When Dane Cook performed before a capacity crowd at Madison Square Garden in 2007, he delivered the observational, raunchy brand of comedy he had come to be known for — making fun of family, friends, relationships and sex as thousands of fans cheered so loudly it sounded like a roar. Twelve years later, the comic has found a new source of comedic inspiration: himself.
“I’ve always been considered more of a storyteller and observational comedian, and that’s been my sweet spot for a long time,” Cook, 47, said in a recent telephone interview. “But I’ve certainly aspired as I’ve gotten older to be more introspective, and the trick was, ‘OK, how do you make introspective as funny as, you know, observing and reporting on the world around us?’ So I had to tinker a little bit longer, and I really had to get to the guts of it.”
Cook’s “Tell It Like It Is Tour,” his first major one in nearly six years, will stop at Mohegan Sun on Oct. 19. During his show he talks about an array of topics he wouldn’t have touched in his 20s and 30s, such as struggles with his self-image.
“You’re at colleges,” Cook said of his early career. “You’re talking about sex, you’re talking about partying, you’re talking about foolishness, you’re talking about cutting it up. So there’s not a lot of room in there to talk about growing up with, say, anxiety, growing up having a self-loathing — literally a self-loathing — personality that I had to work very hard to get an understanding of for myself. There was really no place to inject that when you’re in your 20s talking about things that that generation is relating to.”
Cook said that as he has gotten older, he has seen a lot of comics he admires opening about themselves. He said he really related to Garry Shandling while watching a documentary about the late comic and “seeing how beautiful his words were and how emotional he could be.”
“People look at me as the guy in front of 20,000 people at Madison Square Garden with a cool pair of jeans on and an attitude, and they don’t know that I relate more to this,” Cook said. “This is me. This is like a vulnerability that I have not been really able to tap into in public because I was always maybe scared that I couldn’t make it funny, but lo and behold, I dug in, I did the work, and I felt myself, for the first time, being a complete performer, and that’s all I ever wanted to do.”
Although he thought fans wouldn’t have related to anxiety and mental-health struggles in the past, they certainly do now.
“I can’t tell you how many people have come to me and say, ‘You know, I’ve been to eight of your shows over 20 years and I suffer from anxiety, too. I didn’t know you were going to bring that up. I couldn’t believe it. I was blown away by that. I was laughing one minute and then suddenly I was really relating to you,’” Cook said. “And I think that’s wonderful.”
Another experience that Cook has turned into comedic fodder is a stalker. What he loves about that portion of his act is that there are relatable elements the audience will find funny as well as things about the story that are so obtuse and bizarre that they’re also funny.
It’s not just Cook’s comedy that’s evolved in recent years, but also the way material is distributed. Social media has come a long way since Cook built a notable audience on MySpace, and the past decade has also brought about the rise of streaming services. Cook said that has affected the way up-and-coming comedians have done material, and sometimes not for the better.
He said many rely on antics and behavior to get momentary fame, but there’s not much substance to their comedy and you don’t get a sense of who they are.
“I’ve seen more people who are just doing it for clicks,” Cook said. “And I just think that’s short-lived. I think it was Andy Warhol who once said everybody gets their 15 minutes of fame. I’d like to say everybody gets their three clicks of fame and then they’re gonna be off to the next thing.”
Cook noted that while some comedy specials on streaming services are really good, others aren’t.
“It used to be that something like that was in the magazines, you’d read about it in the newspapers, or like you and I are talking, it’s building and building and building, and then finally we get to see it as a society, all of us, population, watching this together in the same week,” he said. “And to see people just shoveling out content, some of it could use a little bit more time to simmer, to put together the right ingredients to really make it a comedy special.”
Though a lot has changed for Cook, in some ways he’s getting back to his roots. He’s focusing more on his stand-up after forays into voice-over work and guest roles on TV shows.
“It’s all exciting,” he said. “You want to work with some of the great people that are reaching out, but what suffers is the thing that got you there, which is the mechanics of stand-up, and as of the last couple years, I’ve dedicated myself to doing it entirely the way I would have in, say, 1997 when it was all starting to work.”
Dane Cook plays Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn., on Saturday, Oct. 19, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $44-$148.