Review: Dane Cook’s “Troublemaker” on Showtime

Dane Cook has said that his comedy has grown up along with his audiences.

The excitement and energy still may be paramount — Cook opens his first filmed stand-up special in four years by letting the crowd at The Venetian in Las Vegas know, “I’m feeling it!” A decade ago, he was packing college auditoriums and gyms for “Tourgasm,” then onto arenas where tens of thousands of college-aged bros and young women screamed their hearts out for Cook and his youthful exuberance. He may be in his 40s now, and the fame may have subsided somewhat, but he’s still more than willing to play the troublemaker, which is what he’s titled this special, “Troublemaker,” premiering tonight on Showtime.

“We’re going to talk about relationships…you know what we’re going to do?” Cook teases them up top. “We’re going to destroy those relationships.” The audience shrieks in delight, regardless of or in spite of their apparent lack of irony. “The material that I’m going to covering tonight,” he continues, “is going to make you look at the person next to you and go yeah, ‘Why the fuck are we doing this? We are too lazy to break up.’ That’s our problem. So tonight, I’m going to kick that in high gear.”

In interviews he’s done this past couple of weeks to promote the special, he said that working out this hour-plus did prompt at least one couple at The Laugh Factory, his home club in Hollywood, to get up, leave, then split from each other during his performance. There’s a brief moment during “Troublemaker” wherein a man, deep in the crowd, tries to muster up a yelp about something or other, but Cook — after trying to engage the heckler — shoots him down as a “mushmouth” who’ll give his girlfriend or spouse a horrible story to tell later.

The meat of Cook’s 78-minute set deals with the nature of modern love and relationships in the technology age of online dating, texting, social media and emoji. Unlike Aziz Ansari, who recently joined Cook in select company by performing in and taping his upcoming stand-up special in Madison Square Garden, Cook isn’t interested so much in stopping his show to question or poll specific audience members as much as he’s interested in acting out his own observations.

The first few premises, in fact, aren’t even about relationships, but more general observations about how we act and feel in social situations. For example: “Everyone’s a little racist when you’re hungry.” And our casual racism when hungry will expand outward to include anti-religious sentiments if we’re starving. Another one: “Women hate the word ‘moist.'” And in a sign of his own maturity, he’s also stopped spending so much time playing videogames, and is willing to do so with a joke at the expense of one of his own Boston sports teams.

Cook also directed and executive-produced “Troublemaker.”

A couple of times early in his set, he reminds us who’s in charge. He wants us to remember that. He’s the one with the microphone. He’s the one who speaks.

When a few people applaud his declaration that he’s put down the videogame obsession, he retorts: “No comedy show needs a smattering of applause. Save that for golf.” And when one audience member boos a premise of Cook’s, he challenges that person to boo him again when the joke is finished. Needless to say, he wins the challenge.

“Relax. This is (or isn’t!) an open mic. I know what I’m doing here.”

Cook is steering the ship, and he’ll clue all the women watching or listening in that men likewise are steering their ladies in real-life social situations, such as an outdoor mall or farmer’s market. “We’re putting our arm around you because we’re fucking steering you!” he declares. “You walk like a moron. Just stay on my 6!”

If you’re still single and not in a relationship, Cook mock-pities you. Because there are so many options available to you know online where you can be truly yourself and find a mate who seeks same. He cites ChristianMingle and JDate as examples, then for his third, finds an unfortunately easy mark and punchline in Indian culture. You can go ahead and hate him for it. He’s used to it and then some by now, some eight years since peaking as the hottest comedian in the country. Your hate is nothing new to him. Hell, as he observes, it’s not new to anyone now. Even he’ll go ahead and hate on women who “trick” us with their Twitter avatar photos in thumbnails, or their “horrible” pithy online bios.

“Isn’t it fun to hate stuff online?” Cook says. “That’s what people do online. It’s the haternet.”

He has joined in on drinking the haterade, and acknowledges that one of his two — TWO — anonymous online handles reveals that 10 other people had the same soul-crushing idea for an identity and committed to it before him. Roll the clip.

But Cook promised to stir up some trouble with any couples watching.

How does he insert himself into the mix? By informing men never to engage their women or any woman in a text argument. By questioning womens’ use of so many different types of emoji (although his singling out of a hazmat suit emoji must have seemed so much more innocent when he taped this performance in November 2013, than it does now almost a year later, what with a global ebola scare threatening to become a real scare). That line of questioning leads him to the illustration of poop — why the eyes? And then to how we all examine our own stool samples in the toilet, but we should never photograph nor send said photos. And ladies, that goes double for close-ups of your “puss-ayyy,” as Cook lingers on the word for your downstairs unmentionables.

Perhaps his most mischievous gambit is an outright advocation to snoop on your significant other’s computer if he/she leaves it open when leaving a room. Or go one step, further, ladies: Ask your fella to hand over his phone. “That’s where they hide their true self, right in there.”

We’re dealing with our relationships online, too. Instead of bumping into our ex hoping to present our newer, better selves, Cook notes how we’re posting improved photos of ourselves on social media for the other to stalk in disgust or pleasure. “It used to be you’d just drive by their house,” he says. “The modern version of that, now you drive by their Facebook page.”

Cook remains an agile physical performer, darting from one side of the stage to the other as he acts out scenarios that include how he reacted upon listening to a girlfriend’s voice mail from a British guy, women dealing with a depressing breakup by eating ice cream and finding consolation among girlfriends, or a lone male sulking around his house with an even lonelier light bulb. By the end, he’s gone to the floor and back. Literally. “I’m laying on the floor for you fucking people,” he even says.

What more do you want from him?

Perhaps Cook isn’t standing in a circle in the round of an arena with 18,000 fans hooting and hollering in the gaps between his routines. But perhaps he doesn’t need to be the center of everyone’s attention any longer. And that’s just fine by him. He’s doing just fine. Just ask one of his recent girlfriends what she was doing when Cook graduated from high school. Or don’t even ask. He’ll be more than happy to tell you. Sorry, haters.

Dane Cook: Troublemaker premieres tonight on Showtime.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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