Actor Dane Cook attends the premiere of Disney's "Planes: Fire & Rescue" at the El Capitan Theatre on July 15, 2014 in Hollywood, California.

Actor Dane Cook attends the premiere of Disney's "Planes: Fire & Rescue" at the El Capitan Theatre on July 15, 2014 in Hollywood, California.

Jason Kempin/Getty Images

They say laughter is the best medicine. But for comedian Dane Cook, a break from stand-up was exactly what the doctor ordered. 

After his Showtime special, Troublemaker, aired in late 2014, the 44-year-old funny man pursued new projects that afforded him the chance to act in two roles he says he's been waiting his entire life to play. One even helped Cook heal wounds left by family trauma.

Cook began performing stand-up in 1990, more than half his life ago. He's also been featured in numerous other television series and films, and even a video game. But the Boston native's latest endeavors, American Exit (movie) and American Gods (TV series), took him where he'd never gone before. Both dramas — no joke — are due out in 2017.

"[Comedy] can be a lonely job," Cook says. "On and off stage, there’s a lot of 'you time.'"

"Whereas when you step on a film set, you’re now part of a collaboration, you’re a piece in a puzzle that a director is trying to complete," he says. "They both give each other some equilibrium."

The Oddball Comedy and Curiosity Festival: Dane Cook / Sebastian Maniscalco / Iliza Shlesinger

Cook returns to stand-up this fall alongside comedians Sebastian Maniscalco, Iliza Shlesinger and others, as headliner on the Oddball Comedy and Curiosity Festival tour, which hits Dallas' Gexa Energy Pavilion on Friday, Sept. 23. And while he's excited to make people laugh again — "It feeds me, it's my nutrition," he says — Cook has experienced immeasurable growth as a performer by laying off the punchlines.

In American Exit, Cook plays an absentee father who, through a series of strange circumstances, essentially kidnaps his son (played by Levi Miller). The two spend much of the movie getting to know one another as well as themselves.

Cook found the role riveting because he had never played a father before, either on-screen or in real life. He considers it his most vulnerable role to date. The experience was also cathartic, he says, because the movie deals with illness. Eight years ago, Cook lost both his parents to cancer within months of each other.

"Going through that experience with my family — how impossible it felt, not only with my mother, but on the heels of it with my dad getting sick," he says, "I had, as an artist, a place to finally put a lot of the emotions I felt about family, about illness."

Cook equates American Gods to "the next level of a Game of Thrones." In it, he plays a catalyst, someone who moves the story forward without being the center of attention. 

Sound different than the Waiting... line cook with questionable ethics  you remember? That's no accident.

Cook has grown out of a lot of his bits; for instance, performing physically to the point of cracking ribs and slipping disks. After turning 30 years old, he aimed to be make people laugh with his writing rather than strictly his performance. Cook is still energetic on stage, but he shed many of his "brash," "vulgar," and "bombastic" elements.

"I’m an adult , I’m a man," Cook says. "If people want to watch something I did 15 years ago and be entertained by it, and then come out to a show and see me on the Oddball tour and feel like, 'Wow, I get to see a lot of different colors' ... that to me feels like I’m doing it the right way."

See Dane Cook do it the right way Friday, Sept. 23 at Gexa Energy Pavilion. The show starts at 5:15 p.m. Tickets are currently on sale and cost $29.95-$59.95 via Ticketmaster.

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