Dane Cook knows that people love him, especially his army of fans on the Web. He’s got more than 2.5 million friends on MySpace, and more than 470,000 followers on Twitter.
But he also realizes he’s a polarizing figure. It’s one of the topics explored on his recent “Isolated Incident” special on Comedy Central, where he addresses the amount of online hostility that’s aimed at him.
“I put my name in Google and when I went to hit search, Google was like, ‘Are you sure?’” he says onstage.
Cook has achieved an undeniable level of success. His “Isolated Incident” CD recently debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard charts. He’s hosted “Saturday Night Live.” He’s starred in films like “Employee of the Month” and “Good Luck Chuck,” albeit to mixed reviews.
But the last few years also have been a painful time in his private life. His mother passed away in 2006 and his father died the following year.
On the Comedy Central special, Cook does boisterous jokes about sandwiches and cell phones. There are very explicit routines about sex, the kind of content that’s for mature audiences only and many would find offensive.
But the 37-year-old comedian also tackles some heavier territory with his new material, like deleting his mother’s name from his cell phone and reading an anonymous e-mail that referenced the death of his parents in its attack on his comedy.
Speaking by phone, Cook says he wanted “Isolated Incident” to reflect the light and dark in his life.
“Here are some of the darker moments that I experienced, haters or the loss of my parents ... coupled with can I still talk about some of the observational humor that’s near and dear to me? Can I still throw out some of the miscellaneous, silly asides? Can I still mix in a fair amount of irreverent or even blue in-your-face material? Can all these things exist in one very honest performance?”
The answer is yes, according to Cook, who notes the overwhelmingly positive feedback he’s gotten from fans night after night on his current tour.
For years, Cook has been recognized for his skills at using the Web to build his fan base. Long before Twitter uttered its first tweet, he sensed the Internet could be a vastly more powerful version of standing on a street corner and handing out flyers to his shows.
But as his Google joke indicates, Cook has had to learn how to deal with the downside of the Web, too.
“Once you hit an upper echelon of success, then what you start to have is backlash,” he says. “Certainly, you’re exposed to a greater chunk of the populace that, fair enough, doesn’t like your comedy, doesn’t understand why they have to hear your name over and over from people who do. Maybe they’re a bit cynical and they look at an optimistic soul like myself and say, ‘I want to knock this guy.’ “
And knock him they do. Some of his fellow comedians are baffled by his popularity. And the people on the Web who don’t think he’s funny seem to enjoy slamming him.
Cook says that what other people think of him is none of his business. He becomes philosophical as he describes his attitude about working some of the negativity into his act: “Once you own it and turn it into your own and make it funny and cathartic, then it can’t hurt you anymore.”
When Cook talks about losing his parents, he says it’s “like looking back into a hurricane that you made it through.”
He describes how his career was soaring and life had never been better when “within a month or two, it was mom had cancer, dad has cancer, and I’m still performing, I’m still out there, because it’s what I love and it’s what my folks raised me to be and what they enjoyed. Through their illness, the one thing they thrived on was seeing their son come through on all his hopes and dreams.”
Cook says his current tour will include “a good chunk” of the “Isolated Incident” material, but as more of a 2.0 version.
“My fans know that my jokes are kind of like snowflakes or fingerprints,” he says. “No two are really ever the same. I always try to incorporate a fair amount of improvement and spontaneity into it.”