Dane Cook phoned and I missed his call.
"I was ahead of schedule, which is very me," he says. "I'm always early to a fault."
The American comedian and actor with a large and faithful fan base begins an extensive cross-Canada standup tour on Wednesday November 2 in London, ON before playing more than a dozen other shows in a country he has roots in.
"I did something similar six or seven years ago and it was a great experience," he says. "I was getting ready to do my special, Isolated Incident, and so, as I'm getting prepared to do a new special now, I thought it'd be a great opportunity to do kind of the same run.
"Incredibly supportive comedy fans and I can't think of a better way to close off this year," he says about the Great White North.
Cook lives in Los Angeles but hails from Boston. His dad's side of the family moved down there from Prince Edward Island and so he's very familiar with the region.
"We're actually O'Hagans," he says. "They came down from Canada and couldn't get work in Boston and were like, 'We gotta drop the O' or something.' And then they said, 'All right, we'll just call ourselves Cooks.' So, that's a history lesson about why I feel a bit of a homecoming when I go up there.
"Canadian people have an amazing sense of humour," he adds. "They're always 'right there with you,' as we say in comedy. Crowds are enthusiastic and are excited about an event-type show, which is what I want, rolling through wherever, it to be.
"So, that whole equation is to me, a highlight of this year after working on the set for two years now and finally headlining it. It's a great way to end this year and start a larger tour next year."
Of the new material, Cook says that creatively and personally, he feels like he's in the second act of his life and career. He recounts the fact that he began doing stand-up in 1990, broke through about 15 years later, and feels as though he grew up right along with his fans, who often tell him his shows and records serve as key markers in their own lives. He takes all of that seriously and, being a part of other people's memories, encourages him to work harder and responsibly toward his craft and its interaction with people.
Cook's been reflecting a lot upon life of late. Less than a week ago, he posted the following on his Instagram:
I had an interesting couple of days. It's amazing how much can change in so little time. I can't wait to share some of the things I've been working on. Like most meaningful creativity it brings up some off kilter memories of the past. It reminds you of how all the good and bad equaled growth. Friends grow apart, relationships fall apart & business comes apart so new ideas can rear up. I welcome that right now. The last few years were nothing short of some of the best of my life, I only wish I could have shared them with my parents. Whatever you think of yourself today just remember before you go to sleep, you can do any damn thing if you work towards it. Period. #reflectingandshit
"I lost my parents to cancer about nine years ago now; the same year, I lost my mom and dad," Cook says when asked about the post above. "It really was the peak of my professional career and then, personally, it was also this nightmare of dealing with the loss of my parents.
"The parting gift they gave me was empathy and being present. I certainly wasn't as cognizant of how words affect people and how, not just performing for them but being there [in the moment] for people, can move them the same way comedy can. So, through something like Instagram, it doesn't all have to be hokey and funny. It's a great platform to connect and I get messages from people who say, one day I'm making them laugh, the next they've found some source of strength.
"So, it bleeds into all forms of the entertainment that I want to do. I love moving people. Really, my nutrition is making people feel good or lighter and if I can do that in new, creative ways, great."
At least part of Cook's philosophical outlook on being a public person negotiating his way through showbiz is likely informed by the criticism he's faced over the years. Peers like Louis CK have accused him of plagiarizing jokes (which he and Cook played up in a smart, dramatic scene in Louie), others have expressed befuddlement at his success by suggesting he's simply not funny.
Cook rose to full superstar comedian status a few years ago but the backlash and rejection from cool comedians and arbiters of taste was palpable.
In a sense, Amy Schumer is experiencing the same thing now that Cook did years ago. Her omnipresence and stardom has generated more and more scrutiny of everything she does and says and she seems to be in the news more these days for one controversy or another than she is for jokes she's written.
"Everybody's gotta go through the spanking machine at some point," Cook says when asked to comment on Schumer's recent travails, as compared to his own. "It doesn't matter how high you go or who put you there. But all the noise and haters and detractors out there, taking you apart — the only thing you really have to keep your eyes on, if you're Amy or whoever, is walking into that theatre or arena.
"The answer's right there," Cook says. "As long as there's people in seats, you're relevant. All that other stuff is just kind of part of it and that's the way a career has to go. They have to build you up, they have to knock you down, you have to be near death—there's drama and we love that. I love that! We see it in sports with a guy who's injured and may never play again but then he comes back.
"I've always taken a lot of that stuff in stride even when it's at its most obtuse and outlandish," he adds with a chuckle. "A friend once called me to say 'They're reporting you died in Thailand, cliff diving. I'm glad you're ok.' I was like, I'm glad I'm ok too. I've never been to Thailand or been cliff diving but somebody had to put that story out there, evidently.
"Honestly, I think humour has gotten me through everything in my life — from my parents to my career. You just have to really take that moment — and I do quite often — and say, 'Man, I'm so lucky to have great fans and still get to do what I love 26 years later.' I hope we're having a conversation like this 26 years from now from that vantage point."
See below for upcoming Dane Cook tour dates, with guests John Campanelli and Vinny Fasline.
11/2 London ON – Budweiser Gardens
11/3 Hamilton ON – Hamilton Place
11/5 Toronto ON – Sony Centre
11/6 Ottawa ON – TD Place Stadium
11/9 Winnipeg MB – Centennial Concert Hall
11/10 Edmonton AB – Francis Winspear Centre
11/12 Regina SK – Conexus Arts Centre
Nov 13/14 Calgary AB – Jack Singer Concert Hall
11/16 Kelowna BC – Prospera Place
11/17 Victoria BC – Save On Foods Memorial Centre
Nov 18/19 Vancouver BC – Vogue Theatre