Reflecting on: Dane Cook – Harmful If Swallowed

harmful_if_swallowed

Eleven years ago, Dane Cook was just warming up to become the biggest stand up comic in the country, pulling the art form into the mainstream again for the first time in several years. He is the comic version of Green Day; high energy, loud, simplistically stylized, relevant, and despised by people who think that he rose to the top of the scene too quickly.

Dane’s rapid joke delivery has been a hot button over whether he is or isn’t funny for years. Regardless of your opinion, Harmful If Swallowed had to have somehow played a part in your life when it was initially released.

Like it was for many people of my generation, Harmful If Swallowed was the first stand up album that I really listened to. At the time, it was the single funniest thing I had ever heard. I would laugh myself to tears in school to the point that teachers began asking to listen to it. Everyone I knew either had the CD or was lending it out to someone else. Along with the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, Dane Cook helped revive an interest in stand up for a mainstream market that previously hadn’t seemed to be there.

In some ways, the fact that HIS was such a breakthrough album was nothing short of a happenchance miracle. Though Dane is at his best is in the midst of his powerfully descriptive storytelling (“Someone Shit on the Coats”, “B-N-E”), it’s an element that isn’t anywhere near the forefront on this album.

While the stories are good, they aren’t pushed nearly as far as he is capable of, which most likely wasn’t a skill he’d mastered yet at the time of the recording. Some of his most memorable jokes, like “Car Accident” are throw aways; he jumps to the heart of the joke as quickly as possible and then moves on without batting it around like a cat to drain every ounce he can from the concept.

In fact, the album itself in incredibly amateurish and wildly unpolished. Dane opts to hover over quick topics, hitting the meat of the story and throwing out a punchline without sitting to linger a while longer to pull out the details that make them true Dane Cook jokes à la Retaliation and Vicious Circle. Instead, the driving force for the material on this album is an alarming number of sound effects (“Parking Structure”).

What really makes this album special though, is that it stands out. When it was released, stand up was just starting to really make it big again after a rough drought throughout the 90’s. Harmful If Swallowed came out before Jim Gaffigan was a household name, just as Mitch Hedberg was becoming a legend, the country had just heard of Ron White for the first time, and The Chappelle Show had just become the biggest thing on television.

At least from my perspective, it seemed extraordinarily rare for a comedian to make a name for themselves outside of a pocket community in New York or Los Angeles, and Dane Cook was able to do so the old fashioned way: a comedy album boosted by a fairly decent Comedy Central Presents special.

Cook stood out for the fact that it was high energy and reflective of the culture at the time; loud and ‘wacky’. HIS caught your attention because it wasn’t following the trend of mature joke telling of the Blue Collar group, nor as edgy as Chappelle. Dane straddled a weird line of finding the genuinely funny lines amidst a sea of arguably ‘hack’ subjects to create an energy that no one else so prominently displayed.  He commanded your attention as soon as you heard his voice. It was youthful, enigmatic, absurd and almost romantic (“My dick feels like corn!”).

Harmful if Swallowed is a shining star of a recording that maybe wasn’t quite ready to be as big as it was. Just two years later, Dane would release a double album with two hours worth of material astronomically more rounded out, better written and with a much more cohesive delivery style. It’s easy to only see Dane Cook as the mega star that the second half of the 2000s would see him as, but for one little hour, Harmful If Swallowed shows a comedian still working through the struggle of finding a voice. Whether or not you are still willing to give him a chance, that Dane Cook is a silly bitch.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and yells at the rain on occasion. He also wants to play you in FIFA.

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