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Dane Cook kicks off his new act

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Maybe you hate Dane Cook. Maybe — probably — you hate his movies. Maybe he comes across like a guy you'd like to punch in the mouth, if only you somehow break through the horde of obsessed fans and beautiful women around him.

If this is the case, then Cook's new hourlong stand-up set might be for you.

"I think people are going to see me take a hard left, comedically," Cook said by phone Thursday from Los Angeles, where he's working around the clock on a new stand-up special for Comedy Central. "I really went through so many personal changes that were pretty serious and pretty heavy, and I found that I'd be doing myself a disservice if I didn't need to go inward and talk about some of these tragic situations and find the best way to connect with people in a humorous way."

Cook — the comedy world's reigning bard of jokes about the awesomeness of things that are awesome — isn't a guy you'd expect to go dark with his material. But he says the new set, which he's been honing five nights a week at clubs in L.A., represents a "real metamorphosis with my stand-up.

"Honestly, I was so go-go-go for a few years with films, and I just wanted to get back to the simple things," he said. "I cleared my whole schedule, I said no to a couple of movie opportunities, and for the first time in 10 years, I worked on my stand-up comedy like the hungry newcomer I was in 1990 that wanted to plant his flag. I'm trying to plant a new flag for me this year."

Cook is certainly starting 2009 off with a bang, with a blockbuster Super Bowl eve show at the St. Pete Times Forum. Before he arrived in Tampa, Cook took a few minutes to chat.

Why Super Bowl weekend?

When I first was coming up and doing club sets in New York City, if you could do a set at one of the local clubs in the city on Super Bowl weekend, it set a great word of mouth. The buzz got around to club owners, and let them know, "Oh, this guy's a draw." So I thought, "You know, I'll take the toughest weekend in the toughest spot in the country during that weekend, and if I can put the asses in the seats, it'll be a great way to get the year going with what will be a nationwide tour."

You're a Patriots fan, right? I have to say, it's kind of a ballsy move, coming back to the Super Bowl just a year after Giants-Patriots.

(Laughs) Yeah. I was there last year, and I watched the crushing defeat after that miraculous season. But you know, there's no better time to have a few laughs and get my own mind off of what will always be a hard pill to swallow.

When George Carlin died, almost everyone brought up his famous bit on football and baseball. But beyond that, sports don't really seem to be that much of a gold mine for comedy.

For me, sports jokes have always been the trickiest ones to get across. Unless somebody like a Michael Vick or somebody is putting themselves in the bull's-eyes of the Jay Lenos and David Lettermans, it is a little harder to connect, I think. For me, my highlight will always be, it's time for Sports 2.0. It's time to upgrade sports. I think my favorite line was, "What would make NASCAR more exciting is if half the cars went one way and half the cars went the other." But with Carlin, I mean, you think of that (football and baseball) bit, and it makes you not want to do a sports joke. You feel like, that's it. He nailed it.

Your performances are always very energy-driven.

In my 20s, I was a college kid doing college shows, and when you're playing these big college shows, kids don't want to hear jokes about hindsight. (laughs) Hindsight jokes don't fly very well with a college crowd. They want to hear you talk about parties, and sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll kind of stuff. I'm 36 now, and there's a whole new plethora of ideas. I feel like I'm really growing up with my audience.

Do you have a prediction for the game?

I've been so in the trenches working on this new set, that it's probably the least amount of time I've ever spent following sports. But I'd like to see Arizona win.

If somebody asked you to do a set before the Super Bowl or during halftime, would you even consider it?

Probably not. There are two things in comedy that you really try to step away from: Doing something in the middle of any kind of sporting event, and opening for a heavy metal band. Because you know there's a lighter that's going to be thrown in your direction at some point.

I'm assuming that's speaking from experience?

I've got the welts to prove it, my friend.

Dane Cook

The comic performs Saturday with Robert Kelly and Al Del Bene at 8 p.m. at the St. Pete Times Forum, 401 Channelside Drive, Tampa. $32.75-$102.25. (813) 301-2500.

Dane Cook kicks off his new act 01/29/09 [Last modified: Friday, January 30, 2009 10:29am]
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