Dane Cook is one of the most popular and successful stand up comics of this generation. When he’s not on performing in arenas, starring in big screen films, or filming comedy specials for HBO and Comedy Central, he is occasionally seen singing on stage with Steel Panther in LA. I spoke with Dane about his experiences with Steel Panther, his love for Sebastian Bach and Skid Row, and got to know which bands he enjoys listening to.
Alex Obert: So how did you discover Steel Panther?
Dane Cook: Years ago, I saw them in LA at what I think used to be the old Roxy, now I’m forgetting my own history here. And they were still Metal Skool. I remember just wandering in one night, I was on Sunset, I did a couple of shows that night, had a couple of buddies and was like, “Alright, let’s take a walk up here.” Went in, didn’t really even know what Metal Skool was and was just blown away, man. They were just great. It was certainly the music I grew up listening to, coming out of Boston, East Coast 1990, never wanting to let go of that. The Motley Crue era. I was a huge Skid Row fan and that was just speaking my language. It was the first of many, many gigs where I was either checkin’ ’em out or suddenly being pulled into the anarchy on stage.
Alex Obert: How was it arranged that you performed on stage with them the first time?
Dane Cook: It was very organic. I was at a House of Blues show several years back at their residency there on Monday nights. I was kind of near the front section in whatever the VIP Section is. There really isn’t a VIP, everybody’s kind of down on the floor. And one of the guys just pointed over at me and they ripped into me for a little bit. They laid into me, it’s like a roast. It’s like a heavy metal roast. But it was great. It just took the piss right out of me and next thing you know, I’m on stage and I think Stix was like, “What do you wanna hear?” Over the PA, they were like, “You pick the song, we’ll play it.” And I really challenged ’em, I was like, “BulletBoys, Smooth Up In Ya.” They looked at each other and they were like, “What?!” I couldn’t even believe they knew it, but they knew it. That’s the first time I’d ever sang anything that was contemporary and it was just amazing, man. I’ve played thousands of people, I play arenas doing stand up, but the feeling of singing with that band behind you was just insane. And again, first of many times at House of Blues I would go up there. I didn’t always end up jamming with them, but once in a while, I’d be up there singin’ Runnin’ With The Devil. And it’s always the same thing, I get pulled up there, they beat the shit out of me verbally and they’re like, “Now let’s sing together!” (laughs) It’s a humbling experience.
It was just amazing, man. I can’t bring somebody up on stage and say, “Hey, do my act and kill with it and be funny and accepted.” It’s like you’re never going to do that with me or any comedian. But to be able to get up there and for a little bit in time feel like, “Wow, I sound pretty good. I’m at least blending in well. Or whatever trickery they have on the mics, it’s really correcting every pitch note, it’s fixing me up great. I feel like a rockstar. I think that’s how they make the whole fucking crowd feel. I feel like they make everybody feel like they’re the show. And that’s amazing, man. That’s huge.
Alex Obert: How did Jeff Ross get involved and get on stage with you and Steel Panther that one time?
Dane Cook: I think that Jeff and I were just hanging out and Jeff was scared. He was a big KISS fan, Jeff loved KISS. So I was like, “Hey, if they bring me up, come with me. Maybe they can play some KISS or whatever.” He was like, “No, no, no. I’m good, man.” It was fun to see Jeff or anyone I brought to the show that night eventually end up getting up there. It was always fun to see how I felt the first time like, “No, I could never do that.” Lo and behold, we end up getting up there, I brought Jeff. And I told Starr, I was like, “Hey, he’s a big KISS fan.” And next thing you know, Jeff Ross is singing “I wanna rock and roll all nite” with a beer in the air and his big crazy Jew fro. (laughs) Killin’ it!
Alex Obert: Will we ever see you form a band?
Dane Cook: I don’t know, I dipped my toe in music from time to time. And it’s one of those things where I have a lot of passion for music, but I think it’s really tricky to go from comedy to music. It’s a weird thing for people to swallow. I think sometimes they blur the line and people don’t really know comics can have a serious side. That’s why these guys do it so well. Steel Panther gets up there, yeah, it’s funny and it’s campy and it’s over the top, but it’s still grounded and great musicianship. It’s a brotherhood camaraderie. A lot of rockstars I meet are like, “Man, I wanna be a fucking comic!” And a lot of comics I know wanna be rockstars. And Steel Panther, those guys are both. That’s unique right there.
Alex Obert: How were you approached to collaborate with the band on their 2011 album, Balls Out, as well as recording a cover of The Karate Kid theme, You’re The Best?
Dane Cook: That was a real highlight. I actually went to those guys and I think I pitched a song. I pitched them the Karate Kid theme to do as a reboot, I was like, “We need to do a rock version of that.” And we did. We actually went and recorded it and it’s online somewhere, I’m sure it’s on YouTube. But that led to our friendship offstage and then those guys asked me to come on their album. I said, “I’ll do anything, man. Whatever you need, I wanna be apart of the Fanthers.”
Alex Obert: What would you say is your favorite Steel Panther song?
Dane Cook: I don’t know why, but the one that always stands out and gets in my head from time to time randomly is Asian Hooker. That hook, it’s just in my head. And it kind of sounds like an old Winger song. I’d have to listen to some old Winger shit, but there’s something in that hook. And performing with them, my favorite is Runnin’ With The Devil.
Alex Obert: Have you listened to the new album, All You Can Eat, yet?
Dane Cook: I have, man. It’s great. And the new videos are awesome too. They asked me to do a cameo, and unfortunately, I was out of town. Those guys, they’re killers, man. They’re awesome.
Alex Obert: What is it like backstage with them?
Dane Cook: Oh boy! This is one of those moments I gotta think about what I’m gonna say cause I’m in a very functioning relationship right now. (laughs) Those are things you wanna ask a single man. First of all, wigs off, those guys are just down to earth good dudes. On more high-spirited nights, it’s decadent. They’re playing up their characters, they’re giving people what they want, almost an extension of the on-stage show. When people get that exclusive treatment backstage, they feel like, “Wow, we got the show and we got the experience. It’s like a lottery pick!” And that’s how good they are to their fans, man. And that’s why they’re where they’re at. That’s why they continue to exceed expectations. That’s why overseas, they are what they are. Whatever cheesy metaphor you wanna throw out there that involves something coming back full circle and karma, those guys got it cause they earned it and they kill it. And I’m just happy to be a tiny, little part of it.
Alex Obert: Which other new bands are you listening to at the moment?
Dane Cook: I’m in a weird throwback stage right now. Today, I made a playlist shuffle and I’ve been listening to Faith No More, which by the way, is like fucking unbelievable, it sounds like today. There’s some stuff on their albums that’s a little weird, but stuff that gets it is like “Wow!” And I was listening to System of a Down yesterday. I was listening to a band that not a lot of people remember or know that I will stand by. Still one of the best, as far as musicianship, great hooks, but they must have peaked at the wrong time or had the wrong single out. It was a band called White Trash. And they sang a song called Apple Pie, which was their first hit with a video on MTV. But it wasn’t really indicative of what those guys really were. They had a horn section, kind of ska, this cool hybrid thing. They’re tough to find, their good stuff, their early stuff isn’t even on iTunes. I had to find the actual disc on eBay. But if you listen to them, it’s like, man, I’d go see these guys right now. The harmonies, that horn section was just in an era between heavy metal and glam rock into grunge and they were caught up in the riptide of that. I don’t think they ever really had a chance to have a moment. That’s a few things that I’ve been spinnin’.
Alex Obert: What have you used as intro music throughout your stand up comedy career?
Dane Cook: I’m glad you asked me that because for years, driving to gigs, I would listen to Slave to the Grind by Skid Row, Sebastian Bach. I’d listen to Monkey Business, which was the opening track of the album. I was in a sketch group called Al and the Monkeys, so that was our song, Monkey Business. I’m on a flight four years ago out of LA and I see Sebastian Bach on my flight, so I tweet something like, “Sebastian Bach’s on my flight. Kind of hoping this plane goes down just to hear him scream.” This motherfucker tweets me back, I think he actually tweeted then turned over his seat and was like, “Yeah! Where you at, mothertrucker?” He yelled back like fifty feet. Now I get to know Sebastian Bach a little through Twitter, I invite him to my show. Dude comes to my show, always in a great mood, always like, “Meet my friends.” Comes to my barbecue a couple of years ago. I bring out a guitar and I’m singing Youth Gone Wild with him at my barbecue. So it’s really cool, man. Twenty three years ago, I was playing his music to get pumped up to come out on stage to and now I get to call him a friend, the guy’s up at my place, raiding my fridge. Just screaming in that high pitched voice, “Hey! Do you have any more mustard, man?” He goes from that real high pitch and then he’ll just go low for no reason. He’ll be like, “Yeah man! You’re out of eggs, dude.” (laughs)
Alex Obert: Who are some of your other friends that are musicians in the business?
Dane Cook: About four or five years ago, I’m doing a show in LA and somebody tells me, “Hey, Tommy Lee’s here. And he’s here to see you. Loves your stuff, plays it on the bus all the time.” And I’m super stoked. I’m like, “Wow, this is unbelievable!” Now when I went and saw Motley Crue back in the day and you’d throw up the devil horns. If you followed my comedy career, you’d know I started my own version of that, a good ten year chunk of my breaking out my own hand gesture, which was almost the reverse of the devil horns. Instead of the two outside fingers, it was the middle finger and the ring finger. I called it the super finger. It was my version of rock n’ roll. And my fans would do it, my fans had it tattooed on their body. I mean I’m sure at this point now, they’re like, “Why the fuck did I do that?” Hardcore fans of mine would do it. I’m at the Factory one night having a great set, on fire, and all of a sudden I see a guy running around the crowd, somebody that you would normally kick out, somebody that would ruin the show. It’s Tommy Lee. He’s laughing so hard at something, and then he goes down to his knees and with both hands, he’s doing my super finger to me on stage. It was one of those moments like, “Am I a holodeck? Is this The Matrix?” I was doing that five rows back at his show back in the day and now here’s Tommy Lee. So Tommy and I have become friends.
I’ve played poker with Jerry Cantrell, which is still one of the coolest things ever. He’s one of my good buddies. We have the same birthday, so every year, one of us texts the other in the morning. It’s probably the coolest part of my career, this whole career. This whole industry is just fuckin’ stupid, sometimes it’s just like no rhyme or reason. You’re in, you’re out, you’re up, you’re down. It’s an amoeba and it’s just brutal. But the one consistent is, “Hey, I know that journey. My fellow peers know that journey. These rock guys know that journey. And now we’re all connected in a way.” We’ve all entertained each other throughout the years and we’ve all been through the shitter, in the spanking machine. So it’s cool. I feel like there’s a kinship that I get to geek out and hang out with my rock heroes.
Alex Obert: In closing, for readers who have yet to see Steel Panther live, how would you describe a Steel Panther show to them?
Dane Cook: Think of your best Halloween story ever. Think of the best Halloween you’ve ever had with the most fucking unbelievable costume. And the people you are with and the anarchy, the unbridled behavior that comes with wearing a mask and being out with your boys or your girls. It’s Devil’s Night, there’s no laws, somebody has ripped up the Constitution and there’s that strange element that happens on Halloween. That’s the aura of these guys. It’s kind of the essence of Halloween the whole time. We’re playing dress up, you’ve got a role to play, you’ve gotta give your hundred percent and they’re gonna give it back to you. Open up your sack, you’re gonna get a lot of candy. You’re gonna see a lot of titties. Might even see a cock, I’m sorry, that happens, but you asked for it. Whether you’re from the era of the eighties and this unbelievable peak of musicianship and performance art, makeup and all that, whether you’re from there or whether you’re now a student of music, the community in the audience is very, very rare. You’re never gonna be able to have that kind of camaraderie. Everybody’s mingling, everybody’s invited, everybody’s bringing their cool shit, and by the end of the night, you’ve got a memory that you’re never gonna forget. If you miss it, you’re missing out.
Alex Obert: I’d like to thank you so much for your time. It was great to learn a lot about you and your music tastes.
Dane Cook: Cool, man! Thanks so much, Alex! This was great!