“Cook”ing up some laughs

Allison Corneau

It may be hard to believe, but comedian Dane Cook says he was the quiet kid in school, not the class clown. Surprising, yes, but true. The self-proclaimed “shyest kid in school” is now hardly that at all. Cook, an Arlington, Mass., native, brought his comedy act to Quinnipiac as part of May Weekend 2004, performing with friends Jay Davis and Gary Gulman.

The Chronicle caught up with Cook after his show, to chat about his college comedy tour, his advice for aspiring comedians, and what really makes him laugh. In addition to his Quinnipiac stop, the comedian also performed local dates at Framingham State College and Boston College in Massachusetts.

The comedy veteran who normally performs in nightclubs explains what makes him enjoy bringing his act to colleges, a venue that totally differs from the traditional comedy club. Because the typical intimacy of a small club is lacking at colleges, Cook relies on the crowd’s energy and their dedication to his comedy act to get him through his set.

“(It is) totally different,” Cook says, of his college shows. “I mean, a club is more intimate. You can connect with a crowd and if someone makes a face and you kind of comment on it then everyone gets it and can see it; with a college it’s a lot more about the energy and everybody’s pretty pumped up. With a club people don’t really know what to expect when they come in and with college shows it’s like ‘we’re here to see Dane.’ It’s hugely flattering and I play off energy and when I get energy, I give it back,” he said.

The energy level was certainly high at the QU show, with many diehard fans in the audience eager to hear their favorite Dane Cook bit. While Cook is grateful to those fans that keep coming to show after show and look for his signature jokes, he realizes that in the long run, he has a lot more people who are not necessarily familiar with his material, to impress. Cook’s particular recipe for a successful show, though, simply involves getting his comedy out there and letting the public decide what makes them laugh.

“I don’t feel like I have to do anything specific,” Cook says of his material. “I’m at a point too, though, where there’s a lot of people who do know me, but certainly a lot more who don’t, so I still like to do a lot of my popular stuff to let them hear it. I like to mix it up, new and old,” he said.

To help spread the word about his comedy, Cook is actively self-promoting his material, including his comedy album “Harmful if Swallowed” and DVD “8 Guys,” through his Web site, www.danecook.com. The comedian says that he really enjoys interacting with his fans, and seeing what material works and what does not. Cook added that he often chats with fans using his AOL Instant Messenger screen name, and often posts on his online message board.

Coming from a background of improvisational comedy, Cook tries to win over audiences by coming up with an idea for a bit and putting it out there for the public to judge. Describing his writing process, Cook says he uses a non-traditional method of writing.

“I say it’s writing, but it’s really not writing. It’s more like, if I think about a thing I was to do…I try to just go up on stage with the idea and improvise with it and find the beats with people. If I just write something by myself, then I get tangled up, but if I’m having a conversation with you about something funny, then I’m really getting a back and forth so I do that with a crowd (at a show). I don’t really write the classic way by sitting down and writing my jokes, I get bored like that,” Cook said.

Even though the Federal Communication Commission has increased fines for broadcast violations, including Howard Stern’s radio controversy, and Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl stunt, Cook is not worried about having to censor his material to satisfy the critics.

“I don’t really think about (the regulations) with my comedy, but it certainly has affected other areas of the business that I’ve gotten involved in, mainly TV. You can feel it, the trickle down affect, because the fines are so high now. They’ve gone from $25,000 to $250,000 (per violation), so people are not taking any chances right now, but they haven’t messed with stand-ups yet so hopefully they’ll leave us alone,” he said.

When giving advice to aspiring comedians, Cook reflects on his own career, and is appreciative of the support his fans have given over the years. The comedy veteran was momentarily stumped when asked what he attributed his staying power to. He said he credits his fans, which have really been instrumental in his success.

“(His staying power is attributed to) maybe just giving 100 percent to my fans and wanting to meet people after and say ‘thank you.’ I never knew 10 years ago that people would want to meet me after a show. You don’t think about that, you just think about making people laugh. You don’t really think at that time that people are going to get in their car, they’re going to drive home and they’re going to think about you and tell other people ‘I saw this guy,’ and kind of be press for you and build your career,” Cook said.

This give and take with his fans has helped Cook really enjoy doing what he does for a living. He advises aspiring comedians to make certain they really love comedy and performing stand-up, otherwise the business will become too tedious and discouraging.

“I would say that if you want to be paid, don’t be a comic,” Cook joked. “It’s the love of the game. There’s going to be a long time where you’re not going to see any money or benefits or anything. Sometimes aspiring comics will write me (asking) ‘when will I get paid?’ and I just write back ‘dude, you should just quit now.’

“If you think about money, you’ll be miserable. You’ll never be happy, because it’s never going to be a high paying job. It could lead to other things potentially, but it’s the love of the game. You’ve got to love the struggle of being a comic,” he said.

For more information on Cook, fans can visit his cyberspace home at www.danecook.com. To learn more about the up-and-coming comics Jay Davis or Gary Gulman, who appear on the road with Cook, head to www.jaydaviscomedy.com or www.garygulman.com.