When you’re watching Late Night, Mindy Kaling’s movie about a female late night talk show host (#goals), you may find yourself wondering at many different points throughout the movie if it’s based on a true story. And you're right to wonder — Kaling based the story on her experiences being a “diversity hire” and the only female writer on staff on The Office.
But when it comes to the characters that populate Late Night, the answers are little more complicated. The movie follows a young, aspiring comedy writer (Kaling) who lands her dream job as a writer on the fictional network show, Tonight With Katherine Newbury, just in time to help Katherine (Emma Thompson) adapt to the changing world around her. Along for the ride are a host of male writers, TV execs, and comedians, who all feel like they could have been plucked right out of the late night world. Among them, is Ike Barinholtz's comedian character Daniel Tennant, a frat-boy with jokes that are pure shock, not unlike much of Dane Cook's once wildly popular material. Case in point:
"So, I was watching Game Of Thrones with my girlfriend and she goes 'Oh, it's so unfair. Only the women are getting naked.' So, I whipped out my nuts and she's like 'oh my god, nuts!'"
The similarities are hard to miss. In Late Night, Tennant is a younger, male comedian who is rumored to be the replacement for Katherine. Daniel is known for his crude stand-up (without ruining his most prominent joke in the film, it does closely resemble Cook's famous "shit on the coats" party joke), and paired with his whole slouchy look and cocky attitude, you'd be forgiven for thinking they might be mirrors of each other.
Then, there's Barinholtz’s history of parodying Cook. Do yourself a favor and watch a few old Youtube videos of Barinholtz playing Cook on MadTV. A taste, in GIF form:
Barinholtz may be best known for his roles on The Mindy Project and in Blockers and Suicide Squad, but he actually got his start as a cast member on MADtv from 2002 to 2007 and made a name for himself with his impression of Cook. He did it so well that he ended up voicing the comedian in Family Guy’s “I Dream of Jesus” as well as in the movie Meet the Spartans.
But if you compare Barinholtz’s impression of Cook on MADtv with his Late Night character, it becomes easier to spot the differences between the two. For one thing, Cook’s style and comedy is more early 2000s punk rebel whereas Tennant is more of a street style frat guy you might actually catch on Comedy Central in 2019. Even their way of delivering punchlines is different (Tennant isn't one to kick-punch the air every time he lands a punchline).
So while Barinholtz and Kaling could have been inspired in some ways by Cook as they created the character of Tennant for Late Night, he's definitely more a work of fiction than a direct parody of any one comedian.