The Good: Funny, Some good callbacks, A few universal topics
The Bad: A lot of repetition within the recording, so it holds up poorly over multiple listens.
The Basics: Funny, but not particularly enduring, Harmful If Swallowed establishes Dane Cook as a decent standup whose comedy can be listened to and enjoyed, if not frequently repeated.
"Back when Dane Cook was funny. . " seems to be an appropriate way to begin this review. After all, I have had very limited encounters with the standup comic Dane Cook, but everyone who has told me they have something by him that I "have to listen to!" tend to universally preface or amend that request with "it's from when Dane Cook was funny." It seems I am hitting the late train out of Cookville, as most of his loyal audience appears to have abandoned him by this point. In fact, outside a single joke on Family Guy and my recent viewing of his film Good Luck Chuck, I had not even heard of Dane Cook until six months ago.
So when my fiance and I were driving and Harmful If Swallowed was suddenly popped into the c.d. player in the car, I was not at all biased against the work, I was more indifferent to it. But I gave it a fair listen and . . . it was funny. I laughed. In fact, I laughed quite a bit. Then came my long drive home from Michigan to New York during an ice storm through Canada's invisible roads and one of the discs I used to keep myself awake was Dane Cook's Harmful If Swallowed, which had been left for me to enjoy. Having listened to the album now five times, virtually all humor has been sucked from it. The initial surprise and amusement that had been there are gone now.
Dane Cook's Harmful If Swallowed is an hour long standup performance where Dane Cook presents humorous observations on pavement, car accidents, growing up with five sisters, classic '80's toys, public bathrooms and popular children's drinks. Cook's unique material was recorded live (as one might gather from the many breaks for laughter) and it sounds like he was having a good night in Buffalo, New York (as I gather from the reference to the Galleria Mall).
And Cook is funny. His humor tends to be observational, like asking of parking structures on the roofs of malls "what is that paved with?!" and relating stories that are generally universal. He, for example, jokes about the social nature of car accidents and fires and how people congregate and try to "help" law enforcement by telling their stories ("I was inside, I heard the crash, I came out."). The most universal bit is actually the final one on the album, when Cook details the plague of waking up late. This bonus track is actually some of his funniest work as he describes how horrible it is to wake up for a crappy job and how he once woke up late for work by five and a half hours!
His humor tends to be best described as "quietly manic." Cook does not yell frequently, but he does not have a dry delivery like a Steven Wright or a Rita Rudner. Instead, he is conversationally energetic and his style is more like an enthusiastic storyteller who is on stage keeping himself busy. There is a great sense of movement and energy to his voice throughout Harmful If Swallowed and that energy adds to the initial humor of the album.
Cook uses minimal sound effects on this recording, most notably in his early tracks on parking structures (he does a terrible grating screech), crash noises and his impersonation of a drive-thru window's speakerbox. His ability to do sound effects is decent and his accents, on the few occasions he does them, are funny. In the driving section and in his monologue on being unborn, he affects ethnic accents and they are funny.
This seems like a good time to mention the language on the album. This is an album intended for adult audiences, at least as far as the language goes. Cook is remarkably safe when he talks about women, dating and masturbation, but he does swear quite a bit. This should not be a surprise to anyone checking out the track listing as it clearly states that one of his bits is on the f-word and the middle finger. And the monologue is actually funny and he talks about the power of swearing and how there is nothing that trumps "fuck you!"
The rest of his language is pretty tame, he swears, using "shit" as a synonym for "stuff" at times and he throws the f-word out as simple slang for the act of sex ("Is your name 'monkey fucking a coconut?!"). Generally the language is inoffensive for adults, who have heard it all before. Cook uses mildly homophobic slurs as well, but the context of them is hardly offensive (I'm someone quite sensitive to that type thing, so this is a good barometer). In fact, one of the funniest bits Cook does on Harmful If Swallowed is on dreams and the dream interpretations all seem to be "you're gay!" Cook makes no judgment or slur on that in that bit and the analysis is pretty funny, especially for Freudians.
The real problem with Harmful If Swallowed seems to be with repeatability. Cook is funny, but he repeats his jokes on the album, sometimes - like with the "parking structure" one - restarting it to make sure it is funny. The repetitive nature of jokes like "I heard the sound, I came out" wears thin over multiple listens to the album. In fact, several of the jokes he just seems to repeat until he gets the laugh he is looking for.
Moreover, there is a somewhat juvenile or dated quality to this performance that makes it hold up less well over multiple listens. Unlike something like Eddie Izzard's Dress To Kill where the comedy pokes fun at universal experiences and some bits of history (Nazis are a great target for comic poking!) Cook's humor seems very much for the twenty to thirtysomething crowd of the late '90s, early 2000s audience. Between that and the repetition, the album holds up less well over the many listens one would hope to get out of it.
Conversely, Cook does seem able to do callbacks to his most successful jokes and when he jokes about the slip and slide and makes a callback to trying to fit in with his sisters, it works quite well.
Still, this is a comedy album that works and is worth listening to, but is hard to recommend for the buy. It is good, but the humor wears thin fast.
For other comedic albums, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Family Guy: Live In Vegas
For other album reviews, please check out my index page by clicking here!
© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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