The premiere of Dane Cook’s newest comedy special Troublemaker on Comedy Central this Sunday at 10 pm ET isn’t just a representation of the veteran comedian’s evolution. It’s a homecoming of sorts. Comedy Central, after all, gave Dane his first few high-profile breaks. There was Premium Blend in 1998, his own half-hour special in 2000 and, most crucial, the release of his first album Harmful If Swallowed three years later.
That Comedy Central Records release, arguably, re-ignited the general populace’s interest in buying comedy albums. It was no longer just comedy nerds laying down cash for tangible funny. Harmful If Swallowed eventually sold more than a million copies and helped launch Cook’s career, now in its 25th year.
Troublemaker, which made its television debut on Showtime last fall, finds Cook embracing the high-energy, whimsy-filled shenanigans he’s known for. But there’s now also a mature observer of life inside of Cook, one that’s not afraid to delve deeper into the human psyche– especially as it relates to romantic relationships. And to hear Cook tell it, this gradual transition wasn’t exactly subconscious for him.
“In my 20s I was playing colleges and I was catering to that,” Cook tells Laughspin. “I was certainly reveling in it and having a blast. I was surrounded by people like Robert Kelly, Bill Burr, Gary Gulman and Patrice O’Neal. These were guys I wanted to impress and we were having these little found moments in advancing our careers. So, it was always apparent to me that I’m going to be a guy in my 20s and I was going to do things that are indicative of that— but at the same time I always knew I never really never want to stay like that. I wanted to change every decade. And I knew when that happens it would be a metamorphosis— and some people will tune out and hopefully some people will tune in.”
And while segments of the fanbase he earned in those early years may have tuned out and while an army of Dane Cook haters became caricatures of themselves, it seems Cook, in the last few years, has found a new and, perhaps, more meaningful following. The evidence of that, in part, is found in the audience reactions to Troublemaker, which gets its name from the comedian’s penchant for exposing the oft-avoided truth about dating and sex. Cook’s fans and friends – one unnamed famous action movie star – have thanked him for starting much needed conversations about their own doomed love stories. And now instead of reveling in the comparatively superficial college comedy experiences of yore, the 42-year-old appreciates being a dude who can inject some wisdom into otherwise light fare. He points to a 1973 Brady Bunch episode as part of what inspired him to never remain a static stand-up comedian.
“I was terrified of becoming Johnny Bravo,” Cook says of the episode wherein a talent agent signs Greg (Barry Williams) to become a rock star, eventually suffering an identity crisis. “I used to watch that episode and remember feeling stress as a teenager because Greg had to become Johnny Bravo.” But it didn’t end there for the young Boston suburbanite. “As I started watching character comics – Emo Philips, Judy Tenuta, Dice – I felt that Johnny Bravo thing kick in where I would say to myself, ‘How do they get away from that? And do they?’ I was truly concerned about them. I was hoping they were happy.”
“And not just stand-ups,” Cook continues. “I was concerned about actors like Paul Reubens, who I adored, and Gene Wilder— guys who were pigeonholed but you knew their brilliance. I would worry about these people. I was burdened with the idea of, ‘Are they capable of singing if they want to sing and not act?’ This shit used to be on my mind way too much as a kid.”
For now, Cook continues to evolve. He’s already deep into developing his next hour. “I’m continuing to dig down deeper and trust that I can travel into harder spots inside yet also still be in orbit and be as wild and out there in my randomness as always,” Cook tells Laughspin. He’s writing a book, was recently heard in Disney’s Planes and its sequel Planes: Fire & Rescue and will be seen in sci-fi flick 400 Days with Brandon Routh later this year.
“When I started stand-up,” Cook says, “it was always about, ‘How can I change and how can I make that lane as wide as I can to facilitate my emotions?’”
Troublemaker airs Sunday, Jan. 25 at 10 pm ET on Comedy Central.
Troublemaker photo: Nick Spanos
Dane seated: Greg Pallante for Laughspin