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Friday, January 20th.

HERE’S THE THING: Dane Cook gets really defensive and horribly misguided about comedy criticism (among other pretty bad things)

Welcome to HERE’S THE THING, where I talk about comedy-related things in a very HERE’S THE THING-type way.

My friends and cohorts at The A.V. Club started a shitstorm on the Internet yesterday when they posted about Dane Cook’s horrible stand-up set that was, to borrow the words of Sean O’Neal, “…the egotistical ramblings of a narcissist who has lost all touch with humility and quite possibly humanity.” Cook apparently went off the deep end, delving into material so disturbing and misogynistic it drew the ire of every other comic in attendance, including TJ Miller—who chronicled the entire horrifying recount on Twitter.

Lamer still, Cook spoke to LaughSpin presumably via email, and the site posted his words without much commentary nor a single follow-up question (taking a page from the Michael Ausiello book of nonconfrontational starfuckery—or if you prefer, the Tom Haverford book of “betting on all the horses”). This includes invoking the name of recently deceased comedy favorite Patrice O’Neal, inviting Miller and The A.V. Club away for a spa weekend, and this statement of defensive defensiveness: “It’s impossible to be both an artist and a critic.”

What I think he is trying to say is that TJ Miller’s opinion about his comedy is meaningless, because TJ is a comedian. As he outlined to Marc Maron on his WTF episode, he really doesn’t care what his peers think. And you know what? That’s fine. He should have just said that.

But the notion that artists can’t be critics is horribly misguided. In order to be good at what they do, artists need to honestly and purely experience the world around them, tracking the way people create. Same goes for critics, who are able to discuss art in a way that excites and inspires because they’re familiar with the tortuous creative process, and fully understand how someone gets from point A to point B.

For fear that this gets too vague and weird, let’s just talk about comedy. Artists and critics are the rare people who watch comedy and don’t simply evaluate it in binary; they’re able to think beyond, “Was it funny or not?” And that’s worth celebrating.

Can you imagine a critic who has no idea what it takes to be a comic? That person would be so removed from the artistic process that there’s now way they could appreciate the joy of a perfectly constructed joke or a life-changing stand-up set—nor could they articulate that in an inclusive way. (I mean, I’d like to think even Roger Ebert learned a thing or two about film by making his own.)

Can you imagine a comic who hadn’t thought deeply about what makes something funny, deconstructed the way other people make things funny, and wasn’t a harsh and relentless critic of their own work? They’d be really shitty and boring, and probably have a self-proclaimed nickname like “The Sassinator.”

I’m a comedy critic, but I also run and host my own comedy show, produce a major comedy festival, act with an arts education group and craft comedic pieces to perform at storytelling shows, reading series and stand-up-type shindigs. Am I bias, then, when I write about comedy? Of course I am. It’s human nature. But I see it not as a limiting factor, but one that opens my opinion up to the world. I always try to come at a piece of comedy with as open a mind as possible—with as nuanced an understanding of what that artist had to go through to get it made just the way they wanted. I also like to think I’m way more forgiving when something doesn’t live up to expectations, because I know what it feels like to bomb and take it personally.

Actually, I take everything personally, which means I also know what it feels like when a peer doesn’t like something I’ve done. It sucks, Dane. I know it; you know it. But you can’t have it both ways—you can’t purport not to care about your critics while simultaneously discrediting them. Maybe it’s not that it’s impossible to be both an artist and a critic, Dane. Maybe you’re oblivious to the fact that we all are.

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