Sunday, September 3

'Someone shit on the coats'

My favorite TV critic, Heather Havrilesky, puts the smack down on Dane Cook. (Yeah, yeah, it's Salon, so it's subscription only. Sorry.)

So what explains Cook's popularity? His comedy is most notable for what it lacks: a critique of the political climate (Dennis Miller, George Carlin, Jon Stewart, Bill Maher), a commentary on our culture (Chris Rock, David Chappelle), a slightly tweaked perspective (Ray Romano, Steven Wright, Jerry Seinfeld), outrageously dirty material (Eddie Murphy, Andrew Dice Clay), or just a goofy, oddball routine (Howie Mandel). Although his delivery can be chafingly smug, Cook doesn't present himself as anything special. He likes video games and chicks and sports and other general-purpose guy stuff. He's not particularly baffled by the world, or all that perceptive, or all that self-aware. He's a little self-deprecating, a little bit cutesy and a little bit aggressive, but most important, he treats mundane experiences like they're huge revelations: Breakup sex is the best, right? Right! Sometimes you have to lie to get out of stuff you don't want to do. I know you've done it, too, bro!

Ah, I knew it was coming. Dane's popularity has been growing and growing, bolstered in party by his huge MySpace following and his growing presence as a Comedy Central regular. It was only a matter of time before the backlash, a sing-song chorus of "Why is this doofus so popular? He's not even clever!" began.

Dane's a pretty polarizing comic; people seem to either love him or hate him. Havrilesky obviously doesn't have much use for him, but it almost seems like that's because she thinks his fans are insufferable college twits (and yes, they are) of the fratty persuasion, who wouldn't get clever or complex jokes even if he told them.

I understand the criticism of Dane's comedy; he does sort of reek of tool, with his calculatedly messed-up hair and his whiskered jeans. But I enjoy Dane's humor. It's mindless, crude, low-brow, and mostly pointless, and relies on hilarious, hyperbolic antics instead of clever interpretation of the mundane, but it's funny. Mostly. Well, it used to be. I haven't seen or heard his new stuff, so I can't say.

My relationship with Dane goes way back, waaaay back to the dark ages of 2002, when K-Mart filed for bankruptcy and Chandra Levy's death was deemed resultant of homicide even though no one cared anymore because we were all too busy living in a post-Sept. 11 world and gearing up to bomb the shit out of Iraq, and we were still reeling from Star Wars: Episode II, which redefined just how bad American cinema could be (sorry, Cheryl!).

That year I saw Dane's Comedy Central Presents show and laughed my ass off at his silly charades. His Alien bit was funny and his jabs at Catholicism, while not particularly sharp or political -- like Havrilesky notes -- were still hilarious. I found his website and immediately ordered Harmful If Swallowed (I can't find a link to the version I have; it has a kid making a funny face on the front, I think) and burned a copy for Amber.

We listened to the disc on our trip to the Knoxville-MTSU football game with Project Pat in the car. All three of us laughed and laughed for the entire duration of the disc. It was like having a profanely funny friend in the car with us, cracking wise as the car coasted along the highway. From that point on, Amber and I would lob Dane quotes at each other with alarming regularity, always descending into immature giggles. "A tire ... hit her in the FACE!" "Fuck bees. Fuuuuck beeeees." "Fuck it, I'm going out without shoes." "It's got the 'fu' and the 'ah' and the 'KA'!!!"

We continued the Dane-quoting madness after Retaliation was released.

So when Havrilesky says that Dane's humor is propped up on the notion of in-jokes and catchphrases, I think she's right. And I'm not sure why that's a bad thing. What else is comedy but a rumination over society's meta-in-jokes (or a segment's in-jokes)? We all laugh because we all know it's true. Or, if not true, it's funny 'cause it feels like it's true.

From his sloppy college kid look to his avoidance of anything political, cultural or remotely critical, Cook aims at appealing to those vast numbers of kids who haven't really developed any interests yet, and are most of all focused on having fun with a big group of people. While Seinfeld or Rock or Carlin or Miller react against the world, working themselves into a lather over just how idiotic and bizarre other people's behavior is, Cook's stories all boil down to the most familiar, relatable experiences he's had. His humor doesn't require even a glance at the wider world; it strengthens the bonds within a homogenous group.

True, Dane's no George Carlin, but he's funnier than Dennis Miller has been in the past six years, and he's not nearly as annoying as Jerry Seinfeld or Chris Rock. His comedy isn't highbrow, and you get the feeling that he's not all that smart*, but damn it, he can crack an unexpectedly funny joke involving sound effects and flailing limbs and funny imagery that will make you laugh, even if you don't have to think.

And, for people who spend the bulk of their time thinking thinking thinking, what's wrong with that every now and then?

*I once had a disappointing IM conversation with Dane a couple of years ago, before he got all famous and shit. He was incredibly unfunny and just wanted a photo of me. So, yes, he is kind of a tool.


Blogger jag said...

I'd only heard Dane Cook's name in passing before seeing 'Waiting', and was totally turned off by this pretty cute guy's ego seeped through his acting in the movie. Then the DVD came out and in all the behind the scenes stuff he was singled out as the star of the damn show, which I didn't understand, since I'd never heard of him but HAD heard of most of the rest of the cast.

Then his MySpace crap hit, and when his special came on Comedy Central, I figured I ought to watch this new phenom.

I was sorely disappointed and barely made it through 10 minutes of his standup. I'd go with 'tool', too.

Tue Sep 05, 09:07:00 AM  
Blogger phallicpen said...

Your son almost killed me with his Daffy Duck raft, John.

Tue Sep 05, 11:30:00 PM  
Blogger theogeo said...

Jag, it was around the time that 'Waiting' came out that his popularity sort of exploded. Prior to that move he had been in some monosyllabic piece of shit about drag-racing or motors or cars or something dumb, and was still relatively unknown.

He definitely is a lowest-common-demoninator kind of comic, but I swear he can crack me up. Maybe it's my nostalgia for the time I discovered him.

Amber, you and I would make the bread on a killer Dane sandwich. Hold the sesame seeds, please.

Wed Sep 06, 01:12:00 AM  
Blogger nashgirl said...

I am so-so on Dane Cook, but I enjoyed watching Tourgasm, which is him with other comics. It was interesting in regard to how comedy tours are scheduled and the background stuff and the other comedians were damn funny, too. So it was just the right amount of Dane.

Wed Sep 06, 06:22:00 PM  
Blogger theogeo said...

I don't think I saw Tourgasm. That wasn't where he was with Dave Attell and Greg Girardo and that other guy, was it, in Vegas? That was funny if so.

Thu Sep 07, 03:53:00 AM  

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