David Cross: Drunk on the power of comedy

By | August 31, 2009 at 12:00 pm | One comment | Features | Tags: , ,

David CrossComedy nerds, rejoice! David Cross’s relative absence from your world is over. He’s back with a new book, a new tour and the same attitude.

For the past year or so, David Cross fans, and there are many, have been going through withdrawal. Aside from a one-off live appearance here and there, the comedian, writer and actor has kept pretty much off the radar. Re-watching every episode of Arrested Development and Mr. Show on DVD is a great pastime – maybe the best – but it only makes us miss him even more. Where’s he been?! Well, it turns out he wasn’t just sitting around drinking. Well, actually he might have been doing some of that, but the point is, he was doing it for a reason.

Turns out, Cross was working on a new book, a TV pilot and is prepping to go on tour. The book, I Drink For a Reason, comes out today. Punchline Magazine had the pleasure of catching up with Cross recently to discuss the book, his comedy and his favorite beer(s). Oh, and Mrs. Featherbottom.

Where did the idea of you doing a book come from?
It was not my idea. I’m just a naïve simpleton that sits in a teepee in the woods, and then people come to me with these ideas. Seriously though, like almost every worthwhile project I’ve been a part of – not all of them, but most of them – this was somebody else’s idea. Somebody at Warner Books, which was the name of the publisher – they just switched names to Grand Central – but they called an agent I think and said, ‘Hey would David Cross be interested in writing a book?’ And that agent, who I’d never met and have yet to meet, said, ‘I don’t know, let me check.’ And he checked, and I said, ‘Sure.’ Then the agent said, ‘All right, let me hang back from this, but I still get 15 percent of all the money you make,’ and I was like, ‘All right. Sounds good.’

The book’s foreword is about the very universal activity of putting off writing. How was the process of writing this book for you? Did you enjoy it? Was it annoying? Fun?
It was all those things and more. I tend to work pretty well with a deadline or under pressure. And because of that, I have lazily adapted all that procrastination. I mean, I need to go to a fucking hypnotherapist or something, because I will just put shit off and put shit off, with the idea, and this is really dangerous and just detrimental to the process, of just being like, “Oh yeah. I’ve got plenty of time.” And then as it approaches it’s like, “Oh my God, I’ve got no time. I wish I didn’t do that.”

So, in the beginning, it was fairly easy. I’d just write shit down, I had a while to turn it in. And then in the middle, as the deadline started looming, it was awful. It was a really frustrating experience— frustrating because I was angry at myself for doing it yet again. The middle part of writing is really not the fun part. But then as you start laying all that stuff out and it starts taking shape and it becomes a real thing, then it gets fun. Then the last month and a half was really – I don’t know if ‘fun’ the right word – but really enjoyable. Satisfying. You know, putting it together, moving this over here, doing some editing. It was pretty cool. I should say that also, I had an enjoyable working environment. It wasn’t like I was sitting in a trailer on set in between shooting Alvin and the Chipmunks. I had a lot of free time. I was at my house upstate. I was with my girlfriend, who was working on her book. It was really a good environment.

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Do you feel that same love/hate, procrastination process when you’re writing stand-up material, or when you have a tour coming up?
Absolutely. Yes, very true. And the problem is, and again it’s brought about completely by myself, I don’t have a good writing discipline. And I’ve never sat down and ‘written stand-up.’ I’ve never been one of those guys who’s like,’I’ve gotta write 10 new jokes today!’ I just don’t work that way. But I am relatively good at riffing onstage, and accumulating material from those loose sets, and putting it into a semblance of a show.

Again, I psychologically trick myself into going, ‘Yeah, it’ll all be all right!’ And then as the day’s coming it’s like, ‘Oh shit! I gotta put this thing together! What the fuck am I gonna do?’ You know, I’ve got all the material there, but I just don’t have it in an economic form. So yeah, it’s the same thing. But that’s the thing. Writing is a tangible thing with tangible results that you can look at, hold and edit. Stand-up, or at least my stand-up, is completely different. A lot of it is kind of in the moment, you know?

A lot of pieces in the book feel like the kind of material you do onstage. Was any of it originally intended as stand-up material?
One piece in particular definitely was: the ‘Ask A Rabbi’ thing. Every Chanukah, Yo La Tengo does this series of shows at Maxwell’s in Hoboken. I’ve been doing them for, God, eight years? It’s a benefit. Each night it’s for a different charity, and they have different comedians and guest bands. That piece is something I’ve done for those shows; I’ve done it seven or eight times. And then I did it once again for a Christmas show that Eugene Mirman was doing. But I’ve never done it outside of that context. So I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll put that in the book.’ You know, I wouldn’t really say, it’s part of my stand-up, but I’ve definitely performed it onstage. I know there are some other ideas in the book about global warming and the Orthodox Jews that, I’ve said onstage probably a thousand times.

Speaking of alternative shows, since the start of your career, you’ve been known for playing a lot of shows outside of comedy clubs. What made you go elsewhere?
Well, 90 percent of it is the audience. I thought, and I was correct in my assumption way back when, that my stuff and especially my style would probably go over better in front of younger, hipper people that could relate to what I was talking about. That’s, as opposed to the typical person you might find in a suburban comedy club. I worked a lot in Boston during the comedy boom there. And they just had to fill the stage with somebody. So I was very lucky to be there in the time I was, at the stage I was developing in, because I think in most other places I probably wouldn’t have gotten much work.

I didn’t have the most audience-friendly set. But they needed to put somebody on the bill so they didn’t give a shit. They’d say, ‘Yeah go in the middle at Sully’s, it’s a pizza bowling place. You get 25 minutes and you’ll get 85 dollars.’ So, I know that kind of audience well. And once that whole alternative scene started – when I moved to LA it was really starting to burgeon there – it was kind of a natural move to make.

In the book, you speculate on who would play you if you sold your story to Hollywood after appearing on Survivor. Who would play you in a movie of I Drink For A Reason?
Umm, it would be a pretty brutal, international casting call. It would probably take a year or so. It would probably come down to Jean Reno vs. Kenneth Branagh. And it would end up going, most likely, to Topher Grace. It would be a long, arduous process. The whole world would be on the edge of their seat.

Do you have any worries that someone will confuse I Drink For A Reason with I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell by Tucker Max? For instance, if someone were to buy a fan of yours the wrong book by mistake…
The only, only bad thing about that is that would unfortunately go toward supporting Tucker Max. That would be kind of funny. Or vice versa. I’d love people to go, ‘Aww bro, you have GOTTA check this book out! It is fucking awesome, bro!’ And then they get my book and the guy’s like, ‘Yeah, I KINDA liked it. It wasn’t THAT funny.’

In the book, you talk about one occasion where you responded to a negative blog review of one of your shows, in which you were accused of being a bigot. What’s your general practice for dealing with that kind of anonymous criticism?
Well the response, and I certainly have been a part of that as well, is measured and thoughtful, and hopefully rational. But you’re responding to an anonymous person who is just like, ‘You suck!’ And I did that a number of times for a couple of years. And it’s very much a no-win situation, as I’ve discovered from experience. And you’re responding – I can’t speak for everybody – but it’s not out of ego or hurt feelings, but more like, ‘This is wrong, and it’s very, very wrong, and I feel obligated to set the record straight from my end.’ This isn’t a couple of people shootin’ the shit at a bar or a coffee shop. This is all over the place and it exists forever, you know? I wouldn’t give a shit if they were talking at the table next to me. That would be kind of amusing. But whatever subsequent comment or criticism or observation is made about me or my act, it’s all predicated on a false premise. And it’s just wrong.

I read that you worked on a pilot in England. Do you think they appreciated Mrs. Featherbottom?
Umm, I can’t say that they did or didn’t for sure, but I can tell you there is a huge Arrested Development fan base in the UK. I spent a lot of time there over the past year, and I’d say, no exaggeration, every day at least one person would ask me about it or talk about Arrested Development, or tell me how much they loved it or whatever. Every single day.

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David Cross – Dead Body
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Mr. Show is the same way. It’s almost seen as a band that wasn’t hugely popular while it was around, but it just has this huge, enduring influence. What’s it like for you to look back at the Mr. Show stuff?
I think as we were sort of winding it down, we had a feeling, although unspoken, that the last year was in fact going to be its last year. We never verbalized it, but I think we sort of felt like that was what it was resigned to become. Neither Bob or I are upset about it. We were very proud of it and remain very proud of it. You know, we were very careful about not dating too much of it. When we would want to make a reference to what was then a very topical pop culture reference, 90 percent of the time we’d not make it that person specifically, but make it an amalgam of different people – a person in power, or a celebrity or whatever – so it wouldn’t feel dated.

You know, it’s not like watching an SNL rerun with a guy playing Clinton. So, we kind of felt like, ‘Oh, that’s where this thing’s headed,’ but that’s not a bad thing. And it’s really par for the course for both Bob and I. I don’t think either one of us were destined to be wildly successful and popular, and I think we’re both very, very fond of that.

You drink for a reason, but what’s your favorite beer?
In the Summer, when it’s hot out I like Pabst, Bud Light, Coors Light, I like light beers like that. And then in the Winter, I like Harpoon IPA, I like your Sierra Nevada, Sam Adams, or an Anchor Steam-type of beer. And then in London, always go for a Fuller’s London ESB. London pride. Gotta go with the London pride.

I Drink For a Reason comes out Monday, Aug. 31. Click the image below to snag yourself a copy. Once you pick that up, be sure to visit IDrinkForAReason.com for video extras relating pieces in the book.

About the Author

Brendan McLaughlin

Brendan is a comedian and writer based in Brooklyn, NY.