Why You Don't Hear Much From Dane Cook Anymore

Perhaps you remember Dane Cook, the most popular comedian of the mid-to-late 2000s. At least, you probably do if you're a millennial. There was a time when you couldn't get through a conversation without at least one person referencing "this one Dane Cook joke." And then, mysteriously, the one-time stand-up giant seemed to disappear altogether. Not only did Cook never achieve the icon status he seemed well on his way to reaching, when was the last time you heard a person earnestly reference "this one Dane Cook joke?" That's what we thought.

So what happened? To hear him tell it, part of the reason Cook wasn't allowed to "grow and evolve" as a comedian was that he got stuck in the "frat boy comic" caricature that first made him a big shot. Speaking to "The Last Laugh" podcast, via The Daily Beast, Cook says he tried to be "a real person" but the fratty "stigma" got put on him. "That was going to happen anyway because of what I looked like."

But, obviously, there's always more to the story. Here's our (semi) exhaustive breakdown of what ever happened to the frat boy comedian.

He's been accused of plagiarism

If there's one thing guaranteed to get you blacklisted as a comedian (or any artist, really), it's plagiarism. Especially when the finger-pointing is coming from one of the giants in your field. That's what happened to Dane Cook when he was accused of ripping off jokes from Louis C.K. (pre-sexual assault allegations). Comedy fans noticed that some of Cook's bits from his 2005 album "Retaliation," like the one about itchy a**holes for example, seemed to be lifted from C.K.'s "Live in Houston" from 2001.

Cook first addressed the controversy on Marc Maron's "WTF" podcast in 2010, saying emphatically, "I didn't steal anything from Louis C.K." And C.K., who had never out-and-out accused Cook admitted, "I think it's possible he might have seen these bits and absorbed them, and not known that he took them from me," via Vulture. The two finally seemed to squash the beef in a 2011 episode of C.K.'s show "Louie," in which C.K. has to swallow his pride to ask Cook to get Lady Gaga tickets for his daughter.

Dane Cook got bad reviews

One reason Dane Cook's rise and fall from stardom seemed particularly fast may have been that, and this is gonna sting, he just wasn't that funny to begin with. At least, other comedians and critics didn't seem to think so. An absolutely brutal article in the Associated Press queried, "Is Dane Cook Actually Funny" in the headline, and rounded up reviews in magazines like Rolling Stone and Slate which said, basically, not really. The article also quoted fellow comedians, who had less than glowing things to say. The article notes, "Cook's material — like his fondness for Burger King, watermelon-flavored Jolly Rancher candies, guilt after cheating on a girlfriend — are predicated on their commonness." Ouch.

And according to a similarly brutal write-up in The New York Times, "In certain comedy and media circles, contempt for Mr. Cook is knee-jerk, even cliché." It's hard to make it in any industry if none of your peers are in your corner. Maybe it was only a matter of time before Cook faded away. And it isn't just the pros who soured on Cook. One particularly succinct review from a fan on the Dead Frog website noted, "How did Dane Cook get on a website about comedians?"

He was the butt of the joke

In general, you tend to think that comedians prefer to be the ones doing the mocking rather than to be the butt of the jokes themselves (Comedy Central roasts notwithstanding). At the very least you don't want the jokes at your expense to outweigh the amount of positive feedback you're getting. And by the end of the 2000s, Dane Cook's roasts-to-praise ratio was looking pretty grim. He'd even become something of a stock joke.

Take, for example, the running gag on "Family Guy," which featured a satirical Dane Cook character. In fact, Ike Barinholtz, who voiced "Family Guy's" Dane Cook character, also played Dane Cook in "MadTV's" parody skits of the maligned comedian. In one skit, Barinholtz paces manically back and forth in Cook's signature style, and jokes, "Why is it called TV? Shouldn't it be called T-ME because I'm the one watching it," poking fun at Cook's often punchline-free comedy. He even made it onto Gawker's list of "The Most Hated Comedians of All Time." Womp womp.

His style of comedy was less popular

Perhaps part of the reason people got tired of Dane Cook was because people were just tired of Dane Cook-style comedy. At the height of his fame in the late 2000s and early 2010s, Cook was still doing his loud, rude, observational comedy that was heavy on the loud and light on the observation. At the same time, more nuanced styles like that of Tig Notaro were getting more popular. In 2012, Notaro released her famous special "Live," which she performed soon after getting a life-threatening illness and the death of her mother. In the shadow of this heartfelt but also hilarious performance, Cook's fratty bits looked a bit coarse.

Cultural trends come and go, even in comedy, and it looked like Cook just wasn't able to keep up with the times. In fact, many argued that as he got more famous, his earlier, more honest material gave way to a new, cocky style that put people off. Maybe if he'd just gone back to the original blueprints...

Dane Cook stopped touring

Dane Cook had what you might call a soft cancelation. It wasn't one big news story or controversy that caused the whole world to shun him. He just ... got less popular. This might be a bit obvious, but a big part of the reason that we haven't heard much from Cook in the past decade is that he stopped going on tour altogether. Before his not-so-big comeback in 2019, Cook's last stand-up tour, "Under Oath," was in 2013.

After "Under Oath," Cook took a 6-year hiatus — so it's no wonder people stopped talking about him. One write-up in Mel Magazine observed, "Cook lives life like a man who is euphorically washed. Never again will he feel the need to overthink his tweets, reignite his legacy or bleed for his jokes." But while Cook more or less disappeared from public joke-telling for a while, he told The Daily Beast's "The Last Laugh" podcast in October that his latest standup special was "a long time coming." Let's see what all that vibing has done for his material.

Dane Cook stepped over the line

Like practically any popular or successful comedian, Dane Cook has toed the line of good taste once or twice (okay more than once or twice). But there were a couple of times when Cook actually took things too far — like joking about a recent mass shooting event, for instance. The comedian had already been waning in popularity when the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting occurred, but his stock absolutely plummeted when he decided to make a joke about the tragedy.

A few days after the shooting, Cook was performing a set at The Laugh Factory in Los Angeles and quipped that "The Dark Night Rises" was such a bad movie that, "if none of that would have happened, I'm pretty sure that somebody in that theater, about 25 minutes in, realizing it was a piece of crap, was probably like, 'Ugh, f***ing shoot me.'" The joke was surreptitiously taped by an audience member, according to HuffPo. Cook later apologized, writing on Twitter, "I am devastated by the recent tragedy in Colorado & did not mean to make light of what happened. I made a bad judgment call with my material last night & regret making a joke at such a sensitive time."

His comeback tour wasn't huge

The key to any good comeback is, first and foremost, to get people to notice that a comeback is actually occurring. But even though it was his first live tour in over half a decade, Dane Cook's "Tell It Like It Is" tour in 2019 didn't manage to capture the attention of, well, much of anyone really. Though we did find a few articles promoting the comeback, we had a hard time finding anyone who had actually reviewed it, much less liked it. The tour didn't seem to launch any new projects or specials, and Cook still wasn't getting the same kinds of blockbuster movie roles he'd been known for in the late 2000s. It was, in the end, a pretty quiet affair.

That said, in all fairness, we will acknowledge that being 2019, this tour took place right before the little global pandemic hiccup. According to Cook, he had just performed at Radio City Music Hall and was set to tape the special right after that when COVID-19 shut everything down. Which is why he hopes 2021, when the special was actually filmed, will be the real year of the comeback.

Dane Cook had some setbacks

Look, we're not saying that Dane Cook has had the most challenging life of anyone we've ever come across, but that doesn't mean he's always had it easy. And in fact, there was one major blow that quite possibly could have contributed to his career stalling out. In 2010, Cook's half-brother was convicted of embezzling millions of dollars from him while acting as his personal manager.

The brother, Darryl McCauley, apparently stole millions from Cook between the years of 2004 and 2008 by simply paying himself out of Cook's accounts. There's betrayal and then there's ... well there's this. According to CNN, McCauley and his wife were ordered to repay Cook $12 million.

At least Cook (relatively speaking) appears to have reached a level of Zen about the crime where he can joke about it. When a question about the crime appeared on "Jeopardy!," Cook jokingly tweeted a video of himself saying, "I love Jeopardy, I can just watch it and get away from it all," before watching the clip and sighing dramatically, via Entertainment Weekly.

He had some flops

As your dad might say, everyone's allowed a mulligan once in a while. It just seems like Dane Cook's latest acting roles have been mostly mulligans — which may be part of the reason it feels like you haven't seen him in a while. Take the 2015 movie "400 Days." Remember that one? Yeah, neither do we. Which seems to be for the best, as it was widely panned by critics. As Leslie Felperin wrote in The Guardian, "...it's like watching Solaris performed by sock puppets." Writing for the LA Times, Michael Rechtshaffen critiqued, "a bunch of uninhabitable characters who prove as remote and lifeless as their faux interplanetary mission." It currently has a 22% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Cook's 2019 flop "American Exit" didn't even get the dignity of a high-brow review, and while his episode of "American Gods" was generally deemed fine by critics, the show never made enough of a splash to successfully relaunch Cook's career — or establish him as a serious actor.

Dane Cook has said no to projects

Learning from past mistakes and growing as a person and an artist? You love to see it. And it appears that part of Dane Cook's disappearing act was on purpose. Speaking to Fast Company, Cook explained that he had to learn how to actually say "no" to projects that weren't going to work for him. "I didn't always like the movies I was making," he said, explaining that at the time, he was more interested in pumping out money-makers fast than in working hard on something good. "I started turning a lot of those things down that were derivative and there was a good little period of time when my agents were pissed."

That's not to say he's stopped working entirely. As he explained in the interview, Cook just started to take his time with projects he really believed in. And after a particularly hard year in 2010, he intentionally took some time to slow down, get his finances in order, and work on himself. "It felt strange that year off, getting part of an idea and not allowing myself to go to the Laugh Factory and work it out on stage."

Dane Cook has a much younger girlfriend

It's also possible that Dane Cook is too busy with his personal life to go all-in on his comedy and acting career these days. Or, perhaps, he and his much younger girlfriend, Kelsie Taylor, just don't want to hear the critiques about their relationship. This makes sense, as the headlines about the 26-year age gap when their romance became public in 2017 was the first time Cook had been in the press in a while. At the time, Cook was 45 and Taylor was just 19.

Despite the criticism, Cook and Taylor seem to still be going strong, and have said they don't let the haters get to them. Early in the relationship, Cook took to Instagram Stories to answer fan questions, and when asked if he had any advice for other people in relationships with large age gaps he joked, via People, "The only thing you have to do is plan that your deaths will be somewhat far apart." He also assured fans that everyone's family approves, and that his sister likes Taylor a lot. 

Honestly, whatever works.