The Untold Truth Of Dane Cook

The world of stand-up comedy is a little like the minor leagues of baseball. Comedians toil in obscurity for a few years before getting their shot in the spotlight to start headlining shows. If that's a fair equivalency, then Dane Cook's ascension to stardom would parallel that of someone like Ken Griffey Jr. Dane Cook didn't have to do a whole lot of grunt work before getting called up to the majors, relatively speaking. Once he began getting a little bit of exposure, his popularity skyrocketed.

His rise from relative unknown to selling out Madison Square Garden didn't come without some disgruntled thoughts from other comics and critics. And that's to be expected — when anyone makes it that big in a short period of time, there are going to be some detractors. Some of that animosity was undeserved (there isn't much legitimate evidence that he outright stole jokes, for example), and he brought some of the controversy upon himself. But there's a lot that people don't know beyond their initial reaction to him. Here is the oftentimes-untold story of comedian Dane Cook.

He had an early brush with fame (and bombed)

Dane Cook started his career in the '90s Boston comedy scene, which also spawned the likes of Bill Burr, Conan O'Brien, and Amy Poehler, among others. When Dane started out, he was part of a sketch comedy group that included other up-and-coming local comics, one of them being Robert Kelly. On October 30, 1992, a 20-year-old Cook and his troupe managed to snag themselves an amazing opportunity: They were to take the stage at the Boston Garden (then-home of the Celtics) and perform between the Spin Doctors and headliner Phish at Rock of Boston, a concert put on by a local radio station. At the time, the two bands were quite popular, so it promised to be a full house.

Things didn't exactly go well. Once fans realized that instead of the crunchy jams of Phish, they would be treated to some comedy sketches, they began to chuck shoes at the group. Kelly implored the crowd to relax and let them do their craft, which was met with a volley of lighters from the crowd. Knowing Phish's reputation for having a weed-friendly audience, the disposal of so many lighters demonstrates just how furious they were at having to suffer through a comedian while waiting for their favorite band to come out. Cook and his group retreated backstage, and the show went on without them.

His foray into dramatic acting was critically panned

When Dane Cook made the transition from stand-up phenomenon to taking on legitimate acting work, he cobbled together some bit parts here and there, most notably 2005's Waiting. This coincided with the peak of his comedy career, so he was eventually offered some leading man parts. Good Luck Chuck and Employee of the Month mostly fizzled at the box office and were critically derided, but still Cook was feeling fine. He decided to take on a more serious part.

2007's Mr. Brooks saw him acting alongside Kevin Costner in a story about a businessman who also happens to be a serial killer. Cook plays a man who catches Costner's Brooks in the act of killing and then blackmails him. While Cook's intense physicality and facial expressions work well on the comedy stage, they don't necessarily translate well to a nuanced murder movie. The Chicago Tribune noted that Cook played his character "with the petulance knob turned up to 11." Other critics said that among the film's many issues, "hiring the sapless comedian for such a hefty role earns the biggest WTF? of all." The harshest criticism may have been the observation that Dane's performance in the "abysmal and unfortunate" movie was "funnier than any of his comedic performances."

His family embezzled millions from him

Darryl McCauley rode the entire wave of Dane Cook's success as his business manager, starting in the early '90s and working all the way through 2008. McCauley also happened to be Dane's half brother, and from the beginning he would sell merchandise at his shows and run his website and email subscription lists. His responsibilities also included having access to Dane's personal and business bank accounts, which is where McCauley got into some trouble. Yes, he was being Cook's business manager, but he was also embezzling millions of dollars from his famous family member.

McCauley was sentenced five to six years in prison in 2010 for his exploits, which included forging a $3 million check from Dane's account to himself. All told, he funneled more than $12 million from Cook in his time working for the comedian. Upon sentencing, he was also forced to give up a number of properties and businesses he had acquired using the stolen money. His wife, Erika, joined in the fun as well. She knowingly accepted money, jewelry, and homes in Maine and Florida with the embezzled millions and earned herself up to three years in jail. Cook eventually grew suspicious of the couple. He asked for financial records and then fired McCauley, who quickly wrote that insane forged check and fled across the country. Keep trusting those instincts there, Dane.

He's been accused of stealing jokes, and many comics hate him

Being accused of stealing jokes is incredibly difficult to overcome for a comedian. Carlos Mencia got caught doing just that, and his career took a nosedive. When an article on joke theft gained prominence in 2007, Dane was lumped into the discussion. It appears he had several bits from a 2005 comedy album that were similar to some on a 2001 Louis C.K. set. The internet being what it is, the rumors persisted, until Dane poked fun at them on Louis' FX show in 2011. Cook has adamantly said that he's never stolen a joke and, to his credit, the bits he was accused of lifting aren't exactly niche subjects. Louis doesn't even seem sure that it happened. But Dane still developed the reputation. And that may be why many comics don't care for him.

Comedian/actor Jim Breuer hosted a popular satellite radio show where he held court with all sorts of other people in the comedy and stand-up world. In his time on the program, he noticed a trend where no other comics had a good word to say about Dane Cook. Breuer acknowledges that the rumors of joke-stealing are mainly to blame. Cook also has a bit of a reputation for arrogance in his live performances, with one headlining comedian reporting that Cook went well past the end of his warm-up set and cut into the headliner's time.

He auditioned to play Captain America

Back in 2011, the Marvel Cinematic Universe of superhero movies was in its relative infancy. When Captain America: The First Avenger began production, there were all sorts of rumors about who would play the title role. John Krasinski, Channing Tatum, even a couple of Jonas Brothers were bandied about as potential names. One person who auditioned for the role was Dane Cook, believe it or not, and he caused waves with Marvel when he publicly said he was trying out for Captain America.

Cook tweeted that he had to "get shredded" for the audition, and that the movie studio should go the "Robert Downey Jr. route" and pick him. Marvel Studios took offense to Dane making the auditions public, saying they wanted to keep the process private, and Dane apologized profusely. Either the apology or his audition (or both) wasn't enough, as he obviously didn't get the part. It went to Chris Evans, and the culture of shaming anyone who spoils something we love was born.

He got himself in hot water with some poorly timed jokes

It's nothing new for a comedian to say something onstage while workshopping new material and then to get in trouble when it reaches the rest of the world. Dane Cook unfortunately found this out not long after the horrific movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado, in July 2012. Working at his home base Laugh Factory club in Los Angeles, Dane attempted to comment on the mediocrity of The Dark Knight Rises, which was playing during the Aurora shooting.

"So I heard that the guy came into the theater about 25 minutes into the movie. And I don't know if you've seen the movie, but the movie is pretty much a piece of crap ... yeah, spoiler alert. And I know 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, probably was like, 'Ugh f*cking shoot me.'"

The backlash was pretty instant. Cook tweeted that he made a poor judgment call when joking about the tragedy. Fellow comedian/actor/lightning rod Russell Brand came to his defense and asked people to remember that Dane Cook is a comedian. (Of course, given how not-funny the comment was, you can see why everyone forgot.)

He refused to let his set at a charity concert be aired publicly

The 2013 Boston Marathon was cut short by a pair of brutal bombs that left three dead and 264 injured. A month after the terrorist attacks, a charity concert was planned to take place at the TD Garden downtown. Dubbed "Boston Strong," the event was headlined by huge music acts like Aerosmith, New Kids on the Block, and James Taylor, and comedy acts like Steven Wright and Dane Cook. The whole event would be live-streamed so people around the world could watch the performers donate their time and talents to remembering the victims.

Well ... all the performers except Dane Cook, that is. He was the only act that requested his set not be streamed, as he didn't want any of his new material to be aired publicly yet. This was not a popular choice, to put it kindly. Fellow comics dubbed him "greedy" and called him out on every platform available to them. Lenny Clarke, a Boston-area comedian (much like Dane) took to the radio to remark that Cook's decision was one of the "meanest, stupidest" things he had seen. He has a point, when you consider that Cook's particular audience could have tuned in and donated to the cause by using the phone number that was on screen during all the other performances. You know, like it's a benefit concert or something?

Dane and Dave Chappelle had a comedy club marathon "feud"

Dane Cook took the L.A. Laugh Factory stage on April 10, 2007, and unleashed a comedy set that stretched out to 3 hours and 50 minutes, which broke the endurance record Richard Pryor set in the club in 1980. Comedian Dave Chappelle heard about this and started his own set a few days later around 10:30 p.m., not leaving until after 4:30 a.m., a total of 6 hours and 7 minutes. Chappelle didn't take any bathroom breaks, and only a dozen or so people remained by the end. Still, most people would have seen the near-doubling of the record and conceded defeat. Not Dane Cook.

Dane waited until New Year's Eve, coming on around midnight, ready to ring in 2008 with a set that did not end until 7 a.m. He even ordered in food for the audience to keep their attention. He says he never left the stage or sat down for the entire seven hours, and that there were still around 30 people by the time he wound down the next morning. The owner of the Laugh Factory, which Cook considers his testing ground to work on material, was more than happy to host him, saying if the Chappelle/Cook rivalry continued, "I'm going to turn the Laugh Factory into a bed-and-breakfast."

Both of his parents died within months of each other

In 2006, right in the thick of his half brother stealing from him (although he wouldn't find out for a couple years), Dane's mother died of cancer. Dane found this news out just before performing at a huge hometown show in Boston. When she passed, only a week or so went by before he received a call from his father, who said he was suffering from cancer as well. His father held on for ten months before succumbing to the disease. Both parents gone from his world in less than a year. He didn't even really have time to process the grief before finding out about the embezzlement the next year.

Cook did find a way to at least talk through the pain on his 2009 Isolated Incident special. He did concede, however, that at the end of that tour cycle he probably would retire that material. Apparently some wounds aren't worth reopening in front of crowds every night.

He's dating a girl half his age

Dane Cook has never been one to act his age, especially on stage. His goofy demeanor and propensity for doing anything to get a laugh make him stand out from other middle-aged men. And he definitely didn't act his age when he decided to start dating a woman 26 years his junior. Singer and musician Kelsi Taylor has been his steady girlfriend since 2017, when she was about 18. Cook was 44. Oof. Whatever, true love knows no age, maybe?

Cook realizes it's a bit of a generational difference, and poked fun at the situation on Jimmy Kimmel, saying he couldn't have possibly robbed the cradle, as she hadn't slept in a cradle for over nine years. "Sometimes I actually find myself saying, 'Where has she been all my life?' And then I realize she wasn't alive for the first 26 years of it," he joked. Taylor has already made a bit of a name for herself in the music business, issuing an album in 2018, and performing background vocals for Grammy-nominated acts like Little Big Town and Demi Lovato.

He got banned from his favorite comedy club

The Laugh Factory is one of the seminal comedy clubs in Los Angeles, and it's something of a home for Dane Cook, who often tries out new material and makes surprise appearances there. Unfortunately, it's also one of the places where he's developed a bit of a reputation for being an arrogant jerk. In 2012, his desire to extend his performance meant several other comics got bumped entirely. T.J. Miller, of Silicon Valley fame, was one comedian who witnessed a less-than-stellar Cook set full of misogyny and verbal abuse directed at the audience.

Apparently Cook finally overstayed his welcome at the famed club in 2015, when he was accused by the Laugh Factory owner of using offensive and vulgar language toward one of the female servers. When he confronted Dane, things got heated, and Cook eventually shouted at the man, "I own this place!" The owner, refusing to be held hostage by one of his acts, promptly served Dane with a lifetime ban from the club. There are plenty of iconic comedy venues in L.A., but not being able to spontaneously grace his preferred stage whenever inspiration strikes is likely a huge blow to Dane Cook's ego.

He took a four-year hiatus

Dane Cook hit quite a rough patch in life in the mid-2000s, losing both parents and having other family embezzle millions from him. Almost anyone would have taken some time off after all that. By the time 2009 rolled around, he hadn't written anything new in quite a while. In 2011, he discussed his increasing comedic absence with the L.A. Times. Dane said he didn't want to use the word "retirement," but that it was time to "shift my energy into something new." Cook felt he had taken comedy everywhere he was capable of taking it, and it seemed a laser focus on meaningful film roles and slowing down life in general would end his stand-up days.

For a few years, he made good on it. Cook made a handful of rare, short stage appearances, but the touring and massive arena spectacles of his past were no more. He spent time at home in Los Angeles, made an honest attempt at therapy, and added to his film credits. He even made a pilot of a show for NBC, though it wasn't picked up. Finally, the road began to call to him. In 2013, he went on tour for the first time in four years. The two-month Under Oath tour was a quieter affair than his previous jaunts, though, for a man who once sold out Madison Square Garden.