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Review: Dane Cook - ISolated INcident

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Ah, Dane Cook. Regarded by some as the aggressive and rugged face of fun, energetic comedy. Sort of the anti-Mitch Hedberg. For others, Dane is a posterboy for an altogether different type of comic: the plagiarizer, the man without a punchline. Personally, I have long held that Dane Cook is a performer and not a stand up comedian, in the way that Bob Villa was a TV show host and not a licensed contractor. For the better part of a decade, you couldn’t be handed a transcript of a Dane Cook set, read it, and think it was funny. There just weren’t any JOKES in the conventional sense, just a lot of stage direction and exclamation points where the punchlines should be.

This technique, of course, has made Dane very successful, frequently selling out stadiums and garnering his own television show, Tourgasm. It also, as is well documented, brought out the haters, of which Dane has more than a few. His Carlos Mencia-like whiplash ride from revered stage showman to reviled antics man who may - or may not - have stolen material was alarming. Then, almost as quickly, Dane disappeared. Well, that’s not exactly true. Under the social surface, Dane was as busy as ever, but with different priorities. Within nine months of one another, both of his parents succumbed to cancer, and the online shit talkers began to outnumber the fans. As Dane himself says on his new CD release and corresponding special: “I googled myself, and after four and a half hours even I said ‘this Dane Cook’ is a douchebag”.

The road to ISolated INcident has certainly been a long one, with more than enough emotional detours along the way. But at the end of the journey, it certainly seems like Dane has emerged a better performer and (maybe) even a comedian for a change.

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For the making of ISolated INcident, Dane had to step back from the persona he had become in public and on the stages he had grown to find so comfortable. He began dropping back in at small nightclubs across the country - indeed ISolated INcident was recorded right here in Los Angeles - and trying out new, more intelligent jokes, instead of the run-around-and-scream approach that had gotten him so far. After pouring over the words of those who truly didn’t like his act, and dealing with the loss of both parents so quickly, it seems like Dane was ready to reinvent himself, or at least prove to those that doubted him that he could be just as funny in the way that they wanted.

What’s interesting is that this new Dane Cook seems so familiar because it is a voice and a tempo that we’ve all heard so much, but his set has almost a novice feel to it, because for the first time in a long time Dane is writing out of his comfort zone. He is crafting jokes in the usual way that would actually, *gasp* be translatable to the page, and not just on stage. He hits all of the usual hotspots for young comedians: a quick dip into the hypocrisies of racism, a giggly use of naughty words, and a large chunk on the gross and funny parts of sex. He even does a little crowd work. Only rarely does he step outside the lines and into somewhere really interesting, like when he tackles the hate phenomenon that has grown around him, or touches on the love he truly has for his parents. The most successful parts of the show are the moments when he combines the persona we’ve all known with the material that is well-crafted and wholly new to him, and us. The fast talking bits, the quick joke runs and goofy turns of phrase, when solidified in an understandable premise and followed through to an actually funny conclusion, are wonderful. And there are enough of them to sustain this CD, but certainly not to elevate it.

At least it seems like Dane is heading in the right direction, according to many (myself included). For those of us who see stand up comedy as an art form and not a shouting match, ISolated INcident is a welcome addition to the landscape that Dane helped to destroy for many, many years. After nearly a decade of public ups and downs, highs and lows both inside the comedy world and out, perhaps Dane Cook really is starting to find his voice.

Dane Cook: ISolated INcident is currently available in stores nationwide. He will also be performing at the Staples Center on May 30th.