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Dane Cook on How Social Media Has Changed Stand-Up

Stand-up comedy remains one of the simplest and unadulterated forms of entertainment: a comedian, a mic, and an audience.

In his 25+ years of performing, Dane Cook has seen the art evolve. Comedians are now found online instead of small clubs. Small clubs have become arenas; Cook himself is part of this year’s Oddball Comedy and Curiosity Festival. The comedy tour kicked off last weekend, with Cook scheduled to appear in the six final shows at the end of the month.

“I’ve wanted to do it since it’s incarnation,” Cook told Variety about his participation. “I was looking for dates to both enhance and fine-tune the material I’ve been working on the last couple of years, but at the same time tour with some friends.”

Despite his headliner status and name recognition, Cook understands the importance of distribution.

He was one of the first comedians to leverage social media, attracting a huge following on MySpace in the early- to mid-2000s. He put up his material on file-sharing services, which was quite revolutionary at the time.

Popular on Variety

“I was sharing my stuff on Napster and LimeWire and Kazaa or whatever the download service of the day,” Cook said. “I didn’t feel threatened by people having a piece of my comedy.”

Even back then, Cook knew he had to monetize his act. “There’s trepidation because everybody needs to pay the rent,” he explained of those early days. “When you’re a new band or a new comic, there’s a fine line because you have to make a living and you have to monetize it in order to continue to do it.”

“But I’ve never shied away from sharing the material,” he added. “If people take some footage and they want to put it online and share with their friends, I don’t mind that. “

However, instant publishing via apps like Instagram and Snapchat have changed the game. “When it’s brand new — most people, comics specifically, will say this — we just want to work that new stuff before it’s out in the world. It takes our spirit out of it [when it’s shared prematurely] because people are seeing it haphazardly delivered.”

Social media has also opened comedians up to criticism, and not just from the occasional hecklers in the club.

“This isn’t just fans anymore who are joining your Instagram or following you. It’s people that want to incite frustration from you. This is part of it,” Cook explained. “When you’re on the internet, what you share … it’s ‘Siskel and Ebert’ to the infinity degree. Everyone has a comment. Everyone has a review. Some people are coming from a shattering harsh angle and some people are going to come at it with love.”

Cook continued: “It’s great to be able to be in someone’s pocket so to be speak. To know they can pick up their phone and easily look at some of your comedy. I don’t know if it’s healthy to share everything. You gotta keep some of that mystery.”

Cook feels that some of that mystery is lost when audiences can binge watch a comedian’s entire career on YouTube or Netflix. It’s far different than watching them perform live and in person.

“They all want to feel like the show is for them. And I respect that, of course up to a certain point,” Cook says of live audiences. “It’s still theater, it’s still a performance and the audience is a spectator and not a participant. And yet in this day and age, people feel more and more like it’s a collaborative effort. People watch videos [online] where the most popular ones are where someone is yelling out or someone is getting involved.”

“Certain audience members believe they’re ‘helping’ or that they’re the Bob Zmuda of the show,” Cook explained. “They’re supposed to be planted and have something ready for you to spark interest in.”

Hecklers can be incredibly disruptive to shows, and even pose security risks. Amy Schumer engaged a man making sexist comments from her show last week, but eventually ended up ejecting him from the show.

“I thought Amy handled that brilliantly as she can in any kind of situation,” Cook said. “If a hiccup happens, the best case scenario is do what she did and take it and elevate it and use it to your strengths.”

While Cook’s strengths are in comedy, he isn’t afraid to expand his acting chops. He recently wrapped production on the indie “American Exit,” and is part of Starz “American Gods” ensemble.

“I only work on things with ‘American’ in it,” Cook joked. “To get on a set and be collaborative with people … I get such a charge from it,” says the comedian, who’s used to working alone. “It’s as exciting in a different way than stand-up is to me.”

Before catching him on screen, fans can see him on stage. In addition to the Oddball Comedy Tour, Dane planning his own tour for next year and is collaborating with McG’s Wonderland on a self-titled TV show.

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