Two years ago, Dane Cook told me he was quitting stand-up comedy.
“I don’t want to say I’ve retired, but this is an important time to shift my energy into something new,” he said.
Cook, who was promoting a dark independent film at the time, was coming off a bad couple of years. He’d lost both his mother and father to cancer within 10 months, and then found out that his half-brother — who’d long served as the comedian’s business manager — had stolen $12 million from him.
He wasn’t exactly in the mood to crack jokes. So in 2011, he hung up the mike and spent time at home in Los Angeles. For the first time in his life, he went to a therapist. He talked about how much he missed his parents and started to grieve for them.
As the year came to a close, he started to come out of his depression. And one night while he was hanging out at the Laugh Factory, club owner Jamie Masada persuaded Cook to get onstage for a few minutes.
“I stood up there for 35 minutes, and it felt like I had never left. I had worked on myself enough that things were funny again,” Cook recalled, sitting in his dressing room at the Orpheum Theatre last month.
Yes, as you may have guessed, Cook did end up returning to stand-up. He’s on a two-month, 20-date Under Oath tour, which will wrap up in his hometown, Boston, on Oct. 19.
For Cook — who has sold out Madison Square Garden a handful of times — it’s a small tour. At the Orpheum, for instance, he performed for about 2,000 people — far less than the 18,000 he’s entertained in the past at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
As he unwound after his hour-and-a-half set, Cook talked to me about his quiet return to the stage. Excerpts from that conversation follow.
I thought you said you were done with this!
I was in a very fragile time then — and I did stop for a year. I had to take the time to say “Okay, this stuff happened to me” and find the humor in it. I needed to realize that everything I did moving forward was mine — not shared with people who are toxic, or people who aren’t representing me properly. This is a complete do-over. I’m going into a new era of my career and professional life.
You were last on the road in 2009, right?
Yes, and I was just spent. I remember one night on the road like it was a Bon Jovi song or something. My head was in my hands and I was like, “I just want this to be really fun again, and it feels like I’m chasing or running away from something.”
During your hiatus you began work on an NBC comedy, “Next Caller,” that the network ultimately pulled the plug on. How did you handle that?
I decided to go on board with a project that I had no ties to behind the scenes. Anything I asked for, they were like, “No, we’re not interested in you for that. We just want to hire you as an actor.” . . . It was a great experience, but it was just a reminder that I need to be out there working on things that I’m excited about first.
Your “Under Oath” set focuses a lot about our relationship with technology. Why did you decide to focus on that instead of some your more recent experiences?
I felt like it was false for the act to have a little bit of grit to it, because I’m happier now. I liked getting back to the more random and fun stuff.
Why did you decide to do a theater tour?
An arena tour is four buses and 40 guys to set things up — a lot of moving parts. With a theater tour, because a lot of the stuff is already in house, you’re pretty much just traveling with a few people. I’m dying to share my new material with a lot of people, but I don’t want the extra responsibility of keeping that whole circus going.
And how does it feel to be back onstage?
I feel present. Every night, I leave the show and there’s 150 people outside — and I meet them all. I haven’t run to the bus one night. A few years ago, I felt like, “I have to do this, but why do I feel so heavy?” It was frustrating, and I really beat myself up. I didn’t know it was just okay to feel sad. It’s okay to grieve.
How did you come to that conclusion?
I had a great therapist — a person who could help me to clarify some things. It’s outlandish the amount of pain I was in, because I loved my folks. I had to remember that I’m still the same person they raised me to be, and they’re still with me in a different way. They loved watching me. So even before the show tonight, I took a quiet moment of talking to them and saying, “Be onstage with me. Stand right next to me. I want to feel you with me.”
— Los Angeles Times