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"The First Laugh," "Working It Out," "The United States of Insanity," "It Was The Best of Times...," "Determined and Injured," "Competitively Speaking," "Beginning of the End," "Back in the Day," "The Curtain Call"
by Ian Pugh It's not that I don't get Dane Cook. In fact, it's difficult not to occasionally chuckle when looking over his repertoire, as in ruminating on the general inconvenience of having the Kool-Aid Man burst through your wall and the fact that no one can ever finish a game of Monopoly, or wondering who would write racial epithets while sitting on the toilet, he represents a strict literalization of that old sarcastic summation of stand-up comedy: "He's sayin' what we're all thinkin'!" It's not that funny, but we all laugh, anyway, partially for Cook's enthusiasm, partially because he's a reflection of us at our most vulnerable (that is, at our stalest creative moments), proudly transcribing the idle thoughts and half-attempts at wit that pass through our minds on a daily basis. We laugh, painfully, because we've all contemplated what Cook has to say.
The only problem is that Cook takes his work at face value. Mistaking his minor observations for gospel, his enthusiasm eventually explodes into an unbearable cacophony of screeching sound effects and pop-culture name-checking. Yet the one-dimensional presentation is just obvious and vulgar enough to attract the college set in droves (see also: The Boondock Saints and Napoleon Dynamite), and through MySpace, Cook has become something of a demigod, rendering the Superfinger--a moderately amusing idea to spice up flipping the bird by adding the ring finger--an oppressive logo and salutation among Cook and his acolytes. Although TIME has received some heat for shying away from controversy and negative influence in their recent Person of the Year selections, the inexorable rise of Dane Cook forces us to contemplate their unconventional choice for 2006, "You" (meaning the influence of user-submitted Internet material as found on YouTube and MySpace), and fully comprehend it as appropriate--a wonderful, horrible sign of the times.
Despite that it barely contains any stand-up material proper, "Dane Cook's Tourgasm" (hereafter "Tourgasm"), the travelogue of a month-long, countrywide tour wherein the comic brings three of his buddies along for the bus ride, is the perfect summation of Cook's career. Familiarize yourself with the folks with whom you're asked to spend four-and-a-half hours: Robert Kelly, who mouths off at great length in a "ya think ya better'n me?" patois; Jay Davis, a great emcee but a terrible comedian; and Gary Gulman, a nonentity who spouts off the occasional burst of bland ethnic humour. They regard their more famous host with latent resentment (Kelly, who acted in a comedy troupe alongside Cook), fear (Davis, who stammers with apologies and excuses), and indifference (Gulman, although this may be misinterpreting his general lack of emotion), respectively, and regard each other with suspicious loathing. Cue the reality-TV bullshit: a lot of overblown arguments juxtaposed with protracted stretches of idiocy.
But then, there's that "reflection" problem again: you have a feeling that if you and your old college buddies got together on a road trip with a camera, you'd probably film yourselves being stupid, too. You should be aware that no one else but you would ever want to see the result, though; the antics featured in "Tourgasm" are a lot like how you'd imagine the "Jackass" crew acts in-between moments of formal jackassery: playing with gag lighters, gamely crashing Segways, and teabagging each other. When Cook shits in a garbage can to present to Kelly, it's easy to imagine Johnny Knoxville and his merry band of morons protesting: "All right, but what's your hook?" (For the record, the hook in Jackass Number Two--wherein one cast member defecates on a dollhouse toilet--is a punch in the stomach to the audience that simultaneously offers an obscene yet weirdly logical solution to a seldom-used kiddie prop.) But hey, these guys are comedians. They're funny, right? They certainly think so. The funniest thing about "Tourgasm" is that the freeform stupidity was apparently not enough to fill a plate of nine episodes: the tour ends unceremoniously at episode seven, and the two remaining instalments are confined to retrospectives and reunions. The pain doesn't end there, however, as "Back in the Day" (1.8) treats us to decades-old flashback/home-video sequences that continue to feed you bland gruel, confirming that none of these people were funny fifteen years ago while indulging in a clichÃ©-nostalgic soundtrack ("Don't You (Forget About Me)" by Simple Minds, "More Than a Feeling" by Boston).
As mentioned, the program contains very little of the stand-up performances themselves, presumably because most of Cook's act already appears on his various albums, or perhaps because it's just out-and-out terrible. ("Tourgasm" takes perverse pleasure in showing brief snippets of Davis's act, in which an underdeveloped joke about "killing people with kindness" bombs every single time he tries it out.) In any event, Cook no doubt finds it easier to discuss his fanbase than to actually try out anything exciting and new--we're constantly reminded of how he's sold more comedy albums than Jesus while the man shows off his daily MySpace Friend Requests, which tally in the tens of thousands. He hasn't forgotten all the little people, you see, as demonstrated in a pep talk where he advises Davis to treat his crowd like individuals. He has an acute awareness of the camera when he says it, and it's a feeling that permeates the whole of "Tourgasm", right down to its reality-show format: based on the temper tantrums he throws whenever he loses a round of paintball or go-karting, Cook is either a genuine asshole or a calculating cynic who knows exactly what it takes to imbue a series like this with the appropriate drama. From the easy-laugh title to his carefully-constructed bedhead hairdo, Cook has coldly determined which buttons to push and which organs to grind to get his monkeys dancing.
HBO brings the nine-episode run of "Dane Cook's Tourgasm" to DVD in a three-disc set enclosed in a metal keepcase, thereby greatly exaggerating its worth. Still, you gotta love the 1.78:1, 16x9-enhanced presentation: sharp as a tack. The Dolby 2.0 stereo audio is excellent as well, though the musical interludes can be overbearing. Meanwhile, a yak-track reteaming Cook, Kelly, Gulman, and Davis appends every episode. Nice to see that nothing has changed in the interim: Cook is still a smug jerk (you can feel his irritating smirk coming through the microphone); Kelly is still an unbearable loudmouth; Davis is still a simpering lackey; and Gulman is still just there. In furious attempts to stay "on" in front of an audience, they crack fart jokes and gay jokes, get into arguments, recite dialogue as it occurs onscreen, and laugh uproariously. It makes you contemplate the necessity of audio commentary for interview-heavy shows like this, because, uh, aren't they already a kind of running commentary?
Special Features on Disc Three begin with "Conversations on Comedy" (28 mins.), a circle-jerk documentary that repeats all of the footage from "Back in the Day" and tries to pass itself off as a blueprint for comics-to-come. "Hecklers" (14 mins.) sees the four comedians talking about how they deal with the banes of stand-up comedy; although they coolly psychoanalyze hecklers and pretend that they transform the incidents into a part of the act, unused clips from "Tourgasm" reveal that their retorts never transcend "Shut the fuck up, asshole." "Multiple Tourgasm Shorts" is a series of twenty promotional quickies spotlighting Cook in his wholly skippable, onanistic glory. Finally, there're two "hysterical themed 'Tourgasm' montages": "The Bobby Kelly 'Fuck' Montage" (1 min.) is precisely what it sounds like: a montage featuring Kelly cursing throughout the tour. It's spliced together into something that attempts to be lyrical, reminding of that bizarro multilingual Easter egg from the Godfather DVD collection. Companion piece "Mr. Sensitive: Jay Davis" (1 min.) is that much more useless, with various clips of Jay hugging everyone, butting heads with the decidedly insensitive Kelly, and further mangling the "kindness" joke. Originally published: January 5, 2007.