A Semi-Defense of Dane Cook

Filed Under Stand-Up Comedy

There’s been a bit of a dust-up after Alex Blagg, a comedian who pens the daily blog for VH1’s Best Week Ever, received a message via Dane Cook‘s myspace account. Alex, who does delight in making jokes at the comic’s expense, was asked “Why all the cynical bullshit?”

Alex didn’t budge an inch and called the sender, if it was Dane, a “joke-stealing jerk-off.” This brought a long reply from “Dane” that can be characterized by this excerpt:

“Go ahead sweetness write back with your well oiled quips — call a friend maybe they will help write it. Or better yet do what you ALWAYS do and take out your lack of worth on Dane Cook and others that work hard, contribute and get their goals — the ones that CAN’T FIGHT YOU because they are too busy and have too much to do to even notice you.”

(Note the use of third person there) Alex, of course, put all of this together into a Best Week Ever blog post. If the sender’s goal was to stop the “cynical bullshit”...

After a Radar story on the whole matter where his publicist asserted that Dane did not know who wrote the message, Dane put a note on both his website and myspace blog describing how he believes someone pretended to be him, possibly hacking into his page. (Which has happened before, his whole profile was deleted in May of last year and replaced with pictures that sound akin to goatse and lemon party.) He encouraged his fans to ignore haters and instead

Go to ANY SOLDIER and write someone in the armed forces. Don’t blog back tonight. Do something that feels positive and benefits these people’s lives. These soldiers would love to be opining on a blog site about their favorite comedians but, oh yea, THEY ARE GETTING SHOT AT and defending their fellow soldiers from people lurking around them ALL DAY AND NIGHT TRYING TO KILL THEM. “Hi, I’m perspective nice to meet you!”

(Short aside, I’d love for the soldiers to be opining on comedians on a blog too, preferably mine. Let’s bring them home.)

I have to admit I get where Alex is on this. It’s a little fun to find that you’ve annoyed someone - I remember being more than a little excited at discovering Larry the Cable Guy was annoyed by one of my interviews questions in his book. But, I kind of feel a bit more in the right in that I was never trying to make fun of him. In fact, my interview with him, was as one reader said “so respectful.” So while I’m glad Alex is having a good time, I think some of the arguments detractors make against Dane Cook come off a bit cheap.

The biggest evidence most people point to is that Dane Cook is a joke thief, using an mp3 which mixes three jokes by Louis CK and Dane together to show the similarities between the performers. And I kind of hear it and I kind of don’t. Louis CK’s said after hearing one of Dane’s similar bits that “this kid is stealing from me.” I trust his opinion, but I’d still love to hear Dane’s side of the story.

Those jokes aren’t really Louis CK or Dane Cook anyway. None of them feel uniquely theirs and in some ways they all play on common experiences. I know I’ve had the moment described in both jokes where I was about to witness someone get hit by a car and felt powerless to stop it. An experience can be fair play and two people can separately find the same distorted logic within it.  This happens a lot with current events jokes. How many jokes about using Mexicans to build the wall to keep out immigrants did you hear? The same joke was told everywhere from the Daily Show to Carlos Mencia. Human beings aren’t so unique that this couldn’t happen with personal events as well.

And in some ways imitation is how a comedian develops. So many comedians’ bios mention that they first came aware of comedy by memorizing Bill Cosby’s routines or Woody Allen’s albums or a Richard Pryor set. In many cases, they’ll actually perform those comics’ jokes when they’re starting out. Mimicry of others helps them find themselves. At the Chris Rock tribute at The Comedy Festival, Mario Joyner pointed out that comedians borrow from each other all the time and sometimes it’s the guy who gets on stage first who gets to claim ownership. None of these necessarily directly apply here, other to say there’s a lot more grey than black and white when it comes to being a joke thief. The evidence makes me wary and there well could be fire where there was smoke, but I don’t think three jokes is enough to condemn Dane Cook’s career.

My biggest problem with Cook is that he seems to have a perception that anyone who criticizes him is a hater. (Although the virulence of the criticism, sometimes frothing, may make that feeling seem justified.) People can have a response to his work and say something sincere and critical and not be a “keyboard assassin.” Just because I’m not going to buy a ticket for the “Dane Train” doesn’t mean I want it to crash and kill everyone on board. Comedy is an art form and my ridiculous goal with Dead-Frog is to try and raise the awareness of it as an art without being boring or pretentious. I want to help get more good shit in front of people. The only way to do that sometimes is to share what I think could be better. This with us or against us mentality is disappointing and plays into a lot of detractors thoughts that his fans are cultist.

(I should note here that Alex is a friend of the blog. I don’t know if Dane is.)

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Comments

Posted by Jouster on 01/19  at  05:52 PM

Just want to point out that Louis initially shrugged it off, and only when confronted with three cases of theft/close similarity to jokes Dane does did he make the comment that “this kid is stealing from me,” not ‘after hearing one of Dane’s similar bits.’  I think it’s important to remember that, and also remember that Louis decided not to take any action against Dane, possibly for the reasons you’ve written about here.

I do agree with your sentiment, though, that people overreact and tend to treat Dane either as a God or as the Devil himself, when really he’s neither.  Take it down a notch, everyone.

Posted by Mackenzie on 01/20  at  09:07 PM

Love the blog, but have to respectfully disagree on this one.  I came across the latest Cook fracas this week too (I think via your friends on The Apiary) and after listening to the Joe Rogan rant on Opie and Anthony I buy the Cook-as-thief accusation 100%. 

While I’ll grant the premises in question are of a fairly general nature, THREE bits from the same comedian in the same performance is just too much to swallow.  Slate’s been writing a lot about plagiarism as of late and this piece I’ve linked to makes the argument that the accidental borrowing of the same words isn’t as common as we might all think.  Maybe it’s a stretch, but I think the same holds true of comedic ideas. 

In the past Cook, to me, has just been an unfunny, unimportant presence in the world of comedy, fairly easy to ignore.  But the whole thing of flipping this debate into an off-key support-our-troops blast was cringe-worthy.  What’s the last refuge of the scoundrel?

Todd Jackson
Posted by Todd Jackson on 01/20  at  10:35 PM

Jouster - Duly noted. You’re absolutely right, I probably should change the main blog article to reflect Louis did not immediately assume thievery.

Mackenzie - First, thanks for respectfully disagreeing. I’ll fully admit that I get why people hear the jokes that way. There’s at least one that sounds absolutely the same - in the same words - but I find the other two a bit more debatable. Could Cook be a thief? Absolutely.

There are other accusations too and these examples make them weighty, but I don’t think if these three jokes are stolen that it completely invalidates Dane’s career. His success isn’t based on just these three jokes. More jokes would definitely create more doubt. The joke thief accusation seems like a convenient way to explain away someone who has entertained a lot of people, even if you or I are not frequently them. I have several reasons beyond the marketing/promo ones that I think give more insight into Dane’s success and what’s he done right.

If people see a comedian they don’t think is good but is a success, they should ask what he is doing right rather than what he is doing wrong. Perhaps they can find something that would benefit themselves as well. If he’s that bad, he’ll take a fall eventually.

Also, I agree on his deflection to the support-our-troops cry. It was something I wanted to mention in the post, but it didn’t seem on point. I just hoped one of my readers would bring it up. It’s absolutely a good cause and I think it was meant with good intentions, but it came off a bit crass and heavy handed.

Posted by Mike on 01/22  at  03:37 AM

The parallels between Cook’s and Louis CK’s material provided in that clip are too close for coincidence.  If the topics were current events or recent cultural trends, as you mentioned, I’d give Cook the benefit of the doubt.  There’s understandably going to be overlap of jokes, and their variations, among many comedians about George Bush or Britney Spears’ parenting skills. 

The hitting-a-car and child-naming premises felt too specific and obscure (and their punchlines too similar) to be an accident.  The itchy butt joke, well, that one could’ve truly been incidental contact—it seems to have a little more universality than the first two. 

I’d agree that Cook’s act deviated just far enough from Louis CK’s words that it’s probably not provable plagiarism, however, it is enough reason for people to keep a close eye on him in the future.

I also believe that his pro-troops call to action was rooted more in PR than anything else. That may be cynical, perhaps.  But how many USO shows has he done?  I couldn’t find any online, but maybe somebody else knows better than I.

Posted by Jacob on 01/25  at  02:35 AM

In my opinion, Dane Cook is a pretty good comedian.  I don’t really see the three jokes as being the same. What choose to believe is all on you.  However, I see nothing wrong with Dane’s statement about the Soldiers.  Nothing.  I have very close friends and even a family member who is serving our Country and think that Dane’s statement was very honorable.  Oh and by the way, my military friends love Mr. Cook.

Posted by Drew on 09/24  at  07:48 PM

I’m sorry Jacob but if you “don’t really see the three jokes as being the same” you’re simply not paying attention.

Posted by Michael McLoughlin on 02/22  at  01:07 AM

Dane Cook is a very talented performer, his material’s not that great.  Cook has been a standup comedian over half his life, so it doesn’t make sense to credit all of his success to three jokes that he probably stole from Louis C.K. Also, Cook has been criticized for his response, but it is not dishonorable to ask bloggers to support our troops instead of bashing people

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