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When tragedy struck, comedian Dane Cook turned inward for inspiration.

Reeling from the deaths of both his parents, who passed away within a year of each other, Cook pulled back from arena gigs and refocused his routine. He came up with a set of intensely personal jokes - some that deal with the death of his mother - and performed in front of only 20 people at the Laugh Factory in Los Angeles.

The Laugh Factory show was filmed for his new special, An Isolated Incident, which airs May 17 on Comedy Central. When he comes to the 1st Mariner Arena on Friday, Cook will bring this brutally honest new material with him.

You have said that when you're finished with this stage in your life, your comedy is going to change quicker than it ever has. In what way do you think it will change? Has it already started?

This is certainly a time in my life when I've changed a lot personally. What I've dealt with personally in the last three or four years has to affect my comedy. I don't want to put on a Johnny Bravo jacket and just go out there and be derivative of myself. I have to go up there. It's part of my occupation. It's revealing.

If it comes from a real place, that's what connects you to an audience - not you shoving joke after joke after joke down their throat. That may be funny in the short term, but I think that dissipates. What makes some comedians memorable is a connection.

Are smaller stages more confining than larger, more mainstream venues like stadiums?

When you're playing in front of an arena, it really is an event. There's a certain energy, and there's a certain vibe. When people come in, they're already so amped up and excited by the atmosphere.

When you're playing in front of a couple hundred people, you're looking them right in the eyes. There's no manic energy and there's no hoopla. It's like a conversation. That's more revealing.

The ability to connect with those 200 people with something deeply personal gives me the incentive to be daring enough to share it in front of 20,000. But it's always harder to share it in front of those 200 people that are really looking into your soul.

I've always thought smaller crowds were the most difficult. But I am more comfortable entertaining 20,000 people than standing off stage and talking with five people.

Why is that?

I've always thought when I'm on stage, that's where I'm complete. Growing up, I was always introverted and quite shy. I used to jokingly say I wish I had a bed on stage and I could just wake up here. It just has always felt like a place where I feel like I am just at complete peace or in the pocket.

How much of An Isolated Incident are you taking with you on this tour?

In Tampa, I did an arena with the new performance, with the new hour. I've got to tell you, in 19 years of doing stand-up, I had so many trepidations before stepping on stage. I wanted to be able to share that same show with a larger capacity crowd.

I was stunned with the response. The e-mails started rolling in that night. People were saying, "This is my favorite hour I've seen you perform. Thank you for sharing all those things." I couldn't believe it. I was so thrilled that it worked. It made me get on the horn and share this material night after night and share this material with as many people as want to see it.

if you go

Dane Cook performs at 8 p.m. Friday at 1st Mariner Arena, 201 W. Baltimore St. Tickets are $30-$100. Call 410-547-7328 or go to

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