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Dane Cook has seen it all during a comedy career that has spanned decades. As a young comic in 1992, the Arlington native was pelted with lighters by a hostile Boston Garden audience impatiently waiting for Phish to take the stage. More than a decade later, Cook, coming off two platinum albums, returned to the Garden to film “Vicious Circle,” a boundary-pushing stand-up special. Instead of the intimate quarters of a comedy club, Cook went maximalist for “Vicious Cycle,” with director Marty Callner surrounding the comic with 18 cameras as he stalked the stage in front of a packed arena crowd.
Almost exactly 30 years after his first ill-fated show at the Garden, Cook, 50, has reunited with Callner for his new special, “Above It All.” Once again, the comic has defied comedy conventions, filming the special on the front lawn of his Hollywood Hills home. And instead of releasing the special through traditional methods, Cook is taking to a relatively new platform called Moment, which Cook compares to a “modern-day Pay-Per-View.”
Ahead of the debut of “Above It All” at 9 p.m. Oct. 5, Cook talked with Boston.com about his new special, an early career-defining moment in Cambridge, and his recent engagement to fiancée Kelsi Taylor — and before you ask, yes, the couple has heard all the jokes about their 27-year age gap.
Editor’s note: This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for length and clarity.
You grew up in Arlington. Was there a pivotal moment in your youth that pushed you toward a career in stand-up?
DC: My very first show outside of Arlington came right after I graduated from AHS. By the way, I’m proudly repping an AHS Spy Ponders hoodie in the “Above It All” special if you look closely.
At the time there was a place called Catch A Rising Star in Cambridge, where you could go and sign up for an open mic night. Now, I had not signed up for an open mic night. I was too terrified, so I would just go and watch other comics.
Lo and behold, one night while I was there, the gentleman who was supposed to be going up from the call sheet didn’t show up. Nobody knew who he was, but his name was Ernest Glenn. And when the host of the show said, “Alright, Ernest Glenn, who’s that? Where are you at?,” I thought, “Oh wait, they don’t even know who Ernest Glenn is.” So I put my hand in the air. My first open mic, the first step in this illustrious career, was as Ernest Glenn.
Apologies to Ernest Glenn if you’re reading this interview.
DC: Yeah, I’d like to find Ernest Glenn at some point and shake his hand. He gave me a career.
Tell me a bit about your upcoming special. You filmed it at your house, correct? Besides COVID and social distancing, what inspired the unusual setting?
DC: Believe it or not, I filmed it on my front lawn here at my Hollywood Hills home, which I moved into 12 years ago. I was sitting on my porch one night, and I was reminiscing about the many summer nights I spent sitting on my porch in Arlington. There would be one porch, one spot in the neighborhood where all the neighbors would congregate. Everyone would have a few too many drinks, do bad impressions of each other, tell bad stories about each other.
I was thinking about how I loved and missed those days, and that community we shared. So one day, sitting on my porch, I said, “I think I’m gonna make a special here someday.”
How has your stand-up evolved over the years, both in your material and your presentation?
DC: I’ve always been a storyteller, even when I was young. When I was younger, it was a very linear kind of storytelling, very physical. I was a whirling dervish on stage. But as I got more mature, I started loving language, painting verbal pictures. I really focused on the idea of LPMs within a standard story — that stands for Laughs Per Minute. How can I take people on a journey, but not to where it feels like a seminar?
How did you decide to release your new special through Moment?
DC: Moment is almost a modern version of Pay-Per-View. This is a place where you can do a short term contract as a performer, partner up with an incredible resource, and all without a lot of paperwork. Most importantly, you can continue to own and operate your IP.
A lot of comics spend all their time chasing royalties and trying to get paid for the very work that they should own. Early in my career, back in 2003, I was already seeing the writing on the wall. When I put a CD on the shelf at Tower Records, I can track the units sold by the box. But when you put it in the digital realm, suddenly companies aren’t sharing those metrics. You would watch all of your creativity fly out the window while someone else profited off of it.
Moment gives you the power back. They say, “Here’s your IP, here’s all the data. And by the way, you get paid in real time.” So I have the opportunity to recoup my entire investment. One guy put every penny into “Above It All,” and that’s me. And I love that.
You were in Maine recently in order to propose to your girlfriend of five years, Kelsi. How did you plan out the perfect moment?
DC: I’m over the moon to not only be engaged, but to have been able to do it in a place that’s really very, very meaningful for me. Some people are Cape Codders, but we were Northerners growing up — we’d go up to Hampton Beach or Maine in the summer. Nubble Lighthouse on York Beach was my mom’s favorite place on Earth. When she passed away, she asked us to release her ashes there. To bring Kelsi to this place that we both love, it felt like my mom’s spirit was there.
Are you already at work on wedding plans, or just enjoying engaged life for the moment?
DC: We’re looking at next fall right now. It’s funny, there’s a big segment of “Above It All” that references Kelsi and I. We’ve had a lot of fun with our relationship, and we’ve taken some hits for “the other narrative,” I guess you could call it. We’re enjoying the comedic moment right now, but next year we’re focus on our future plans together.
“Above It All” debuts on Moment at 9 p.m. Oct. 5, and will be available to view for 14 days after purchase.
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