So, I didn't write anything about the whole Dane Cook-TJ Miller brou ha ha at The Laugh Factory thus far in part because I felt like enough people were blogging and podcasting about it that I didn't need to chime in and add to that snowball and in part because I was taking a little hiatus from this for reasons I'll go into in a post this weekend.
But in the many, many conversations I've had with comedians and fans of stand-up since it happened, I realized I have a couple of points to throw into the digital ether that come out of my perspective as both a stand-up and a professional fan of stand-up/self-styled comedy journalist.
The other thing that motivated me was watching Dane Cook go up at the Improv last night. I've always respected his work ethic and skill, but he's never really been up my alley. But he honestly might have won me over last night. The opening bits about the current situation were well-crafted and interesting and funny and real. He did some stuff in the middle that was a little more external and sometimes felt hollow, but still made me laugh out loud more than once and he finished with something that was too wordy and not tight yet, but the kind of honest vulnerability that underlies all my favorites' acts, regardless of style. I turned to Jake Essoe (running the lights and sound) and said "We are so lucky, we get to witness this superstar's transformation." I don't know if Dane's going to be reborn a la Louis CK or just reinvent himself into Dane Cook 2.0, but I can't tell you how fascinated I am to see it happen.
Now on to The Incident - And let me start by saying, I wasn't there, though a good friend whose opinion on comedy I value, was. (And as a comedy nerd, I would kill to have been there, then watched the evolution of that messy, new stuff into tighter bits a few nights later)
So this has basically come down to a Was Dane Cook Wrong or Was TJ Miller Wrong? kind of scenario. Let's start with Dane...
Dane Cook has every right to go in on a Wednesday and bump whoever he wants at the Laugh Factory to work out new material. And 9 times out of 10 that's going to be good for the audience and good for the club, and therefore by extension, good for all the other comedians who perform there. When he went up last night at the end of the Improv show, he was greeted with a level of cheering enthusiasm I've only once before seen for pop-in Jeff Ross. He did about 25 minutes and I'd say the last 8-10 were not that great - the kind of too-wordy story that doesn't have enough punchlines or just hasn't found the right delivery... or just may never work and get junked. But the crowd was happy to be there the whole time.
So let's talk about the crowd at the Laugh Factory and whether it was "fair" to "traumatize" them that way. That really was a different situation. Last night at the Improv, Dane went last, following the big draws on the bill, Pete Holmes and Anthony Jeselnik, but it was just a regular Improv crowd, a lot of whom were there because they just wanted to get $20 worth of quality comedy on a Thursday night. And they already had their checks. So, they were psyched for the bonus, but also felt free to leave at any time. The Laugh Factory crowd that Wednesday was mostly not people just going to the Laugh Factory to see some Hollywood comedy. The new Wednesday Dot Comedy show is specifically geared toward comedians like Pete Holmes, Marc Maron and Brendon Walsh (I hate to use the empty word "alt" but you know what I mean) and tends to draw a crowd that is more likely to be there to see specific comedians and not just a generic comedy show. And that night, they were there to see TJ Miller. And since I've heard numerous versions of how it went down, I can't be 100% certain what I'm about to say is true, but that's not Dane Cook's fault. The fact that that audience was asked to wait through an hour of Dane's workout before seeing the comedian they were waiting for is the fault of Laugh Factory management.
Another thing to consider about that crowd is this: If you love TJ Miller, you probably aren't the hugest fan of Dane Cook, dismissing him as mainstream (used pejoratively) or even hack. [Note: I am an enormous fan of TJ Miller's - he's on my "So funny, I'd go watch him in a garbage dump if that's where his show was" List - and I would have been excited to watch the entire Dane set, but more in a meta-historical-technical sense that has nothing to do with regular audience members or even most comedy fans]. So the crowd wasn't exactly primed for Dane to begin with and I'd wager that a lot of the loss of interest at about the 30 minute mark was just as much to do with "So when does this guy get off and TJ goes up?" as any particular discomfort with the material. And trying to work out new or established material in front of a crowd that does not give a shit about you is pretty much every night of the week for most comedians. This was a stage that allows Dane Cook time and it's not his job to go "Oh, I don't know if this crowd is going to be into me, I'll just step aside." It is his job to try to work to get that crowd on his side once he's up there, which he apparently didn't do so well, but he's taken a year off of standup! That's like a century in Comedy Years.
And now let's talk about TJ. First of all, as I stated, I'm a huge fan of TJ's as a comedian and a weirdo. And he's kind of a provocateur, so when my friend showed me The Tweets later that night I kind of dismissed it like "Ah, that's the kind of thing you see TJ Miller do, who cares?" At heart, no, I don't think any comedian should ever be publicly trashing another comedian's set, especially if you have 52,000 followers and are a darling of alt comedy media. But to be fair to TJ, with the proliferation of navel-gazing comedy podcasts, it's not like we don't all already air out the messy innards of comedy left and right. Sure, it's usually self-directed, but there's all kinds of inside baseball being aired out - from private feuds to road gig moments that should have gotten the "What Happens in Vegas" treatment, to breakdowns of how comedians build their sets and what comedians think of each other's acts.
There's also the argument that you never attack another comedian on the grounds of subject matter. There really is a feeling when talking among comedians or in public that "I don't like that he talks about ___" doesn't count, you have to make your argument on structure & technique. But, then again, a lot of the arguments I hear are just thinly veiled jabs at subject matter - "It's like he's cheating doing all those voices", "all those racial stereotypes are so hack", "he's not being real enough", "She does too many jokes about her vagina", "oh really, men are like this and women are like that? wow, groundbreaking."
So, yeah, TJ really should have thought that through and kept his comments to frustrated texts to freiends, but if you take all those factors into consideration, it's not like he's the devil for doing it. And frankly, as Dane explained on the Deathsqaud podcast, he has no idea who TJ Miller is. In the scheme of things to Dane, having TJ Miller tweet something negative about him is about roughly equivalent to having an open miker or tourist do the same. It's part of the job, happens every day.
Which brings me to who I think the unequivocal bad guy is - the Onion A/V Club - for sourcing an entire story via Twitter so as to have an immediate, shocking hook that turned a non-event into a shitstorm. This has actually become a very interesting conversation and debate around comedy circles. But wouldn't it have been nice to have had an in-depth thoughtful article about TJ's motivations and Dane's reactions with some input from other comedians who have something interesting to say instead of "OH MY GOD, DANE COOK BOMBED BECAUSE TJ MILLER SAID SO!"? Besides, wasn't "Dane Cook Takes the Stage for the First Time in a Year" a big enough story on its own?
By the way, here's the iTunes link to TJ on YMIW: http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/you-made-it-weird-pete-holmes/id475878118
It was a special bonus episode, so if you aren't already subscribed (what's wrong with you!!!), you might have missed it.