For fans of Arrested Development - the brilliant, multi-award winning comedy inexplicably cancelled by Fox in its third season - David Cross is the guilelessly loveable Dr. Tobias Funke. Repressed husband, frustrated actor, never-nude, erstwhile Blue Man and the word's first Analyst-Therapist to use the term 'AnalRapist' on his business cards, Cross's character bounded across the screen with a nerdy, naive energy - a cross between a village person and Maria from the Sound of Music.
In real life, Cross is about as un-nerdy you can get. A longtime fixture of American alternative stand-up, he first came to public attention with the HBO sketch show Mr. Show, which featured, amongst others, Jack Black, Sarah Silverman and 30 Rock's Scott Adsit in early career appearances. The show made him a hero to many, and he followed it up with several stand-up albums, a DVD called Shut Up You Fucking Baby, and a book called I Drink for A Reason. Anyone who comes to his stand-up after Arrested Development might be shocked at the contrast between Tobias and the man in the trucker cap, usually bearded, making bold statements against religion and right-wing hypocrisy, but standing up for the irreverent left is really what Cross does best. In 2005, he sparked a running feud with Larry the Cable Guy, essentially America's Bernard Manning, where he criticised what he called Cable-Guy's fans' 'anti-intellectual pride'. A similar strand of criticism has seen him poking fun at 'rednecks' in his stand-up, as well as using the acting skills so evident in Mr. Show and Tobias to mimic right-wing American reactions to healthcare, 9/11, liberal media and the like. One can only imagine the fun he was at dinner parties during the 2008 election.
Cross is back on the radar with the release of a new tour DVD, Bigger and Blackerer (out next week on Sub Pop). Taken from his 2009 stand-up tour, it's an hour that finds him in all his native habitats, spanning from discrepancies in the Bible ("Why not the four jet-pack men of the Apocalypse?"), to Obama's healthcare bill, to self-righteous packaging in the Wholefoods kitchenware aisle. It's sardonic, New York humour, delivered with a mixture of feigned innocence and slacker/ righteous indignation. Watching the sequence on drugs, where he acts out a mushroom-fuelled midnight battery run, and asks why junkies in the park never sit down before they get high ("You think this is their version of 'maintain, maintain, maintain?"), I Laughed Right Out Loud. On my own.
Patriots who are less inclined to put all their faith in football will be glad to know that Cross is currently living in London, filming the follow up to his UK-only pilot, which is to be aired this autumn. The series is called The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, and with the dream-team of Arrested Development's Will Arnett as co-star and Spike Jonze directing, the anticipation alone should make you yell FUCK YEAH, repeatedly. Right now, however, the focus is on the DVD. I caught up with Cross (over the Internet though, cause he is a movie star by the way and before you ask Alvin and the Chipmunks 1 & 2) and asked some ridiculously wordy questions, to which he graciously gave normal answers. I don't know about you, but if he actually has Paul Rudd's phone number, I will poop myself.
DiS: The DVD was filmed during your 2009 standup tour, so I guess the elation of the 2008 election was still fresh. What’s your opinion on the presidency so far? Do you still see the opposition from certain parts of America? If the DVD was being filmed now, would you update the routine?
DC: The presidency has been disappointing but realistically so. I think my expectations were probably a little unrealistically high for a guy who was (like all politicians) bankrolled by huge multi-national corporations. For so many of us the initial euphoria was less about Obama the person and more about the repudiation, in record numbers, of the eight years that came before him. It was about the fact that America wasn’t the ignorant Christian soldier it seemed to have become. We woke up and made a change for the better. And I absolutely would’ve updated the routine If nothing else I would have changed the tenses.
We’ve just had our own election here and the result has been quite the opposite to a sense of elation. It actually seems like nobody won, but one unifying strand was that every leader was studying the Obama campaign. For years, the rest of the world sneered at the US for its political choices. How does it feel to be to have the tables turned?
Ha ha!!! You’ve fallen right into our trap!! Good luck stuck with David Cameron and his deeply ingrained fear and contempt for the working class. Should be fun.
And the healthcare reform you talk about in the DVD has just been passed (sort of), what’s your instinct about how it’s going to work out and what kind of legacy it will serve as for this government?
It remains to be seen just how effective it will turn out to be if only because of the constant wrenches being thrown into legislation from now until the Republicans get back into power and dismantle it piecemeal. Having traveled outside of America and having been able to take advantage of health care in a couple of other countries that have socialized health care, I can report back that I am still alive, I didn’t have to watch those around me expire in the waiting room that they had been sitting in for sixteen months (as is feared in the U.S.) and I also got fixed-up for the equivalent of a night at the movies for a family of four (including popcorn). I have though asked to be put on a “Death Panel”. I turned in my application Friday and I’m hoping for Alaska.
May I ask who the kid is at the beginning of the DVD? He was a good you.
That is young Dean Crow, a kid from Milwaukee. It’s something we did in every show we did on the tour. I would arrange to have a local kid come out in each city and do the same thing. He was so good though that rather than risk getting a new kid in Boston (because I was filming it), I flew him and his family in special.
Have you ever considered filling a room full of little kids dressed as you and towering above them as their ruler?
What, again?! You remember what happened last time I did that. I can’t legally board a submarine until 2018!
You’ve been known to rip into anonymous comments on the Internet, and there’s a trend in comedy recently where people read the choicest of these out. Is this something you’ve thought about doing? What’s the funniest thing you ever read about yourself?
It’s not necessarily the funniest thing but, I guess it would have to be that I’m “a racist”. Of the numerous absurd things said about me, that’s probably furthest from the truth. The idea that I think the White race is superior to all other races? Really? Have you heard my act?
There’s a skit in the DVD where you talk about a condescending box of Cerran Wrap in Wholefoods. I’ve often found my iPhone to be disdainful and prudish. In an increasingly ethics-aware society, do you think inanimate objects are taking on a bit of an attitude? Have you been offended by any recently?
Woah! Where do you get that we are in an “increasingly ethics-aware” society? Last I checked there’s a greater divide between rich and poor than in any other time in history, we are in a GLOBAL recession due to the fraud and greed of a handful of banks, money managers, and insurance firms, the biggest oil spill the world has ever seen is currently taking place, it occurred just days after a mine explosion killed dozens in West Virginia, both of which were predicted and could have been prevented if either industry was regulated, Bernie Madoff is a household name, every other person in power who spouts homophobic screeds and tries to enact anti-gay legislation turns out to be fucking rent-boys on the sly, the Catholic Church is embroiled in two controversies, one being that most of the clergy molests and/or rapes children, and two, that they are not only covering it up but placing blame elsewhere, let’s see what else, oh, Iraq, Katrina, Halliburton, Enron, Conrad Black, Tiger Woods, etc, etc…what was the question?
You must be tired of this by now, but it’s inconceivable to an outsider (as in non-American) that Arrested Development could have been cancelled after three seasons. Do you see a culture of great comedy losing its opportunities in the US because of network requirements? Are there pilots you think should have become series? Actors you think should have become stars?
That’s a doozy of a question(s). AD didn’t get very great ratings, and it wasn’t all that cheap to produce so TV being a business, it wasn’t all that surprising. What is infuriating though was the dismissal of the audience it did have. They were hard-core and loyal and the DVD sales are in the high tens of millions. So with a little obvious forecasting we could have gone on for a while longer. I wouldn’t say the “culture of great comedies” losing opportunities is anymore or less than it has been really. I’m disappointed that John Ennis and Jay Johnston in particular aren’t working more. They are both really funny, smart actors with a wide range. John has had some of the worst luck in this business of anyone I know. He’s been on a large number of pilots that have been shot and never picked up. Crazy bad luck. And that’s all it is really, luck
And leading on from this, does the US network culture have anything to do with you making your next project for Channel 4?
No, not at all. The English production company approached me about developing something with them and that’s how it happened.
It’s just so interesting to see top drawer US comedians choosing to make a show in the UK, when we’re so used to seeing our people trying to make it in America. Can you run us through the reasons for the decision? Do you think Channel 4 will let you get away with more?
Well, see the above for the answer to the first part of your question and as for the second part – Yes. WAAAAAY more. I get to use the word “cunt”!!!!
Much of the comedy coming out of America comes in clumps of talent. You can almost separate them into stables e.g. Apatow, Ferrell, SNL cast. Do you see it like that where you are? And do you think it’s a case of people who have worked with each other being mutually supportive, or producers wanting enough identifiable faces to sell a project?
Both really. Makes sense to me. I wish I was part of Hollywood’s, “fun bunch” or whatever they are called. The “wacky club”? Is that it? I’ll call Rudd and ask him.
In your case, do you need to be hyper aware of the latter when you’re considering projects?
I wish I could say that I was in a position to consider more stuff but outside of a hand-full of projects that aren’t self-created, I don’t really get that many offers. I’m not complaining but it’s the case.
It has to be said, if there was a particular background where you could be part of a gang, it’s in music. You’ve appeared in videos for the Strokes, Beastie Boys, Superchunk, Yo La Tengo and more, you’re signed to Sub Pop and the director of Bigger and Blackerer is also known for music videos (and marriage to Corin Tucker). Do you feel comfortable around musicians? Have you harboured ambitions to make music?
That’s the name of my new band, “Harbored Ambitions”!! I would like to learn the banjo. I’m not kidding. I’m going to ask my girlfriends mom to teach me. Still not kidding. I have really gotten into Blue Grass recently.
Which of your modes of comic operation do you find most satisfying? And do you miss it when you’re doing the other stuff?
I have been very lucky to be able to do so many different jobs and projects in the comedy genre and I like them all really. I wouldn’t want to have to pick just one. BUT having said that, stand-up is perhaps my favorite form of them all. I think that says volumes about my ego and need for attention.
You spent a bit of time in London for filming. Any favourite places?
Oh man, so many really. I love The Phoenix on Shaftsbury. There is a silly, funny, odd queen who runs it and he gets very drunk and, if he’s in a particular mood, lip synchs “Tradition” from Fiddler on the Roof while wearing different bits of drag. And other times he gets on his microphone and yells about Gordon Brown or Labour or the Tories or whoever is pissing him off that day. It’s always a lively time in there.
I live right off of Kensington Gardens which is fucking beautiful. It’s so pretty it makes me swear. I like to go there and read a book or just hang out and watch the dogs. It makes me want to be a dad. Oh! And Spitafields Market, and the Upmarket on a Sunday. Love going there and making a day of it.
Any favourite British comedy/ comedians?
My love of Daniel Kitson is well known. And anything that Armando Iunnuci, Chris Morris, or Charlie Brooker touches is absolute comedy gold. Geniuses, the three of them. I like Josie Long, and I just discovered “Shameless” which is brilliant. “Pulling”, “LaLa Land”, and believe it or not, “Come Dine With Me” are current favorites as well. Oh, and a show called “The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret”. Very funny that one.
Somebody asked me to ask you – what would Mrs. Show do?
I also have some questions from Twitter that people asked:
1.What makes David cross?
2. Why don’t you tour more?
3. Are there any exercises I can do to make myself funnier?
No puns please. I would tour but I just don’t have the time to generate a new hour and a half of solid comedy as much as I did when I was just doing stand-up. Currently I’m in my “TV writing” head which is different. I do love it though, and when I’m done with the show I’ll start back up again so I can tour sooner rather than later. And as for the last question, “no”.
Bigger and Blackerer is out on June 28th via Sub Pop.