Las Vegas Sun

August 21, 2018

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Dane Cook talks Han Solo, the magic of Vegas and taking care of his comedy

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Jordan Strauss/AP

Dane Cook takes the stage at the Chelsea on June 2.

Comedian and actor Dane Cook has been a bit quiet in recent years, mostly hanging at home in Los Angeles and working on new material and projects after the 2014 release of Showtime special “Troublemaker,” which was filmed in Las Vegas during stand-up gigs at Venetian.

“It was the first special I produced, paid for out of my own pocket and directed because I wanted to own my own material 100 percent and share it only with the outlets I thought were the proper places,” says the 46-year-old performer best known for his manic style and record-breaking comedy albums like 2005’s “Retaliation.” “Going through that experience was breathtaking and the cast and crew of people that helped me accomplish my goals showed me a new route I wasn’t willing to go back on. I need to be in control of my content, at least to the point where it can air someplace without anyone impeding on it during the process, because as an artist that makes you start to question the integrity of your routine.”

Now he’s on the road again, returning to the Strip to perform at the Cosmopolitan on Saturday, and perfecting new material for another self-produced special. Here’s my full conversation with Dane Cook.

First thing’s first: What’s the verdict on “Solo,” the new Star Wars movie? You’re a big famous Star Wars fan. I’ve been a nonfamous Star Wars fan for much more of my life. I love the new movies and I’m always there on one of the first nights to see them and it’s been an insatiable thing for me since I was a kid. I love “Rogue One” and I really like “The Force Awakens” and there are moments I like in the new trilogy, but with “Solo” ... everything I know about Han Solo can be narrowed down to two words: smuggler and scoundrel. And I didn’t see either of those in this movie. It was more lovelorn and green. I thought it was a different take and there were great scenes and some great effects, but ultimately it was not the origin story I was hoping for. I’d give it two Chewbacca growls.

Is performing in Las Vegas a different experience for you considering the audience here is from all over the place? There’s a couple places I’ve found over my now 28 years I’ve been doing comedy that are just magical for a number of reasons. Vegas is like that for me especially and when I talk to friends and other comedians and performers, they feel that way. In Vegas, you fly in and it’s just weird. It’s like all of the history is happening at the same time, like you’ve gone through a wormhole and you’re in this spot where the Dunes or the Sands or anything from the Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. and Jerry Lewis era is all still happening in and around there. I know it sounds cheesy but it’s a magical thing, as a performer and as a fan, and I’ve gone to Vegas to see artists I dig because of that allure.

Has your off-stage Vegas experience changed over the years? Yes, because I’ve been there so many times. When I was in my 20s and getting my first gigs on the outskirts, it was a blast and I really liked almost getting into trouble. But I’ve gotten older and now I have a lot of family that wants to come in so I’m more on the other side of the road, doing those family attractions as opposed to, “Let’s find out what’s at the end of that alley.”

Why did you decide to take extra time with your latest material and tour a bit more slowly before getting back to shooting a new comedy special? Obviously the evolution of being an artist is a long and constant metamorphosis. Sometimes it’s stagnant and sometimes it’s an embarrassment of riches. The only way to know if either of those things is coming at you is to keep hustling. After I did “Troublemaker,” which was shot in Vegas at the Venetian … I decided to stay in L.A. and work on a plethora of new material, thinking when it feels right, I’ll do [a special]. I don’t need to rush it. And there are a few comedians I know who felt the stuff they were putting out [on TV or the Internet] wasn’t having the same impact, that it was super-quick and felt less valuable. So for this era of my life, this part of the evolution, I’m firing on all cylinders and the one thing that’s most gratifying is hearing from fans after the shows or on Instagram or by email, when they say, “This was my favorite show, this material.” To hear that from fans of many years is the most rewarding part of this whole thing.

How has that change in your process affected your writing and the general direction of your comedy? Twenty years ago when I was just a manic, energetic performer, it was still written material that took a long time to formulate but it was a lot of antics and clowning. And that is a blast when you’re in your 20s talking to college kids about drinking games and crazy sexual experiences because you’re all speaking the same language to each other. But around 26 or 27 I knew I wanted to change, to not be derivative and not tell the same stories. Without getting too heady, there were a lot of ins and outs about myself I didn’t understand. I had to get to the constitution of me, and once I got to dig in and get that perspective, I could become introspective. That’s the magical formula for comedy, to be introspective and observational, and then you might just connect with some people.

You’ve had a lot of success across the board, from TV and movies to huge records and stand-up specials. Do you feel there’s a lot of unexplored territory in any one of those areas? There are a lot of things outside of comedy that comedy has allowed me to explore. It’s been my backstage laminate to other aspects of the industry that traditionally a funny person wouldn’t have the opportunity to partake in, movies like “Mr. Brooks” or “Dan in Real Life” or hosting “Saturday Night Live” or doing charity shows across the world. Stand-up is the core of what I am, it’s what I’m about, but it’s the solo gig, the lonely experience, and I like the collaborative experience, too. I’ve become friends with some producers with clout and I’ve been aligning myself patiently with people I know are going to elevate and challenge me, so that is what I hope the next 20 years will be. I just finished this movie called “American Exit” a year ago, an indie film that came to me out of the blue and it was the furthest thing from me. I play a negative, depressed, dying father who kidnaps his own son and then it turns into this action-suspense drama. That felt a lot like what stand-up was in the beginning, like, how far can I take this, how big. So I want to wait for great work and great people who bring the best out of me, and until that happens, I have this new performance I’m in love with and I can’t wait to get it onstage.

Dane Cook performs at 8 p.m. June 2 at the Chelsea at the Cosmopolitan (3708 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 877-893-2003) and more information can be found at cosmopolitanlasvegas.com.