Dane Cook makes light of the dark

Review: The popular comedian performs to a sold-out Syracuse crowd Tuesday, showcasing his talent to transform dark situations into hilarious anecdotes.

The night of comedy uncommonly began with AC/DC’s “Back in Black” and ended with an audience sing-along. And for the 80 minutes in between, comedian Dane Cook entertained the nearly sold out crowd at the OnCenter last night with hilarious tales of breakup fights, HIV positive friends and missing persons cases. The comedian also turned musician at the end of the set, surprising the crowd with a serenade.

The subject matters were at times serious, fitting in with the dark theme of the night. The raised stage, set in the middle of the OnCenter floor, was a black rectangle; an ebony stool stood in the middle of the platform. Cook’s entire outfit- tee shirt, jeans, sneakers- was black as well.     

Cook’s ability to turn mundane or even grave situations into pure, laugh-out-loud comedy shone through in Tuesday night’s performance. The style of the material was a throwback to the humorous situational comedy that first made Cook famous. There were no bits comparable to “Kool Aid Man,” “The BK Lounge” or “Monopoly,” but focus on everyday occurrences instead of the sex-obsessed sets of recent years was a great reminder of what made him so funny to begin with.   

The set revolved around material that, in another setting, would be too harrowing to even crack a smile. One example was the comedian’s account of spending time with Phillip, his friend of 12 years who is HIV positive. When Cook complained to Phillip they were going to be late for a movie, Phillip retorted, “I will bleed in your popcorn.” Cook also discussed avoiding “possible CPR moments,” or any situations that would involve mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. “You never want to be revived from near death by your buddy who has HIV because you don’t want your first reaction when you come to is to look up and say, ‘Oh f---,’” Cook said. “‘But I saved you,’ Phillip said. Yeah, for now.”

Much of the show’s material came from what Cook called “a strange few months.” This period started 10 months ago, when Cook says he broke up with his girlfriend. (“Brutal breakup. Basically I was in a five-year slow motion car crash.”)

Cook made a bit out of the breakup argument, asking the audience to “play judge and jury” that he did not commit domestic violence when he hit his ex with a Nerf bat. “I feel like even a judge would throw that out of court saying, ‘No, no, no. It was made for that sort of tomfoolery,’” Cook said. It was a funny story, though not particularly original; the comedian told the same tale of his ex-girlfriend spitting on him and throwing his computer across the room, thus prompting the Nerf bat incident, in 2009.   

Cook had three opening acts, collectively performing for about an hour. The first act was J. Chris Newberg, followed by Ben Gleib, who appears on “Chelsea Lately.” His material, based on newsworthy topics such as Mel Gibson and the BP oil spill, was the funniest of the opening acts. Al Del Bene, whose show will premiere on Showtime in January, rounded out the crowd warmers.   

Cook’s encore was a 26-minute musical montage of varying degrees of funny. Cook played guitar and sported a pop star microphone headset, and Del Bene, Cook’s friend since they were 12 years old, assisted in singing. The camaraderie between the two was obvious and made situations such as “mistakenly” talking in unison more believable and humorous.    

For comedians, both sported impressive singing voices. The duo performed several compilations, including a white-boy’s “mashup megamix” of Digital Underground’s “Humpty Dance” in the style of Jack Johnson and Queen. Del Bene hit the high Queen notes and DU raps. A Jethro Tull/B-52s/”Back in Black” medley was also entertaining. Newberg joined the duo for the final song of the evening, “That’s Probably a Bad Idea.” The harmony was great- the lyrics, not so much.

Although not his best, the show demonstrated that it is not only Cook’s material that is funny, but also the way in which he delivers his comedy. The storytelling quality to his delivery and interaction with the audience makes Cook a laugh every time.  

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