The Rise and Fall of Dane Cook and the Spiders from Mars

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September 26, 2014 by NowhereButPop

by Andrew Doscas

People rise, we reign for a little bit, and then we inevitably fall; that’s the simple cycle of all humanity, but for some reason the falls are always more intriguing and talked about than the rise to power.[1]  People who think Godfather Part II is superior to the original are automatically supporting this claim.  One of the most interesting falls from grace is that of Dane Cook, who for a brief period of time took the nation, and comedy in general, by storm only to lose it all in a squall of controversy.

I feel sort of like I’m being misleading or that I’m baiting you whenever I use the word “controversy” to describe Dane Cook.  He didn’t do anything illegal, nor was he controversial in the way that Andrew “Dice Man” Clay was.  Yeah, Cook’s material could be vulgar at time, but it wasn’t inherently trying to be sexist and uncouth, nor did it make society at large shun him, as we did to Clay.  With Clay we got the feeling that even though he was making crude or misogynistic jokes, he was sort of serious about his depictions of women and foreigners.  With Cook, there was an air of playfulness that added on to his natural charisma.  And to be honest, anyone who turned 10 before 2005, will tell you that at one point in their life thought Dane Cook was the funniest guy on the planet.

Why does Dice Man always look like he’s auditioning for a new Terminator movie?

No, when I say that Dane Cook caused a controversy, it’s how he fell from his status as the most commercialized and marketable comedian in the business.  There was no real controversy, but more of a shared experience kind of realization where everyone in society began to notice the truth about Dane Cook at the same time.  But again, there was no dark secret or hidden closet of coke and dead whore, we just began to  gain an awareness to the machinations of Cook’s success, namely how in trying to become a rock star comedian, he was spreading himself too thin, and also how he would rework Louis C.K. jokes into his routine.  In actuality, the controversy was that we all decided, simulatenously, that he wasn’t cool anymore.

In small, concentrated doses Dane Cook could be very funny; I remember hearing “Not So Kool-Aid” on his album Harmful If Swallowed for the first time as a 10 year old, and still to this day it makes me laughs.  That was the Dane Cook that blew up into superstardom.  This was the Dane Cook whose follow up album Retaliation became the best-selling comedy album in 25 years.  The Dane Cook that fell back down to earth like a lead balloon was the one that emerged shortly thereafter; the Dane Cook who starred in shitty movie after shitty movie, films like Good Luck Chuck, My Best Friend’s Girl, and Employee of the Month.  This was the same Dane Cook who made an incredibly uninspired HBO show Tourgasm, to chronicle just how much of a rock star he had become to people born between 1980-1994.

The beginning of the end came with his HBO special Vicious Circle in late 2006, an extension of Tourgasm; it featured overly long and incredibly self-indulgent jokes (with about half the jokes being laid into 10 minute stories).  What was once a three minute joke about the creepy guy at work, soon became a 20 minute saga about cheating on his girlfriend.  His jokes became less grounded in universal realism, and instead just began to reflect his own ego and superstardom.

The only thing worse than a not funny comedian, is a comedian who’s trying too hard, and that’s ultimately what led to Cook’s downfall.  In trying to reach for superstardom, he left his comfortable perch and tried to make his way onto television and film.  At the same time, it was revealed that he had imitated jokes that Louis C.K. had created, most notably Cook’s “Itchy Asshole” and “My Son Optimus Prime” bits.  All of these accusations, from plagiarism, to a lack of talent (caused from overexposure), to narcissism all led us to change our opinions of what he thought about Dane Cook.  No longer did it matter if he was funny or not, all we cared about was that the Dane Cook in 2007 wasn’t the Dane Cook of 2003.  He had changed, his popularity and his comedy reflected that truth.  He didn’t want to be the next Richard Pryor, he wanted to be the iPod.  But even though he seemed to love the cult of personality that was growing around him, and even though his popularity was changing him from the exciting observer of mundane insanity, to a self-absorbed façade of cool, Cook never seemed offened about any of the criticisms hurled his way.

Louis C.K. as he was as a young, virile, and not bald man.

Despite every other comedian going on needless diatribes about how Cook wasn’t funny, or how they couldn’t understand how he blew up, Louis C.K, was relatively quiet about his feelings towards Cook.  The one person who could have, objectively, been upset with Cook, even included an exaggerated encounter between the two on his T.V. show.  In the episode “Oh, Louie/Tickets”, of the second season of Louie, Louis C.K. has to ask Dane Cook to get his daughters tickets to see Lady Gaga.  What ensues is a conversation about the nature of Cook’s fall from grace, and how even though Louis C.K. had no active part in it, society used Louis C.K. as its mechanism to bring down Dane Cook.[2]  The point of this dramatized interaction was that there was never any mal-intent on Cook’s part to steal jokes or become construed as an egotistical jerkoff.  And no matter what, I think that that is true; when I look at Dane Cook, I see a guy who just wanted to be as big as he could be.  Like Icarus, he flew too high for his own good.

To the Extreme was a good album.

In some ways, Dane Cook has become the comedy equivalent of Vanilla Ice.  There was a time, however brief it was, where the two of them were the biggest, best, and most important entertainers in their fields.  Then we started to realize that they weren’t what we thought they were.  Vanilla Ice wasn’t the streetwise hustler, and Cook wasn’t this universally relatable comic, content with intimate jokes.  To compound on this change in image, both despite good original material, will always be marred by plagiarism.  Vanilla Ice will forever be haunted by Queen’s “Under Pressure” and Cook will have the aura and legacy of Louis C.K. hanging over him.  The accusations of plagiarism weren’t the only thing that ruined both Vanilla Ice and Dane Cook, they were merely the most visible and inciting action of their revulsion.[3]

Dane Cook isn’t a villain.  He isn’t someone looking to do ill, he just wanted to be a superstar.  I don’t think that it ever occurred to him though, that certain steps he took could have negative ramifications.  And that’s exactly what happened.  If he did in fact steal jokes, it wasn’t a cognizant theft, I think it would have been a case of imitation as a form of flattery.  There was a time, before all the controversy and criticisms, when an entire generation of kids thought Dane Cook was the funniest man on the planet.  What I’ll never understand though, is if this cultural change in thought was something that we constructed ourselves, or if it was a part of growing up.  One thing I do know though, is that as we got older, we just kinda outgrew him.

 

———————————————————————————————-

[1] Name me one good prequel.

[2] Louis C.K., one of the funniest comedians of all time, was introduced to me, and countless other young Americans as “The guy who Dane Cook stole jokes from”, and so the bigger Louis C.K. got, the more disparaged Cook became.  Or maybe it was the other way around, the more we hated Dane Cook, the more we loved Louis C.K.

[3] Much in the same way that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was the inciting cause of WWI, and not the only cause of it.

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