Q&A: Dane Cook On Directing Himself and Finding What’s Funny

After 25 years in the business, comedian Dane Cook slides into the director’s chair for the first time for his new comedy special, “Troublemaker,” premiering on Showtime at 10 p.m. Oct. 17. Cook talked to Variety about the challenges of directing himself.

How does directing complicate prepping for the performance?

Most comedians will tell you if you ever want to throw off a performance, put a camera in the room. It’s pretty much an authenticity killer because we’re creatures of what’s happening in the room in the moment, as opposed to when we can really make a plan and stick to an overall formula. What was important for me was to capture that as well. I wanted the cameras in the room but I really did not want it to take away from what I felt like could be a real lightning-in-a-bottle kind of moment. And by being the director, putting this all on myself, and presenting it the way I wanted it, I never had to show this to anybody. I really took the pressure away. It was either going to be something I would show people, or I would have the most expensive home video ever made.

What did you learn from the experience?

If anything it makes you even more appreciative of the amount of work that goes into making something like this come to fruition. I’ve always worked really closely with directors and producers on my specials, and I’m pretty much one of those hands-on guys, from working the material to working in the clubs and then even into post and marketing – I love all that. I think that if anything what I’ve learned is to have a bit more patience.

Would you want to direct work other than your own?

Yes, I would like to do that. I’d especially like to work with other comedians, but I would be adamant about having the performer really dictate how they feel their brand and their persona should be captured. If anything I would look at it as preparing another comedian for directing their own special by working in tandem with them. I think that would be a cool way to build my repertoire, have some cool experiences with people that I am fans of, but also always keeping in the forefront that this would be a way to highlight their confidence and how they want to be seen.

What do you draw on for your material?

It really comes back to: Is it funny? Is it real to me? Whether it’s my opinion or something absurd or irreverent, whatever comes down the pipe that I’m toying around with and noodling with onstage, it’s got to be, is it entertaining me? I’m very comfortable at this point in my career. I’ve been through enough of the happenstance and the delightful ups and strange lows, and what I’ve learned is, if I’m having a great time, I want to put up a show that’s going to be memorable and enjoyable, and I just quite simply want it to be funny. So if it’s funny to me, then I think it might be funny to other people.

Why do you focus on relationships?

Nothing connects people or can separate people more than getting to the guts of why we co-habitate. Whether it’s family and how families fight and resolve or live with elephants in the room – I’m always fascinated by why people stay together. It’s always a fun journey to find those nuggets in standup comedy, and it certainly is global. Everybody gets in relationships. Everybody gets hurt in relationships. And we all fight to either get the hell out of it, or one person’s fighting to keep it together and the other person’s got one foot out the door. I think it’s just fascinating; the journey of our lifetime is paved with the people we allow into our travels.

You really engage the audience in the show. What do you think that adds?

It happens a lot — I definitely am always open to playing with the crowd. I didn’t look for that with the show, and yet I was so comfortable after working the material that when things started to happen those two nights, I could let myself go and not feel the pressure.  I just leaned into it and allowed it to be like any other comedy night. This is definitely the most authentic. I think it encapsulates a real strong sense of self, and I’m having a blast up there.


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