Dane Cook’s three-show barrage at the Taj caps off a string of stellar stand-up shows in A.C.
When massively popular Dane Cook made the decision to mount a full-blown arena show for his summer Global Thermo Comedy Tour, he wasn’t thinking with his ego. It was, as he explains it, simply a matter of supply versus demand.
“It’s certainly not something you decide on your own,” explains Cook, one of only a small handful of comedians who has sampled the rarified air of arenas. “It’s really [about] the fans and having so many people wanting to come and see you.”
A decade ago, Cook was a funny but fairly ordinary comedian playing 300-seat comedy clubs. But his popularity was on the rise, due in part to his regular appearances on the Comedy Central cable channel and roles in a variety of motion pictures.
As his star continued to rise, so did demand for seats in the laughing academies. Club dates that originally called for two or three shows expanded to anywhere from six to 10 sets over the course of a weekend.
The next logical move was into theaters and showrooms, he adds.
“So I would play [theaters] with 2,000 to 3,000 seats and find that there were [another] 1,000 people clamoring to get in,” he tells Atlantic City Weekly during a phone call en route from his home in Los Angeles to catch a flight at LAX.
His Labor Day weekend gig at Trump Taj Mahal is a perfect example of his theory of supply-side comedy. Originally scheduled to work two nights in the Taj Mahal’s 5,200-seat Etess Arena, Cook’s shows sold out so quickly and demand was so great that a third show was added to the gig.
After filling theaters and small arenas on a consistent basis, the next logical move for Cook was to begin playing rooms that hold up to 20,000 people. Only a handful of comedians have been successful in bringing comedy to such large rooms.
To make things even more interesting, when Cook decided to play the biggest indoor rooms, he also wanted to do it in the round by placing his stage smack in the center of the arena. Working in the round can be tricky — it’s really an art form within an art form — since the artist has to move around the stage in a way so that everyone in the room feels they’re receiving equal treatment from the entertainer.
Cook feels his decision to work in the round rather than from a proscenium stage actually lends a degree of intimacy to his performance, even in a big room. Performing in the Taj Mahal’s smallish arena, he adds, is his comedy version of working “unplugged.”
“It’s great to be able to go from some of these larger venues and then to be able to go into a club or a theater or [a small room] like [the Taj],” he says. “I think it’s a real kick for the fans, too, because sometimes they like to feel like they’re up close and personal.”
Big room or small, Cook’s brand of physical comedy would seem counterproductive to working a massive room, but he mitigates that with plenty of high-tech video. Large HD screens make him seem larger-than-life.
“We have the [big screens] in the room, and I have four cameras rolling on me,” he says. “So if I want to do a subtle nuance or something a little more low key, my crew and camera guys know how to stay with me and make sure someone sitting in the top section still feels the energy of the room and can be connected to me.”
A native of Boston, Mass., Cook, 37, can never remember a time when he didn’t want to be an entertainer. Notice that he didn’t say he wanted to simply be a comedian.
“I grew up watching so many kinds of performers,” he says. “I loved Jackie Gleason, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor. I loved that they could go from movies to television to stand-up. Johnny Carson was a huge, huge influence on me. I’ve always looked at myself as more of an entertainer than strictly a stand-and-deliver, set-up-and [punchline] kind of guy.”
Cook began performing stand-up comedy in New York in 1994 and became a regular on the comedy club and college circuit. In the late 1990s, he began appearing in motion pictures — he’s got 15 films to his credit — and also began a long-term relationship with Comedy Central.
Although some consider him an observational humorist, he also feels his ability to perform different kinds of comedy is what keeps him sharp and helps him avoid being pigeonholed as a particular kind of comedian.
“I think I’ve created a career out of adjusting,” he says. “I really have always tried to encourage myself to change and try different styles of comedy. It feels great to be at a point where I can do long-form story telling, I can do quips, I can play blue [or] I can play squeaky clean. It frees me up to not feel like I have to deliver one kind of element.”
Steve Martin has been something of a career and artistic role model for Cook, but there’s one notable difference between the two wild and crazy guys.
Through appearances on 'The Tonight Show,' a hilarious HBO 'On Location' special and appearances on 'Saturday Night Live,' Martin was a bona fide comedy star who was still a year away from his breakout movie role in 'The Jerk. '
Two years and 70 pounds ago, Carlos Mencia would have gone on stage after the Colorado theater massacre and attacked his audience with blunt force comedy about an unthinkable tragedy that left a dozen dead and 58 people wounded.
“I became obsessed [with comedy],” she adds. ”What is a joke? What makes people laugh? What’s the persona? How do you develop a routine?”
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Fight Night at Boardwalk Hall
Rush to the Taj