Dane Cook has a new manager now but a very old iconic mentor in his comedy life, although Cook has never been known as quite the troublemaker as Jerry Lewis has been over the decades.
That’s not why Cook’s latest stand-up special, “Troublemaker,” which premieres on Comedy Central this Sunday after an initial debut in October on Showtime (my review of Dane Cook: Troublemaker).
More pressing, however, is finding out how Cook, at 42, became BFFs with the 88-year-old Lewis.
They didn’t bond over birthdays or astrology as fellow Pisces (Cook turns 43 on March 18, two days after Lewis will hit 89). The much simpler explanation: A shared love of comedy and mutual admiration. Cook met Lewis by showing up to a premiere screening of the 2011 documentary, Method to the Madness of Jerry Lewis.
“I remember I was in a really bad headspace where I needed some motivation,” Cook recalled. “I was truly out of gas in a way. I remember doing my day-to-day and this thing came along to potentially see his documentary. Day of, I thought, I was going to see this. Why not?! I just thought it was going to be a screening. There were about 600 people.” Afterward, Lewis took to the podium to deliver remarks. “The first thing he said out of his mouth was, ‘Where’s Dane Cook?’ Sean, I’m telling you. I didn’t know how to react, with my name coming out of Jerry Lewis’s mouth. I didn’t know whether to stand. I didn’t know if I was in trouble. And then he went, ‘I want to know where Dane Cook is?’ So I stood up and said, ‘I’m here.”
“It meant a lot to him to have comedians there in the room. And so, I said, I didn’t even know where it came from – ‘I love you Jerry!’ I said I love you Jerry, and he said, ‘You’re my daughter, Danielle’s favorite comedian, and it means so much that you came. I was frozen in my seat….he asked me to stay after. I went and about had 10 minutes with him, just Dane and Jerry time. He asked me for my number and I started getting random blocked calls from him. Blocked calls. Sometimes I wouldn’t answer just to get the voice mails….he’s mentored me in so many ways.”
Cook showed up again for Lewis last year when the elder put his hands and footprints into cement at the historic TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
Has Lewis given you any advice that you wished you had heard 10 years ago when your career really skyrocketed? “Not like that. If anything: What I take from him is, the chaos and the whirlwind times, there’s no manual. You’re a young man and you’re trying to figure out what your strategy is, so just the support. Plus, the past is the past. I don’t care how great it was or if you missed the mark.”
Cook pauses to retrieve a piece of paper he keeps handy with a bit of advice from Lewis.
“He said, ‘Get a piece of paper and a pencil, my boy.’ I said OK. And he goes, ‘I want to tell you before I say what I’m going to say why I’m talking to you. All my closest friends are gone and I have so much in me to share and I want to share these things to you.’ I said, ‘Jerry, I appreciate it so much.’”
The words Lewis instructed him to write down:
“I am a very smart man. I am an important individual.”
“And he said. ‘I want you to look at that every day and don’t forget it. Because I think sometimes yo do.’ It was incredible. Whatever bad childhood memory of losing the big game and your father saying, ‘I’m going to get you ice cream,’ that’s the shot in the arm this is.”
Cook said they’ve since hung out in person a couple of times, and when Lewis brings his show to Los Angeles, “when he swings through every six months, I see what the new show is,” he said, adding: “We’re set to do a dinner with him.”
What about Jerry Lewis reminds you of yourself or your own path? “His love of tech, his love of technology speaks to me. The same way he invented the playback monitor to have on set, that’s his invention. He wanted to see what he was doing on camera. He flew to Japan and built that. That’s his patent. He’s got like 40 digital cameras. His thought of needing a monitor, was my thought of seeing the mirror of the Internet and asking: How can I climb in there? Even more than the performance, it was just quenching that thirst?”
How would you compare his friendship/mentorship to that of Jamie Masada, the longtime owner and confidante of yours at The Laugh Factory?
“Jamie’s like my family. I feel like I’ve grown up with Jamie. And vice versa. I know there’s a lot of things, over the years, Jamie has to come to me, on where the next wave of comedy is coming from,” Cook said. “I helped him set up that web site. We’ve definitely championed each other. He’s my partner. And I would say Jerry is more of in many ways a father-son relationship.”
Here are a couple of clips from Dane Cook: Troublemaker.
Cook wonders if we’ve reached too many emojis?
Related: Men cannot win text arguments, either.
Would you consider Lewis a troublemaker like yourself? “I definitely think he had his troublemaking times, yeah. They were guys who liked to write their own ticket and once they realized they were the main attraction, they weren’t afraid to take the reins and be the boss,” Cook said. “From reading one too many memoirs, that comes with a smorgasbord of obstacles. I almost think Elvis and The Colonel would have been the better way to go. He slaps the cane down and you do the gig. But that wasn’t the way it was.”
And Cook’s form of making trouble is more “mischievous” rabble-rousing with the relationships in his audience than in stirring up a storm of negative press and criticism and gossip – not the kind of naming names, “women I’ve been with, that moment where you go on Howard Stern and lay it all out there.”
That goes for the book he continues to work on about his life and career, too. “No. I think if you do that, it’s later in your life, where there’s no ramifications, that’s where people get to that place. I’m not going to say I won’t name names that were instrumental or detrimental. But the book wouldn’t be for salacious purposes,” he said. “It’s about 25 years of how I did what I did and how I found my way…a lot of it is the previous years leading up to it, not only my struggles and things I had to overcome, but also understanding the mind of a comedian, what protects ourselves or what makes us feel we are so connected to others with pain.” That’s the goal of good comedy, he added: “We want the person with the most pain laughing the loudest in the room. (To identify), ‘Fuck it yeah! This is something that comic said went to that darkest part of my life. I’ve read great comics’ books. It’s not Brain Dropping. It’s a comedic ‘8 Mile.’ There’s a lot of pathos and great experiences. I’ve written about my SNL experiences over 8 years and dealing with Lorne Michaels.”
Comedy Central just named a new Roast “victim” in Justin Bieber saw Cook at the Laugh Factory earlier this week and asked Cook to make fun of him from the stage. Cook participated in the Comedy Central Roast of Dennis Leary back in 2003, before most people knew who he was. “Certainly not my strong suit,” Cook said of roasting. And certainly not the right time for Cook himself to undergo a publicly televised and viral-video skewering by his peers in comedy and movies.
“Yeah, not something that’s important to me,” he said now. Maybe years ago, and by the comedians who came up with him in Boston, there might have been a chance for that. “If Patrice (O’Neal) had been on there. I’m more favorable when it’s people who really really know you. When Retaliation came through,” he said, “there was a time when someone was noodling the idea. Maybe someday. But it’s not high on my list.”
Tops on his list now: “Prepping a film, hopefully getting that off the ground.”
After that: “Hopefully directing my next special in March.”
Actually, before those two things, the noted diehard Boston sports fan will figure out a way for himself and his friends to watch the New England Patriots battle the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl in Arizona. What does he make of the deflated football debate? “Hullabaloo! I think it might just be press. I don’t know. Aaron Rodgers came forward and said the balls were deflated. Maybe the NFL…honestly, I think it’s all hogwash and hullabaloo. That’s my next special!”
He’s also setting aside time for fun side projects, such as a live reading of the script of Goodfellas that happened Thursday night with Jason Reitman and others. “That’s a lot of fun,” Cook said, and of several parts he was looking most forward to the role of Morris (“Morrie”), “which made me laugh. You know the wig guy? That part, I loved those scenes with him and De Niro.”
And he hasn’t given up on scripted television, despite his most recent experience, when NBC cancelled his Next Caller sitcom before it could debut in 2013. His new manager, Jason Weinberg, and his management firm Untitled recently teamed up with Matador to create their own TV production shingle, Unitled/Matador.
“I’m working on a TV show independent of any network. Much like my special I’m going to get a team together and make a show and have it come out when it’s ready to bring to people,” he said. Is it semi-autobiographical, as many comedian-based-sitcoms tend to be? “Yeah. I think I’ve figured out a way to make sure it’s mostly me in there. Come at it from both my personal and professional perspective. Tinkering away!”
“Dane Cook: Troublemaker” premieres on Comedy Central on Sunday, Jan. 25 at 10 p.m. ET/PT.