LANCE’S OLD BEDROOM — People hate Dane Cook.
This is probably the main thing most people know about Dane Cook, actually. They know they are supposed to hate him. He is empty, he doesn’t tell jokes, he created an audience he doesn’t deserve. They know all that, even if they don’t.
*It is here that I will point you to a blog post by Joe Posnanski about bias. In it, Poz argues that no matter who or what, we all come at something from a point of view, and, as a writer, that point of view will usually be evident. In the case of the post I’m currently writing, I’d guess you could identify my point of view and the direction I’ll be taking this post before I even express it.
The Chicago Tribune’s Steve Johnson wrote a piece about Cook recently in which Johnson writes the following paragraph:
In Cook’s career there have been allegations of joke thievery, typical in comedy, and there is, if not jealousy, then a close cousin of it lurking in some of the criticism. But the strongest part of the complaints against Cook is the sense of having an audience that he hasn’t yet deserved.
That last part, which is absolutely true, strikes me as absurd. It is impossible in a free country to have an audience you do not deserve. If the people don’t want to listen to you speak, they will not listen to you speak. They especially will not pay $70 to see you speak in a basketball arena.
Criticize the comedy. That’s fine. You don’t like it, say whatever you want about it. But don’t act like this guy, with the help of almost no critic ever, has somehow tricked people into thinking he’s funny, because it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if people only drink Budweiser because it’s been marketed so well. They do drink it, and they do like it, and Budweiser wins. That’s the whole deal.
From the same article, this is comedian Paul Provenza’s take:
“While comedians have been notoriously judgmental, it kind of has felt like a waste of talent and gifts. It left people cold that, ‘Wow, you have all of that in front of you and you have no artistry.’ I’ve always felt like, ‘Wow, he did all the work to get this audience and neglected the reason that one should have an audience.’ ”
Now, I don’t disagree that Cook’s act is artistic only if you consider the shape of your stool to be artistic.
But I do disagree that it matters. If comics want to think of themselves as artists, that’s up to them. I don’t really care. I just want them to amuse me, preferably to the point of typing “lol” into a text message to a friend who wasn’t there or, better yet, actually laughing audibly. Dane Cook makes me laugh audibly. That’s all I care about.
What’s really happening here, I think, is something that happens in any creative, subjective endeavor. I’ll use my field, sports writing, as an example.
There is a Web site called sportsjournalists.com with a message board where journalists gather to anonymously discuss their jobs and the industry. Occasionally, someone will post a story or a column by some nationally known writer — say, Rick Reilly, or Gregg Doyel or even Posnanski. Every time this happens, you can count on a stream of people deriding the work, typically suggesting it isn’t any better than they could have done and wondering why that guy deserves to be where he is while the poster has to cover a prep soccer game that night (or whatever).
The jealousy is totally transparent and the criticisms are usually lame.
I suppose this happens in every industry, but I think it’s easier to react this way in a subjective field. There is no way to measure how good a sports column or a standup routine or a pop song is, obviously, so you can criticize it any way you want to.
One of the most common ways to criticize Cook is not to criticize the comedian himself, but to blast his fans.
“I don’t hate Dane Cook,” comedian Doug Stanhope told the Chicago Tribune. “I hate the people that laugh at Dane Cook.”
Because people who laugh at this are really high-brow:
The only reason Doug Stanhope is criticizing Dane Cook is that Stanhope a) combined with Joe Rogan to somehow make The Man Show unwatchable and b) was last seen selling Girls Gone Wild videos while Cook is selling out arenas all over the country and starring in (crappy) movies.
That’s like me ripping Bill Simmons. Maybe there are some valid criticisms, but coming from someone who’d gladly switch him places, aren’t the words a little tainted?
I write this not as a defense of Dane Cook, exactly. I think he’s funny, but I don’t care if anyone else does. I’m not a Dane Cook evangelist. I’m just pointing out that the criticisms of him tend to be intellectually dishonest, and born of jealousy.