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If the funniest
man in America
can’t
make you laugh, he’ll show you his balls.
That’s right, his testicles. He’ll let
them dangle and jiggle and if
the sheer sight of them doesn’t get to you,
then he’ll start bounding up and down
and running all around until those balls
are doing something that looks
like a cross between the funky chicken and
a pile of caviar frying in an electric
chair. He’ll do this because making people
laugh is what he does and
because if he can’t get you to laugh telling
his new jokes then maybe he’ll try his
old jokes and if the old jokes don’t
work then he’ll take it as a personal
affront of sorts and then he’s liable to
do anything and anything means he just
might show you his balls.


“If nothing works, then it’s balls,” he says. “Everybody
laughs at balls. If it’s between balls and failure, then I’m going with balls.”


His name is Dane Cook and there’s a decent chance you
haven’t heard of him, nor seen his balls. This despite the fact that the
funniest man in America has been a professional comic for 15 years and
routinely plays sold-out shows to audiences that number in the tens of
thousands and that a few weeks ago his second album, Retaliation,
debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard charts, which is the highest a comedy album
has charted since a guy named Steve Martin released A
Wild and Crazy Guy
26 years ago. And even if you forget all about the
big numbers and just consider that when he’s not touring or not appearing on
television or doing funny whatever wherever, then he’s onstage at the Laugh
Factory, right here in Hollywood, some six nights a week, including his
permanent rotation on both weekend nights. And still, because comedians are the
most anonymous of entertainers unless they have their own TV show, you might
have missed him.


So here are the facts. He is 33 years old and perhaps
5-foot-11 and from Boston. He likes the Red Sox. He likes to wear T-shirts and
jeans and leather jackets. His hair is spiky and black and messy in the way
that people’s hair gets spiky and messy when coated with the kind of hair
product that makes talent agents look like guys trying to play talent agents on
TV. Dane Cook can pull off the hair just like he can pull off showing his balls
at the Laugh Factory or biting a complete stranger’s arm despite the fact that
the complete stranger was the rapper Nelly and Cook bit his arm while declaring
his everlasting love for Katie Holmes during an off-his-rocker Tom Cruise
imitation done live on Jimmy Kimmel’s show — are you really going to argue with
this guy about his hair?


His earliest inspiration came from childhood. The family
would sit down to watch Johnny Carson and he would sit down to watch his family
watch Johnny Carson. “I was too young to get most of the jokes, but there was
something about this man that you loved. That’s when it clicked, that’s when I
decided I wanted to be the guy who made people laugh at night. I didn’t have
the easiest life growing up, but when we could all be together and laugh at
Johnny Carson — that was something. I wanted to give that to other people. That
was the beginning.”


From that point on he drew on every comic he could find,
old, young, dead, living, whatever. If there was a guy cracking people up at
the soup kitchen, Cook would seek him out. “I wanted to learn every trick in
the book so that you could never say Dane Cook is this
kind of comic,” he says.


This makes his comedy a bit hard to describe. It’s
partially stoner humor and partially working-man’s humor and both at a very
high level. It’s incredibly physical and incredibly cerebral, but not manic
like Jim Carey or brainy like Stephen Wright. Some comics like to be
comfortable; Cook likes to plumb the edge. He likes hostile audiences. He’s
played a lot of rooms where his was the only white face and nobody was all that
happy to see it.


“For years, I did it every Sunday in New York City. It was
like go on heckle me for four or five minutes. I’ll take it. Bring it at me,
but if you shut up for a second I’ll use one of my standard opening lines: ‘I’m
not gonna lie to you, it is great being white.
And I love it. You know, there’s a lot of perks. I wake up every morning with a
huge bag of cash. I don’t know if you know that we get that. It’s just congrats
on being white — and I love that. Sometimes I
get credit cards. Being white is just — oh God, I’m glad I’m not black. Jesus,
I’m glad.’”


Unlike many comics who labor over jokes, Cook tries to
spend less than a day between the time he comes up with an idea and the time he
tests that idea on stage. He adds new stuff every night, goes on tangents,
takes left turns, rarely losing his audience, always getting them back again.
He likes to see what plays and he likes to get himself in and out of trouble.
There’s no standard patter, no real pattern.


“There’s stuff that
I still bring up that’s been around for
10 years, but I guess the best way to explain
it is that my strength early
on was thinking of segues on the fly. That’s
my best tool. I can take you from the Beverly
Center to being in bed with a girl and
somehow you don’t even see a
change. So given that and being so spontaneous,
my feeling is if a joke’s meant to be a
part of the show, I’ll think it. I’ll feel
it from this crowd. When I
see a band, I want to feel like the show
is for me. I don’t want to feel a set list.
I try to bring that to comedy. I want you
to feel like the show is for
you. Does it always work perfectly… nah,
but when it does, it’s the best feeling
ever.”


Except, that is, for being white.

LA Weekly