There's something almost apologetic about the title of the new "greatest hits" compilation from comedian Dane Cook: I Did My Best. For his fans, it's a kind of false modesty. For his critics -- who are legion and vocal -- it's a mea culpa: I'm just a guy trying my hardest and lucky enough to accidentally stumble upon enormous success. I'm just trying to make people laugh, see?
Of course, those in the know will recognize the title as a reference to one of Cook's bits ("B&E," included on this album, as well as the eponymous "I Did My Best"). Besides, Cook has nothing to apologize for; he's become the biggest thing to happen to stand-up comedy in years and, like him or not, has helped to make the art form relevant again for an audience of people previously uninterested in stand-up. This, of course, has led to the inevitable backlash, which Cook has (for the most part) taken in stride. There are plenty of people who resent Cook and his success, but lucky for him those voices are all but drowned out by the millions of screaming fans that can be heard all over his albums and specials. He's one of the few stand-ups to achieve rock star status. After all, it's not every comic that can release a "greatest hits" compilation and know that it's going to sell a boatload of copies.
I Did My Best covers material from Cook's five previous live albums (those "classic" Dane Cook bits like "The BK Lounge," "The Atheist," "Someone Shit on the Coats" and "Benson's Animal Farm"), as well as about 10 minutes of previously unreleased material to at least make the album worth picking up for Cook completists. It's a double album lasting roughly two and a half hours, making it pretty much impossible to listen to in a single sitting. But, then, a piecemeal album like I Did My Best isn't really made to be heard in one sitting. The bits are more like songs -- you drop in and listen to your favorite and then walk away until the next listen.
My feelings about Cook haven't changed since the first time I heard his stuff. To me, there aren't really any jokes; he just has a lot of energy and repeats phrases with varying degrees of emphasis. That makes me the wrong audience for a "Greatest Hits" compilation, because even the best Dane Cook bits tend to leave me cold. His most recent album, the somewhat experimental ISolated INcident, at least Cook showing some growth and attempting to push him in new directions, but because I Did My Best is comprised mostly of older stuff, it feels like a step backward.
More problematic, though, is the very notion of a "greatest hits" comedy album. The routines are all plucked from different sources, leaving them as just a bunch of stand-alone bits without any context or momentum (which, one could argue, isn't atypical for a Dane Cook album). In that way, I suppose it's perfect for the typical Dane Cook fan -- an audience of mostly young people who aren't necessarily interested in stand-up in general, just Cook. It's the YouTube generation, who would rather just watch the five-minute clip they want to watch rather than sit through an entire hour-long special. It's comedy a la carte. I get it from a marketing standpoint (if nothing else, you can release a whole new album filled with recycled material), but it's bad news for comedy purists.
In the end, Dane Cook is critic-proof, and a "greatest hits" album like I Did My Best is even more so. Sure, the producers have done a decent job editing the bits together to make it sounds seamless, but there's no connection from bit to bit. That doesn't matter. It two discs' worth of Dane Cook comedy, and his fans are likely to eat it up. Even if they've heard it before.
- Release Date: 11/22/10
- Label: Comedy Central Records