I’d interviewed Dane Cook in 2005 upon the release of his breakthrough CD/DVD "Retaliation," but hadn’t really talked to him in-depth in person until April 15, 2006, the night he’d tape two sold-out shows at Boston’s TD Banknorth Garden for HBO’s "Vicious Circle."
Cook took some time in his dressing room about an hour before the first of two shows to chat with me.
"Tourgasm" had been filmed but hadn’t yet aired on HBO, but people took notice when "Retaliation" debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard charts, the highest ranking for a comedy disc since Steve Martin three decades earlier. And fans from across the country came calling to Boston to be part of his HBO special. Guys from Aerosmith showed up. Glenn Close brought her daughters, who were in awe of him. This was the biggest night of his career.
Are you nervous about tonight?
"I spent 15 years thinking this wouldn’t happen. This is what I’ve always aspired to do. The ultimate plateau of comedy. So to actually be here, and be doing it, I feel very prepared. And so no, the nervous was not getting here. I just have to go out and have a blast, do the show."
Hear a portion of our interview archived here.
Cook had prepped for the HBO special by performing his show in the round earlier that week in Las Vegas and Chicago.
Did you learn anything about performing for an arena crowd in the round like that?
"I did round shows down the Cape actually, over the last couple of summers, the South Shore, Music Tent there, and those were about 2,500, 3,000, and I’ve done large regular stage venues, you know, 15,000. I did Gator Growl, that was 50,000. But my want was to do a show in the round, here, so until Mandalay Bay, I had never done a center show like that. Coliseum seating. But I will say, having done it twice, I never want to go back to a regular stage again. I love it. It’s perfect for me, with my movement, and the way I love to engage a crowd. I feel like they’re right on you and I feel like there’s not anybody who’s so far away that they’re not in the room, so to speak. The only thing I think I learned over the last couple of shows was that I need to do less time, because I have so much stuff. I have about two hours and 20 minutes of material right now."
And he did just that and more in the second show, including multiple audience interruptions, one of which made the final HBO cut.
"I would say right now 10 minutes of it is familiar to people. The rest of it is new. So that was the only tough thing, is how do I shorten this down? Because I have to do two (shows). That is the only thing, except what shirt am I going to wear? It was the only thing. How am I…do I keep this thing close to an hour and a half, and then be able to get those people out and the next crew in, because the later it gets the crazier it gets, you know?"
So, what shirt are you wearing then?
"I went with a basic black T-shirt. I’m going a little Johnny Cash tonight. Jeans and a T-shirt. People keep thinking, ‘Are you going to wear like a leather suit? Are you going to be wearing a fedora? Is there some kind of special (outfit) because it’s HBO?’ I said, ‘Look. Dance with who you brought. I’m wearing what I wear."
It seems like just a year or two ago, your biggest credit was Rolling Stone magazine’s Hot Comic. That was it. You were huge in clubs, but outside of that, not much else. What happened to get you from clubs to selling out arenas so fast?
"I could see the writing on the wall probably right around ’04. It was starting to get overflow. That’s why I did Tourgasm, too…because people didn’t really know what was happening. I could tell people, ‘Look. I’m going to Detroit, where I’ve never been. I’m doing no press and I’m selling out 12,000 seats.’ So the documentary was a way to also show that side of what was really going on with me, not just in one region, but the south, the north, Canada. Wherever I was going, the word of mouth was out there. The kind of show I put on and expect of myself. So I could see the writing on the wall. I knew that by July, when ‘Retaliation’ came out, I said if this goes down the way I think it will and enough people rally behind it, my life is going to change July 26, when this thing charts or whenever it may be. That’s pretty much what happened. But I could see for a couple of years, it was, I was still somewhat underground, but people either really knew me, or were like, ‘What? What is that? What does he do?’ And that was an exciting time for me to feel like it was bubbling over."
From what I’ve seen, it seems as though anyone in their teens or 20s were crazy about you, but people outside of that demographic didn’t know who were you.
"For me, too. The difference, the strange thing once I started getting a solid fan base and people who were coming to every show was — I used to love going into a room back here in Boston. I would stand in the back and I would say, ‘Nobody knows what’s going to happen.’ I’d get myself in superhero mode. They have no idea what’s about to hit them. Just to pump myself up. And positive affirmation. I love winning people. And the difference is, once you have that fan base, now they’re coming and it’s a whole different approach. They know you, they’re expecting new stuff or something else, but I still would love it when people go, ‘I don’t know what everybody’s making a big deal (about), I guess I’ll go see,’ and knowing those people are still out there, still gets me pretty pumped up."
Does that make this a night of redemption for you, making up for times in the beginning of your career when you may have had to fight for five minutes of stage time on a Tuesday night?
"I will say that it’s always been glamorous to me. Even the crappiest of times, even the gigs with no money. Even when in ’95 I had no benefits and a toothache that was just raging. I tell ya, I’ve never taken a stage bitter or disappointed. I really had a feeling, if I hustled, and I worked hard, I could get to where I needed to be. And so that I should enjoy the entire journey. And my mom used to always tell me, you know, ‘Dane, take this all in, because this is going to go away someday and people going to know you and your life is going to be different.’ So I don’t know much about anything else except this is what I was meant to do. So I wouldn’t say redemption so much as why I’m calling it, the name of my special is ‘Vicious Circle.’ It’s got a double meaning. Because it’s in the round, but there’s been so much, there’s just been so much fight in me through the years to get back here. You know, you’ve got to leave to come back. There’s no better way to kick in a door than to come in and do an HBO special at the Garden in Boston. There’s nowhere I’d rather be tonight in this world."