Judge Dennis Prince isn't afraid to say that this Dane ain't so great.
Although the times have changed and so have the names, it still comes down to the fact that what you and I consider "funny" can largely be a matter of taste.
And, no, I'm not suggesting an impromptu game of "who's in my mouth."
Where did Dane Cook come from and how is it that he's considered the funniest man on Earth today? This former video store lackey then Burger King employee has enjoyed a phenomenal rise to stardom and is all the rage with the high school and college-aged crowds. Energetic, abrasive, and downright loud, Dane Cook is this decade's "rock star funny guy" much the same as Eddie Murphy and Steve Martin before him. But, having listened to his Retaliation CD and now having screened the Dane Cook: Vicious Circle DVD, I'm not sure why the audience is laughing.
To look back at Cook's documented history offers an interesting thesis to his being crowned the new King of Comedy. Clearly he was something of a cut-up during his formative years and was likely egged on by his buddies who conceivably encouraged, "Dude, you're sooo funny. You should be a comedian." By the age of 25, Cook had apparently taken whatever praise was lauded him and, by 1995, was a regular on the comedy club circuit in hometown Boston. The buzz he generated in Bean Town gained him gigs in L.A.'s Laugh Factory that same year. And even though he gained high visibility on Comedy Central by 1999, it wasn't enough. Reportedly, in 2001, Cook scraped together $25,000 of his own to establish www.danecook.com. From there, he went on a tear of self-promotion to his Internet-savvy target audience, including establishing a presence on the emerging MySpace.com, and the effort paid off. His first comedy CD, Harmful If Swallowed, was released in 2003 and he even helmed his own film, 8 Guys. By his own efforts and his ability to connect directly with his fans via his 'Net presence, Dane Cook became the much talked about name in comedy.
But is he really funny, or is he just a new-age sort of fad?
Cook is certainly successful and has shown he is deft in the ways of exploiting the promotional potential of the online realm. As for his comedy, the fact is, in this reviewer's opinion, he brings nothing new to the stage. Sure, he exists as perpetual motion as he strides and stomps through his performance, but his lack of incisiveness and subtly leaves him as just another loud guy who hurls F-bombs as if there mere use equates to hilarity. Not really.
"It's amazing sometimes how just a little lint-ball—a little ball of lint—can turn into a, uh, cluster-f***. An entire cluster-f***, and that's not a candy bar, I'll tell you that right now. Milk-chocolatey Cluster-F***s don't exist—full of peanuts and f***! Nougatey f***."
For youngsters who are new to the use of this pejorative prize, it can be funny in and of itself. However, even they recognize that repetitive use of the word in a single proclamation is, well, kinda lame. But Cook peppers his act with this juicy gem and likewise uses tiresome repetition of other words and phrases as if each time he says them, they become funnier and funnier. To my ears, its much like there's little substance to what he's saying yet its his own insistence that what he's droning about, over and over, is funny and you damn well better realize it, bro.
His act is very physical in that he uses a continual amount of pantomime and charades-style expressives to deliver his humor. Here again, though, he uses repetition to ensure you got the joke. As he discusses a fight with his girlfriend and imitates the wide-legged stance she takes when she's ready to level a devastating blow, he shows us that stance over and over and over again. It wasn't terribly side splitting the first time so why would it coax continued laughter each time thereafter? And, as you watch his routine, you see he's all about the buildup of the gag but his ultimate punchline—the all-important payoff that you waited for so attentively—is usually flat and generally unfunny. So why all the flap over Dane?
What I suspect may be at work here is not so much that Cook is funny but, rather, that anyone between the ages of 17 and 27 must be regarded completely lame if they don't think he's funny. Pans of the audience in attendance shows a bunch of youngsters fitting the aforementioned age bracket who are giggling hysterically as they continually nudge one another as if to confirm that this is the appropriate moment to get the joke. If not, they must be lame, man, because that dude's hella funny. Right? Well, lucky for me, I don't fall into that particular demographic so I'm free to proclaim that this particular emperor may have no clothes. He appeals to his crowd on their intellectual level, citing elements particular to their New Millennium lifestyle including references to 1985 as "back in the day," Saturday mornings spent watching Transformers, and cyber-café lingo that includes "snarky" and "Google that sh*t." The truth is, I understand exactly what he's talking about so its not like there's a generation gap a work here—his sh*t just isn't funny to big people like me.
But I'm not here to rant and rip over Dane Cook. I have no interest in his success or failure but I do take interest in his audiences who may be missing excellent comedy, current and vintage, which is far superior to what this guy leaves on the stage. Naturally, I acknowledge the under-aged contingent here and their giddiness at hearing Cook belt out all manner of off-color colloquialisms yet I would steer those youngsters (with parental permission, if they can get it) to the early works of George Carlin. This erstwhile hippy that truly is from "back in the day" was edgy beyond belief and strictly forbidden to my pre-pubescent ears some several decades ago. His humor and excellently metered use of "bad language" still provides the thrill of low-level disobedience while getting an earful of the counter-culture comedian's outlandish oeuvre. If you seek the same harsh language with a far better delivery, seek out the works of the late Redd Foxx. If you want to stay in the current day, just look up Dave Chappelle or Chris Rock. Don't forget to venture back to the 1980s and check out Billy Crystal's work not to mention the stand-up rock star of the day, Eddie Murphy. And if you want to hear some truly inane ramblings from the former leader of arena comedy, check out Steve Martin's 1979 A Wild and Crazy Guy. If you like Dane Cook and disagree with my assessment of his accomplishments, that's fine; I'm just saying there's much better material out there for you to enjoy.
And so what about this two-disc special edition DVD, Dane Cook: Vicious Circle? Well, upon opening it, I was immediately greeted with another example of shameless and repetitious self-promotion. Disc One features the original 95-minute broadcast aired on HBO Sept. 4, 2006. Disc Two, then, must be a bonus concert or some sort. Not really, since it comprises the same concert in its uncut format, reinserting 37 minutes that didn't make the HBO airing. What the crap?! Why not just include those 37 stinking minutes as deleted scenes on Disc One, perhaps with seamless branching so the show could be viewed with or without them? Instead, you get another of Cook's repetition routines, making the first disc utterly useless. The cut scenes on Disc Two are marked by the comic's Su-Fi symbol, just so you know what you're seeing is extra stuff. Nice, I guess, until you get tired of seeing the glaring mustard yellow symbol at the bottom right-hand corner of your display, threatening to leave image retention and chancing it'll f*** up your monitor to some degree. Disc Two also has a short featurette, Boston Cook Party, that gives some behind-the-scenes glimpses to the concert as it's being prepared. There's also a plug trailer for Dane Cook: Tourgasm. Oh, and the image quality is fine, really, framed at a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio. It's clean and artifact free as you should expect from current material. The audio is a let down, though, since it's only offered in a Dolby Digital 2.0 surround mix. Given Vicious Circle featured Cook performing "in the round" amid 18,000 attendees, a 5.1 or DTS mix would certainly be appropriate to recreate the concert experience. Someone f*** up, wouldn't you say?
I read an allegation that Dane's "not all he's Cooked up to be." It's a witty sentiment that I'm afraid I have to agree with. I don't deny that he's having a good time and likely laughing all the way to the bank, but I'm not laughing with him. Hell, I don't even think I'm laughing at him. Fact is, I'm not laughing, period.
Su-Fi, man, right back at ya'!
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• Extended footage not aired on HBO
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