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June 27, 2006 |

By Seth Freilich | TV | June 27, 2006 |

In last week’s Act I, one of the things I mentioned at the outset was my recognition of the large amount of subjectivity that goes hand-in-hand with comedy. Case in point — I have two very good friends whose opinion on things entertainment and pop culture I greatly respect, largely because we’re almost always on the same wavelength about what we think is great, good, bad, good-bad, etc. So I have to admit that I was surprised when I learned that they totally disagreed with my opinion of “Lucky Louie.” Again, one man’s steaming pile of feces is another’s comic gold — to each his or her own. And I re-raise this issue because of what some of this article is about. Or rather, who — namely, Dane Cook. This guy’s got a crazy cult-like following, and I figure they’re not going to like hearing anything blasphemous being said about their Laughter Messiah.

Now, I actually wish I could full-on flame-bait these guys by just saying “Dane Cook’s a hack and he sucks shaved monkey balls.” But the truth of the matter is, I don’t hate him. I also happen not to love him — I’m entirely indifferent. I acknowledge that he’s got a well-developed stage presence and delivery method (although his over-the-top frenetic energy wears on me after about 10 minutes). I just don’t understand this rock-star-type following he’s developed because, when you get right down to it, his act just isn’t that funny. He’s made me chuckle here and there, but I fail to find the hysterics in stories about the “B.K. Lounge” or his bloody Super Finger.

Because of this indifference towards the cat, I wasn’t nearly as excited for “Dane Cook’s Tourgasm” as I was for “Lucky Louie,” but I was still looking forward to it because (i) HBO gets it right more than they get it wrong (although their batting average does seem to be sliding of late) and (ii) I generally love things related to stand-up comedy (in fact, I’m even quasi-enjoying the current run of “Last Comic Standing,” except for the godawful Anthony Clark, and last week’s episode even featured the best “competition” the show’s ever had). But I left “Tourgasm” just as disappointed as I was after watching “Lucky Louie,” albeit for different reasons. While “Lucky Louie” was terrible and unfunny, “Tourgasm” was boring and unfunny — duller than a two-dollar whore at the NBA finals (i.e., just laying there like a dead fish that leaves you, ultimately, with a slight burning sensation).

Now at this point, I have to take a slight detour to mention a show that many of you probably missed out on, a six-part show Comedy Central ran last year called “Comedians of Comedy.” The precursor to this show was a direct-to-DVD documentary of the same name that, truth be told, I didn’t like all that much. But the follow-up show was fucking brilliant and hilarious as all hell. The premise was simple — follow four comedians around on their bus as they do a comedy tour, and find out what happens when they stop being polite and start getting real. The four comedians were: (i) Patton Oswalt — as I mentioned last week, he’s one of my favorite stand-ups, and the main reason I initially sat down to watch the show; (ii) Brian Posehn — someone who I didn’t know, at the time, for his stand-up, although he was one of those ever-present guys who would pop up in sitcom guest spots here and there; (iii) Zack Galifianakis — again, not someone who I knew for his stand-up but of whom I had a vague, passing recognition; and (iv) Maria Bamford — a stand-up who I didn’t (and still don’t) necessarily love, but who has a unique perspective and manages to bring some fresh and funny material to the party. And as I say, this show was comedy gold. It’ll come up a lot more throughout this article, in fact, but I introduce it here because it was obviously on my mind when I started watching the first episode of “Tourgasm.”

Indeed, “Comedians of Comedy” was why, when Dane pompously claimed to be doing something that had never been done before, my hide got a little chapped. In fact, not only was it done with the “Comedians of Comedy” DVD and follow-up series, but change the formula slightly to following one comedian around while he develops a new act and you’ve got Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedian. So yeah, Dane, it’s actually been done several times before. But you’re the first one to make it as boring as my 10th grade AP history class, so you’ve got that going for you. And actually, there’s a bigger reason I take issue with Mister Cook’s statement that this is the first time we get to see comedians touring and doing their thing, which is that this isn’t really what it’s like for most comedians on the road. They don’t play big sold-out theaters, ride around in luxury tour buses, make playful pit-stops to play with go-carts, get private planes and helicopters to extract them mid-tour for a five-minute corporate event at Madison Square Garden, etc. That may be how Dane Cook and a handful of the elite roll, but it’s not really a picture of how the majority of the in-the-trenches comedians live. In fact, “Comedians of Comedy” was a much closer representation, as most of their time in between shows was spent simply getting to the next show itself, and many of those shows were in little run-down independent comedy clubs, not at packed college-campus venues.

Of course, it wouldn’t matter that Dane isn’t actually the first to do something like this if the show was actually entertaining. Or funny. Or enlightening about comedy. But it’s not any of these things and that’s really its big problem.

First off, as I’ve said several times already (are we at the “ad nauseum” level on this point yet?), the damn thing is tiresome. Resident pussy Jay Davis (one of the four “comedians” rolling with Dane) actually summed it up pretty well in the first episode: The other three guys were sitting around talking about porn, and Davis said he really didn’t want to talk about porn, because it’s boring … bingo. Almost everything that happens on this show is dull, from the interrelationship “drama,” to the inane conversations they have about things like farting in their bunks, to the manufactured crap like the aforementioned go-cart stop — it’s just drab.

While I don’t really love Dane Cook, as I’ve mentioned before, the dude’s definitely dynamic. And if the purpose of this vanity project of his (he’s the show’s director, and you best believe he’s selective in what he shows and doesn’t show) is to prove that point by comparison, well then, mission accomplished. Because you’ll come off like Paris to Nicole when shown in context with these other three. Bobby Kelly seems like another run-of-the-mill meathead. Gary Gulman is just sort of bland (in fact, I remember watching his stint on “Last Comic Standing” and thinking that he was competent and even had some good material, but was lacking that certain “it” factor, which now seems to be confirmed). And Jay Davis is simply unfunny — a na├»ve and neurotic chump. So sure, they make Dane look better by default, but they don’t help create an interesting show or any real dynamic, and Cook isn’t managing to carry the burden on his own.

Let’s go back to “Comedians of Comedy,” for a moment. That show was littered with hilarious offstage moments. One of the best episodes involved their lunchtime detour to a Cracker Barrel. This included a spontaneous bit they put together where they were basically mocking Southern stereotypes (sitting on a porch in rocking chairs and muttering, in Southern drawls, things like “you know what I love doing on a hot day like this — respecting different religions” and “rocking back and forth like this, all I can think about is sustainable agriculture”). It also included a bit where they were fucking around with this toy parrot that repeats what it hears. Patton says, “Zack Galifianakis thirsts for cock,” which the parrot dutifully repeats. The camera then scans over to Zack, standing right on the other side of the toy parrot; without missing a beat, Zack looks into the camera and deadpans, “It’s not a thirst.”

Now that’s fucking comedy. And this sort of relatively spontaneous offstage humor is utterly lacking from “Tourgasm.” Unfortunately, the onstage humor is missing too, although this is really the fault of Dane Cook the Director. Cook barely shows anything from anyone’s actual stage acts, often just cutting to a quick punchline or setup, without giving us the benefit of both. Of course, he’s a bit more liberal with his own onstage time, although even there he doesn’t show a lot. And it’s a shame really. While I don’t think any of these guys are all that funny, I think they’ve got some decent material (except for Jay Davis) and if Dane Cook the Director gave the viewer an actual opportunity to see some of this, the show might actually have a laugh factor. Case in point — my not-so-secret crush, “Comedians of Comedy,” spent about half of each episode showing snippets from the comedians’ acts, which really gave them an opportunity to shine and entertain, and provided laughs to those who maybe didn’t find their offstage antics humorous.

Now, “Tourgasm” might make up for some of these failings if it offered the viewer any sort of meaningful insight into the nature of comedy and stand-up but, here too, it fails. What do I mean by this? Well, watching “Comedians of Comedy,” the viewer actually learned a lot about the process these comedians follow in developing their onstage routine. For example, the second episode featured a funny bit where the comedians were given “notes” sent down from the Comedy Central execs on high, requesting that they watch their language. During their acts that night, they all pretty much went into their own riffs about language, its effect on listeners, its use in comedy, etc. Each had their own take, and it was actually fascinating (as well as funny) to watch how each took this same underlying event and spun it into their own type of new material. And throughout the show, we constantly bore witness to the comedians using offstage events and occurrences as the impetus for new material. Two other examples jump to mind: (i) when Patton introduced Brian Posehn onstage one night as his “best friend in comedy,” we saw Posehn riff on why he wasn’t just a “best friend” and, the next night, Patton did an onstage follow-up; and (ii) during the infamous Cracker Barrel trip, Zack was bemused by a Garfield doll, which led to a new bit in that night’s show about someone who was a bit too much a fan of the Garfield movie. All of these were funny, and for those who care about actually getting insight into comedy, it had that going for it as well.

Meanwhile, three episodes in, there’s only been one attempt at anything like this on “Tourgasm” (its stupid and meaningless onscreen “rules” aside), which is Dane’s attempt to help Jay Davis create some new material. Cook’s advice, itself, is actually decent, such as “you can’t give up on the material” and “you have to use your offstage pain and emotion in your act.” But we don’t see it getting anywhere because he’s trying to help someone who couldn’t joke his way out of a paper bag, and the new material in question bloooows (it’s some awful shit about how his friends say he’s too kind, and he would be a lame serial killer if he had to actually kill with kindness). So at the end of the day, we don’t really get to see good material being developed and finessed, we don’t gain any insight into what inspires any of these comedians, and we’re left wanting to stab out our eyes.

Finally, one of the reasons the “Tourgasm” guys don’t particularly work for me is that their material, with the exception of Dane’s, comes off very “jokey.” Their bits feel more like a collection of jokes than a cohesive act. Again, this is certainly subjective and you’re welcome to disagree with me, but I much prefer the stylings of a Patton Oswalt or David Cross. Their acts also have bits and jokes in them, sure, but they manage to wrap them up and deliver them in a way that doesn’t feel like I’m just reading a new volume of “Truly Tasteless Jokes.” And yes, this is a hard thing to do, but comedy should be hard. In fact, I’d rather watch the non-Dane “Tourgasm” guys try this approach and utterly fail, than to hear jokes like “hurricanes should be named after bad people so, you know, they should name one after my ex-girlfriend — Hurricane Bitch!”

So HBO — to steal a phrase from Stephen Colbert — you’re on notice! Two new shows that both blow, a new season of “Entourage” that’s becoming more suspect with each passing week (the premiere was hilarious, but the last two episodes have each slipped a bit further down the crevasse) and the premature ejaculation over my beloved “Deadwood.” Seriously, boys and girls, stop resting on your laurels and get your game back on.

And hey — Comedy Central! Seriously, when the fuck are you going to put out a “Comedians of Comedy” DVD already? If you don’t get your shit together, they might start naming hurricanes after you!

… ugh. I need a bath to wash this stink off of me.


Seth Freilich is Pajiba’s television columnist. He lives in Washington, D.C., and couldn’t be happier that summer “intern season” is finally here.

Two Tragedies of Comedy, Act II

"Dane Cook's Tourgasm" / The TV Whore

June 27, 2006

TV | June 27, 2006 |

Seth is a Senior Editor and sometime critic. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.


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