One-on-one with Dane Cook

Forty-four years from now, comedian Dane Cook will still be talking about you.

Well, maybe not you, exactly, but he said that even when he’s 80 he’ll remember the night thousands of students accepted his invitation to eat at Bennigan’s after his performance at Round-Up, USF’s fall comedy show, back in 2005.

Since then, he has starred in multiple movies, gone on a series of comedy tours and broken Richard Pryor’s stand-up endurance record by performing for more than seven hours straight.

Before Cook returned to Tampa Bay to give a pre-Super Bowl show at the St. Pete Times Forum on Saturday, he got up at 7 a.m. (his time) to talk to the Oracle about the catharsis of comedy, dealing with criticism and what he — albeit jokingly — wants people to remember him for. (Sorry, Cook fans — it has nothing to do with his cashew-launching abilities or his dream of having a talking, fighting monkey as a pet.)

The Oracle: First off, let’s travel back about four years. You stopped by USF for our fall comedy show called Round-Up. At the end of the show, you called up the hostess and asked about making a reservation for 10,000 at Bennigan’s. Did you ever think that so many people would show up?

DC: Yes. I knew that we were setting ourselves up for, eventually, one of the most memorable post-show after-parties. (It was) impromptu. That was — gosh — I have some great pictures from that night, and I remember when we arrived at the parking lot and people started showing up — what you need to realize is that, you know, that was also happening at a time when I was just starting to realize how many people were really kind of die-hard fans and coming out in support.

I’ll be talking about that when I’m 80 years old, looking around that restaurant and that parking lot and seeing the outpouring of people who appreciated what I was doing. It was just unbelievable. It was really wild.

O: Have you made an offer like that before or after?

DC: None like that, no. Before, I’d ask a couple people in the front row of a club to go grab a sandwich after — never 10,000 people to the challenge of, hey, let’s all meet at this local eatery here.

No, nothing like that, and I certainly haven’t done anything like it since because there’s a little bit of fear or trepidation. I wouldn’t want it to turn into something where people would get hurt or anything like that.

It was just one of those last-minute things that was very authentic … I’ll always look upon that as just a real eye-water moment that I shared directly with my fans.

O: How did this Saturday’s show differ from your other shows?

DC: I’ve been working on this brand-new hour, hour and a half of comedy all year. I purposely kind of went back to basics. I didn’t do any films this year because I literally wanted to be in the clubs night after night, and I felt like my fans deserved that (level) of dedication to bring to stand-up comedy. I mean, I continued to put out content over the last couple years, but I really wanted to get the “all new” above my name. It’s also my way of saying thank you to all of my fans for helping me to achieve success.

O: What’s the process like for coming up with new material?

DC: My process this year was digging the truth out of myself. Talking about what it’s like dealing with success. Talking about what it’s like having lost my parents. Talking about this new president. Talking about this new America.

… People came up to me at this show last week and said, “I’ve been watching you for the past 17 or 18 years and I’ve never seen so much vulnerability, but at the same time I’ve never laughed so much at some of these difficult kinds of topics.”

It’s great. You’re laughing and there’s also this great kind of therapeutic relief — that you get to share something tough that you went through and you know that maybe some other people have gone through. And isn’t that what the best comedy should be? Truth mixed with escapism.

O: Speaking of your performances, how did you manage to perform for seven hours at the Laugh Factory?

DC: Stay properly hydrated. I never expected to ever stand up on stage for seven and a half hours. I certainly was not in the mindset of wanting to break any club records. I’m proud to say it was very good — it was very authentic … I think the crowd wanted me to break the record more than I wanted to break the record. It just kind of happened. It wasn’t forced. That seven and a half hours was accompanied by the greatest sleep of my life.

O: How exhausting was it being up there and performing? You’re known for being a pretty physical performer.

DC: The term “pacing yourself” was put into play … it wasn’t hard to downshift and sometimes do stuff that was a little more old-school kind of joke-style, and there’s storytelling style and there’s definitely physicality and some more outrageous behavior. I kind of just made it a potpourri, and when I needed to rest my lower back I would just kind of plant my feet and stand and stretch for a little bit.

I went through the crowd and I talked to every single person in the crowd that night and basically dedicated a chunk of time to their life and tried to find something funny in everybody.

When we finished that show, I took a picture with that entire crowd because we all knew each other. Everybody knew everything that they could, probably, about one another. I have this great group photo of the most personal event, because it really did feel like we did it together.

It was something I would not want to repeat, but it was fun to try.

O: It seems like every time comedians come into the spotlight, critics accuse them of stealing people’s jokes and stuff like that. How do you respond to those kinds of 

DC: It’s like the crack in the dam, and you put your finger in it, but another crack comes. I actually found that there was a certain period of time when I was trying to respond to everything.

What I realized was, oh, wait a minute, no. People don’t want the truth … what I found was some people aren’t seeking out the true response. Some people are seeking out more mayhem.

I went through the spanking machine — I definitely took my hits.

O: What would you like people who meet you to walk away thinking of you?

DC: I would hope that first they’d say, “Dane Cook has the freshest breath that I’ve ever experienced,” because fresh breath is certainly an important thing to me. (laughs) I don’t know. I guess I don’t — I’m starting to sound like a grizzled old veteran here, but I don’t really think about what people take away from meeting me. That stuff was stuff I used to care about when I was younger — what people think of me.

… If I may be so candid, you can’t f*** with the truth. That’s what a good friend once said to me.

When he said that, it was like a punch to the face. It was so important for me to hear that. I said, “You know what? I’m just going to live in the truth and put my honesty forward and when I leave the room, I’m not going to wonder how people accepted what I am and what I left in there.”

O: Ending this on a light note, do you have any pre-show rituals or trailer demands — like no brown M&Ms?

DC: No. I just always have to get potassium. I have to eat a banana, and that’s about it.

No superstitions, no strange little meditations or throwing up in buckets. It’s really — I live for the show. I live for the show. God, I sound incredibly corny and cliché, but I’ll stand by it. I live for these moments — these caliber shows — this kind of sharing. This is the good stuff in life.

As long as people sit, want to come out and take time out of their lives, and go out of their wallet and throw a few bucks down and laugh, then damn it, that’s where I want to be. I want to be front and center and making people laugh their a**es off.

No pre-show rituals. Just a little potassium, and let’s do this — where’s the mike?