When Dane Cook first released a teaser trailer for Isolated Incident, it easily intrigued more than a few people -- myself included -- to see how a stand-up comedian who has been touring arenas of 10,000-20,000 for almost three years could scale it all back and perform unannounced for an audience of only 20. Of course, it turns out that tease really was just a tease. (Clarification: All of the really insightful stuff is on the bonus DVD, which is a documentary. Read about that, as well as my new interview with Dane Cook here!)
For one thing, Cook's new special was filmed in front of not 20 unsuspecting customers, but rather, a few hundred of his rabidly loyal fans at a wholly planned production at The Laugh Factory in Hollywood. We'll have to look at the DVD extras to see the more unusual and most likely more enlightening footage of Cook interacting with what any comedian would call a smaller crowd. But it does live up to its title of being an Isolated Incident, because Cook remains on tour performing for arena-sized audiences. Even if we learn during the Comedy Central Records special that the "isolated incident" in question refers to an unusual graphic sex act the comedian performed for an ex-girlfriend. Not that that should surprise anyone. Cook shot to fame off of a record that closed with a bit about the comedian flicking cashews off of his erect penis. He has said many times over the years how he always has avoided drugs and alcohol, so that leaves sex as the vice he loves to talk about in great and graphic detail onstage.
On Isolated Incident, his sexual curiosities include the titles of user-submitted videos to YouPorn (his closer, in fact, encourages fans to seek one out in particular, but it was nowhere to be found before Sunday night's broadcast -- research!), as well as the well-trodden stand-up road of women who synch up their menstrual cycles. And when he wonders if men would ever do the same with erections, his female fans in the audience shrieked with joy. They're also fine with Cook role-playing with a girlfriend as a rapist/murderer, and with his suggestion that couples reveal all of their sexual fantasies and perversions early in a relationship. Cook manages to dance a fine line as a sentimental bad guy, which goes a long way to explain why young women have loved him and young men have become fans enough to learn his routines by heart. He talks as passionately about sex as he does a minute before or afterward about the deaths of both of his parents, and how much he loved them. Aw. Then again, Cook is the rare breed of stand-up who, when featured in this week's Entertainment Weekly, gets beefcake photos that show him shirtless.
Which reminds me. The Dane Cook who bounded around the stage in a sweat and tore off his black undershirt for his first Comedy Central half-hour in 2000 has calmed down considerably. At least on video. And unlike Vicious Circle, which opened with a camera showing Cook from the front approach his giant-sized crowd, Isolated Incident trails behind the comedian as he enters the back of the Laugh Factory and winds his way through the hallways and bowels of the club. We also get to see some picture-in-picture action during his crowd work.
Whether Cook's more settled, calmer style of storytelling is a sign of maturity, or a response to some critics who thought he was all about showing rather than telling, it gives everyone a chance to pay more attention to his material.
Is that a good thing? That depends. There is reflective insight, such as when Cook tries to Google himself -- "Are you sure?" -- and takes on anonymous haters. There are observations such as this one on suicide: "A suicide note written by somebody that is not suicidal is called an autobiography. I am on Chapter 58." There are plenty of pop-culture references. Some of them are odd: He says he wants to adopt a "United Colors of Benetton" collection of children, but avoids mentioning any of the high-profile celebs who seemingly are doing just that already. He talks about Obama being our first tech president, and does so with a jab at Facebook in deference to MySpace (where Cook built a fan base of more than 2.4 million "friends"). And he takes one of George Carlin's final routines, about deleting contacts who have died, and extrapolates upon it -- from deleting living friends from his cell phone, to wondering when and how to delete his late mother's contact info, and whether he should try dialing her up one last time. It's all in good, raunchy fun. Will you want to go along for the ride? Current fans most likely will. I'm not sure "the haters" will give him a fresh chance to win them over. And both Cook and haters alike are probably OK with that by now.
Here he is talking about dropping his cell phone in the toilet.
By the way, Dane Cook does not know what's in a turkey club sandwich.