Dane Cook’s comedic career was in overdrive during the 2000s. His album Retaliation went double platinum and hit #4 on the Billboard general chart in 2005, a rare milestone for a comic. He sold out Madison Square Garden the next year, a feat that only a handful of superstars such as Eddie Murphy and George Carlin have achieved. He seemed inevitably bound for comedy greatness.
In 2019, The Hollywood Reporter stated that at one point, Cook was wildly successful, earning around $20 million per tour. However, the outlet also referred to him as“[t]he most mocked and loathed comic of the past 20 years….”
Cook hit a rough patch after 2010. His soaring popularity abruptly cratered. Perhaps the public’s craze for him just could not be sustained. He could have been just too polarizing. Maybe Cook made some questionable career moves that backfired. His personal problems could have tripped him up as well. A perfect storm of negative factors like those could have been to blame for Cook’s downfall. Here’s a closer look at some of the issues that befell him.
He Was Accused Of Plagiarizing Material From Louis C.K.
Cook had a nasty dust-up involving fellow comedian Louis C. K., who thought that some material on Retaliation too closely resembled material that he himself had done on his album Live in Houston (2001). Cook denied the allegation of plagiarism.
Louis C.K. sounded exasperated by the persistence of the whole incident. In a 2011 interview with The A.V. Club, he said, “Dane and I have this weird conflict that everybody but us talks about.” He added, “I mean every interview I did was about Dane Cook, and I hated it. I hated the whole thing. But there it was. And I knew Dane hated it.”
Another chapter in the controversy took place when Louis C.K. came up with the idea of having Cook be a guest on his FX show Louie. Cook played himself so the two could poke fun at the situation and finally put it behind them.
That wasn’t quite the end of it, though. Cook later accused Louis C.K. of exploiting the incident to boost his own popularity. “It helped him, it really did,” Cook insisted. “It was like he was on a press tour because of it.”
Louis C.K. was infamously embroiled in a scandal of his own in 2017 after he acknowledged his history of inappropriate conduct with women. Cook did not comment on his fellow comedian’s fall from grace.
His Comedic Style Began To Attract Criticism
By 2006, it felt like Cook’s downslide had begun in earnest. He became the target of barbs from other comedians, some of whom thought that he was a clever “self-promoter” rather than a superb comic with fabulous material. Some of the impetus for that could have been their envy of Cook’s success, but nonetheless, their harsh opinions had started to gain momentum.
Jim Breuer, a Saturday Night Live cast member in the 1990s and host of Fridays with Jim Breuer on Sirius Satellite Radio, put it bluntly: “[Other comedians] can’t stand this poor guy.” On top of that, there was talk that Cook “snatched”—to use Breuer’s word—other comics’ material. Not to mention, the Louis C.K. plagiarism allegations just would not go away for Cook.
As it turned out, these were not the only issues people had with the comedian. Comics can sometimes stir up controversy when they make pointed jibes about politicians, celebrities, and events in the news. It can seem like no one gets spared from their caustic wit. That in itself isn’t really an eyebrow-raiser. Occasionally, however, professional funny men can go too far.
That was apparently what happened when Cook told a joke a few days after a lone gunman’s movie theater shooting rampage in Aurora, Colorado, on July 20, 2012, which claimed 12 lives and injured 70 people.
The backlash he got for the joke was intense. Cook apologized on Twitter with the following words: “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. My heart goes out to all of the families & friends of the victims.”
The reactions from Cook’s peers to his stand-up routine were blisteringly critical. After an engagement at The Laugh Factory in Los Angeles in 2012, he was blasted for being “egotistical,” among other derogatory things, according to A.V. Club. The ridicule even went so far that Cook was parodied on both Family Guy and MadTV.
His Attempt To Transition Into Acting Flopped
Cook tried his hand at acting, with undistinguished results. He appeared in a wide range of films and TV series such as Simon Sez (1999) and Answers to Nothing (2011), but his acting career didn’t really click with audiences. In 2019, Cook admitted to the Cincinnati Enquirer that it’s challenging for him to be authentic in roles that he had not originated himself.
He missed out on one dream gig because he was in the grip of a panic attack. As he recollected to The Last Laugh podcast, when Cook was about to audition for Saturday Night Live, he “had a huge, huge breakdown outside of Rockefeller Plaza” in New York where the NBC studios are located.
“I couldn’t do it because I knew I’d get it,” Cook admitted. The prospect of being a regular on that legendary late-night show daunted him because he said he was aware of what he called “the politics of working there.”
His Family Made Headlines For All The Wrong Reasons
While his professional life was faltering, two members of Cook’s family were giving him major heartaches and headaches. Darryl McCauley and his wife, Erika, Cook’s half-brother and sister-in-law, acknowledged stealing from him while Darryl was Cook’s business manager during the 1990s.
In October 2010, Darryl pleaded guilty to charges of larceny, embezzlement, and forgery, while is wife, Erika, pleaded guilty to larceny. Both were sentenced to prison time, plus probation. They also had to repay Cook $12 million that they reportedly said they stole from him.
Cook called the incident “a terrible betrayal,” and understandably so.
What Is He Doing Now?
Cook’s comeback “Tell It Like It Is” tour in 2019 did not resonate with a public that had once flocked to his performances and bought his albums voraciously. A TimesUnion review of Cook’s show at the Palace Theatre in Albany, N.Y., on February 22, 2019, indicated that it fell disappointingly flat. “[H]is star has dimmed as a live draw…,” was the dismal verdict of the reviewer.
In 2022, Cook went on to release an hour-long comedy special called Above It All that he wrote and starred in. It was filmed in front of a small audience at Cook’s Hollywood Hills home and was released on the social media platform Moment. Cook’s last television appearance was in Take Your Shoes Off in 2021. His last film was American Exit (2019).
Cook’s personal life seems to be going well. In August 2022, he announced his engagement to his longtime girlfriend, Kelsi Taylor. The pair has been together since 2017.
Dane Cook shot to the peak of the comedy world, then plummeted back down. Some of what happened to him may have been within his control, while other circumstances were seemingly out of his grasp. The heady rush of fame and success that Cook enjoyed years ago may have led to hubris that got the best of him. Whatever the explanation, Cook’s next moves merit watching—you never know when he might be the king of comedy again.