[Note: I'm noticing that I'm referring to Dane Cook as "Dane" throughout this post, as if I know him. I don't know him, but referring to him as "Cook" is probably even more douchey.]
Dane Cook's first album -- Harmful If Swallowed -- was an unexpected masterpiece of observational humor and unusual wordplay. He would mine mundane situations for universal nod-your-head-in-agreement truths, such was what everyone says when they get cut off on the highway ("Umm... hello???") and when you are standing around at the scene of a night-time accident (where everybody acts like they are cold). It had some profanity and some bawdy moments, but they were always within the context of his observations. It was a real charmer of an album because not that many people knew who he was back then, and you could introduce someone to it without looking like you were already on some kind of bandwagon.
His second release, a double album called Retaliation, was very entertaining, if imperfect. Everyone remembers "somebody shit on the coats" line, and there is enough laugh-out-loud material on this one to be considered a good buy. Interestingly, the second disc is a lot of dirty stuff, notably the "where's the handle" portion, which is amusing but incredibly filthy.
At this point, you were solidly pro-Dane or anti-Dane. And it seemed that reactions on both sides were wayyy over the top. There are people who refuse to acknowledge that there has been a single funny syllable that has ever fallen from his lips. Note some comments on Dane from his entry at RateYourMusic.com:
There are 24 tracks on this CD but where are the jokes? This is nothing more than some pretty boy comic talking about his everyday boring life in a room full of people that would laugh at anything. ... HIFS was the comedy album that rotated a lot in many various kiddy circles when it came out. Who didn't listen to this? But come on, this guy was a sham. I really hope that no one over the age of twenty actually bought into this stuff and laughed, because it is all very stupid. ... Dane Cook is NOT FUNNY. Seriously. I was heavy into stand up so i got Wright, Carlin, Hicks and Hedberg. ... I could listen to this all the way through without even cracking a smile. I would only do that to prove a point. After the point was proven, I would never listen to this unfunny shit ever again.
Okay first off, don't get me started about these hipster fucks who constantly cite George Carlin and Mitch Hedberg. Carlin hasn't been funny in two decades; in fact his funeral was probably funnier than his last ten albums. And Hedberg had a brilliantly brief streak as the "hot" comic, but by the end of his young life he was so drugged out that he could barely perform. Joe Piscopo had more longevity than poor Mitch.
But you can't tell me that you never laughed at Dane Cook. I just don't buy it. I feel that these people probably had a pre-conceived notion about Dane and that probably colored their reaction to his comedy. Not your thing? Fair enough. I find it very hard to believe you never found him funny once.
The flip-side to that is the equally irritating Cult of Dane, which basically amounts to a collection of college age girls (all due respect young ladies) who wouldn't know Bob Newhart from Jim "The Anvil" Neidhardt, and suddenly are experts on the History of American Comedy. These are the people who scream at Dane's every concert ... you know, rather than actually laughing. God forbid Dane would throw out one of his catchphrases, you'd think you were at a fucking Jonas Brothers concert.
I never really blamed Dane himself for this; why wouldn't he try to get the crowd as amped up as he could. (David Cross certainly knows what's up!) And it wasn't his fault that (what I thought was) his relatively smart humor was being co-opted by a bunch of neophytes who just thought he was hot.
Dane's HBO special, Vicious Circle, wasn't bad, but it seemed that he couldn't help but fall victim to believing the accolades. He might have been drafted into the Cult of Dane, but now he was the willing ringleader. (Think: Gaius Baltar, fellow nerds.)
A few months ago, I was very excited to hear his album Rough Around the Edges on a trip from Syracuse to Rochester. I laughed for one track ("15 cents") and the rest was sex-laden material that would have sounded better coming from Jimmy Norton than Dane Cook. It was a crushing disappointment.
Later, I heard a radio interview with Dane, where the interviewer said Dane had been called "an X-rated Brian Regan," and whether Dane took that as a compliment. (If you don't know who Brian Regan is, he truly is the greatest comedian that's ever lived, next to maybe Bob Newhart and 1980s David Letterman.) Dane said "No, I don't take that as a compliment." And while he didn't insult Regan, he said it in a very dismissive way, almost like saying "Don't even compare Brian Regan to ME." He lost me for good there.
And that brings me to his latest special, ISolated INcident, a concert shot in one take and presented commercial-free for its debut. While it wasn't patently awful, it was just not that interesting. Dane went for a lot of the sexed-up humor that he's been using as a crutch lately (I had gravitated to him early on because he found a way to transcend that kind of stuff), including extended passages about web porn (not a single titter from me) and countless references to sexual exploits. It's not like I'm a prude, folks, I just don't find that kinda stuff interesting.
But the worst, new part of Dane's new act is the self-referentiality. In this special, he makes reference to his parents that died (which is fine), but then talks about how he Googled himself and saw all this hatred on the internet. (One funny thing: "When I entered my name into Google, Google came back to me and said 'Are you sure?'") But rather than acknowledge the myriad, valid reasons that some people might dislike him (his ego, the change in direction of his humor), he seems to chalk it all up to jealousy over his success. Instead, I would hope that Dane might figure out that maybe he strayed a bit from his roots. If someone had gotten to Adam Sandler early on, maybe we'd have more Billy Madisons and Happy Gilmores, and less Wedding Singers, Big Daddys and Little Nickys.
Early on, Dane had a kind of humility that any good comedian needs to have. The second a comic starts taking himself too seriously is when he will start to lose his luster. (See: Piscopo, Joe; Carrey, Jim; Murphy, Eddie; Degeneres, Ellen (since rehabbed).) I would love to see Dane act less like a superstar and more like a dumbass comic with flaws and vulnerability. When you are handsome (and suddenly buff, holy shit!), a little self-deprication goes a long way, and until he finds it again, I'm off the Dane Train.