefully, that’ll be happening during winter of next year. I might be putting that together a little sooner, or a maybe little later, but it’s my hope to build on that. Being behind the camera and working with people collaboratively is so different from stand-up, and it’s as important to me to not feel the isolation, so to speak, of stand-up where it’s a one-man band, to then stepping into a group of writers and producers, and all the moving parts. I like that challenge. I like to be a busy body, so more of that, and definitely more acting, and more film and TV development. I’ve got a documentary I’m putting together about my life, and a book that hopefully will go hand-in-hand with the documentary if I can get them both together.

I was also in a movie called American Exit, which is funny since my short film is called American Typecast, I’m in this movie called American Exit, and I was in a show called American Gods, so there’s a theme here. If the word “American” is in the title, I may have a shot at being part of it. But my role in that movie is so fucking different than anything you’ve seen me do before in stand-up. It’s kind of in the tone of Mr. Brooks, where it’s so far out of the norm, people might not realize it’s me at first.

I have one last question for you, if that’s cool with you. You’ve got The Wang Theatre coming up on March 9. What are your thoughts on coming home to do a show in a such a big and well-known room?

I would’ve loved to finish the tour in Boston, but these dates just happened to work out a bit better, since it was very important to me that I come home to play that theater. It means more to me than any other show, even more than Radio City, which I’ll be playing for the first time and I’m super enthused. But when I step foot back in Boston, and I’m seeing where the Comedy Connection was, and Nick’s Comedy Stop, and the Harvard Square Catch a Rising Star, all of those things come back to me, and time seems to become an anomaly. It’s like I’m living in all those eras at once.


On top of that, what impacts me almost immediately as I step off the plane at Logan, is that I never would’ve left this city without this city’s support and belief in me. It’s just the answer. I don’t think I would’ve left Arlington if it weren’t for the people of Boston telling me to just get out there and do it. Every little bit of success that I had, I felt like the city of Boston was sharing in that. Even at the low points where I made my mistakes and had my missteps, I always felt that enduring Boston fan energy. It’s brought me solace when I’ve felt off-kilter, and it brings me pride when I’m feeling when I’m at my fit and most ready to fight the good fight.

DANE COOK :: Saturday, March 9 at The Boch Center Wang Theatre, 270 Tremont St. in Boston, MA :: 7 p.m., $39.50 to $59.50 :: Boch event page :: Advance tickets