Interview: David Cross

words by Jerry Giammattei | photo courtesy of Sub Pop Records
| Monday, September 15th, 2003

David CrossOriginally published in Verbicide issue #9

Chances are, you’ve seen David Cross. Although you may not be able to place the Mr. Show with Bob and David co-creator and star, you’ve seen him. Aside from numerous cameo performances in film and television (Men in Black, Waiting For Guffman, The Cable Guy, “Just Shoot Me,” “Oliver Beene”), Cross has been doing stand-up comedy around the country for years. His most recent tour, in which he played small music clubs accompanied by musical acts, birthed his first comedy recording Shut Up You Fucking Baby!, a hysterical, brilliant, offensive, and original two-disc body of work that covers topics ranging from growing up Jewish in Georgia to September 11 to partying in Kansas City. David recently answered questions about his comedy, screen career, and touring experience in an interview with Jerry Giammattei.

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Can you talk a little bit about your writing process for your stand-up material?
Well, I don’t really have a writing…well, I guess it’s a process, some people subscribe to it, I don’t really. Pretty much I will have an idea, something will occur to me, or I’ll experience something. Or, I’ll observe something then I’ll kind of jot that initial idea down on a piece of paper — mind you, this isn’t what I always do, it’s just sort of what happens more often than not, you know? Because I don’t really write, I never sit down and write out material. Then, I’ll go do a set somewhere…I try to do at least one set a week if not two or three. Like, I’ll do 10 or 15 minutes somewhere, tape it, and I’ll talk about the idea on stage — whatever the thing is — and I’ll get a few leads out of it and I’ll remember what was funny (well, hopefully remember) and then talk about it again and just sort of keep honing that idea until the ideas that I riff on stage become part of the bit that I’ll say over and over again. That’s pretty much it.

So you do a lot of improv on stage?
Well, I don’t like what the word “improv” connotes, you know, I’d just rather say riffing, just sort of talking about shit. I mean, like you and I would have a conversation, we’d talk about something and go off like that.

Sort of off on a tangent?
Yeah, it’s more conversational.

So each crowd is different, and you sort of riff on different things every night? Like your CD for example, you may not say the same things one night that you said the night before exactly?
Well, not exactly, but a lot of it was. That was the end…those were two shows that I took the bulk of everything from the end of that second tour. So the first tour I went out, you know, did my shit, and half of that stuff I started doing on the second tour. By the latter half of that last tour I dropped a lot of stuff and started expanding other bits, and so I’d say 80 percent of the material was the same every night; sometimes I’d throw in a new line here or there, but that’s after many, many sets that became kind of reduced to its essence, I guess.

So you’re currently performing at small clubs in New York and things like that?
Yeah, and I’m going out on the road. I’m going to be in Raleigh this weekend, I was in San Francisco last weekend, and I was in Denver before that, just trying to get new material. Then maybe in the late spring or summer I’ll go out on another tour, do kind of what I did before again.

Are you going to play Connecticut?
I don’t know.

Have you ever?
Oh, have I played Connecticut? Yeah, a long time ago, I used do stand-up in Boston so we’d do one-nighters in Connecticut.

Like in Hartford?
Yeah, exactly.

But you’re not a big fan of the clubs anyway, right?
No. The CD was recorded in music clubs, and you probably have that [in Connecticut].

You have any good road stories?
I ended up befriending a bunch of neo-nazi guys in Lexington, Kentucky, who were really pissed off. I don’t think they were going to beat me up, but they were very threatening to me and the band outside of this club, and then I ended up talking to them. We were traveling in this van and we had a 12-pack of Pabst, and I said “Look, I’ll give you guys all this beer and all you gotta do is, while you’re drinking it, you just gots listen to me and you guys can interrupt, but you gotta let me say my piece.” And they agreed to it, so they were drinking and I sort of went on with, you know, my views, and we shared some views, certainly, and then we became friends. Two of the guys I still talk to on the Internet and they’re part of this…it’s not white Aryan resistance, but it’s one of those offshoots, you know.

Had they seen your show before that?
They had just seen the appearances on “Just Shoot Me” and “Drew Carey.”

So it wasn’t after a live show?
They came to me after a live show and knew I was in town. It was either something they read or the “Just Shoot Me” appearances that pissed them off.

Where did you piss off the crowd the most?
What city?

Well, there wasn’t a whole lot going on on this tour; they were pretty much my fans — I don’t think anybody’s going to pay 15 bucks to see something they hate, but I did a Jesuit school, St. Louis University or something like that, and had 300 people walk out.

Do you remember what you were talking about?
Yeah. Jesus.

How did you get involved with the “Oliver Beene” show?
They called me and asked if I’d audition, and I came down and did a paid voice-over audition. Then, a couple of days later, they asked me if I wanted the job. I did a pilot, and that was that. Fucking easiest money I ever made in my life.

I’m going to ask you a Men In Black question, and I’m sure you always get it. What is Rip Torn really like?
I’ve never gotten that question and I’ve never met Rip Torn. We were never on the set the same day.

Your scene in Waiting For Guffman. Was that totally improvised, or was it scripted?
Yeah, well, he [Christopher Guest] gave me some things that I had to hit, you know, like talking about the UFOs, but other than that, it was just like rambling on for 15 minutes.

Were those guys cool to work with?
Oh, really cool. Yeah. Really, really cool.

Any good stories about some of the actors or actresses you’ve worked with?
Um…let me think…I don’t know…nothing exciting, not really. It’s really, fairly boring, you know?

Everyone is mostly business-like?
Well, yeah, when you’re on the set, I don’t have any great stories unfortunately. Yeah, sorry.

That’s alright. Are you planning on doing a book?
Well, I’m not, but there’s a Mr. Show book that’s coming out in a couple of months that Bob’s wife wrote and a couple of friends designed and it’s pretty good. It’s really good. It’s called Mr. Show: What Happened. It’s about the show, with interviews, an episode guide, and anecdotes, and some other original things in there. It’s pretty hefty, like 300 pages. It’s something for the fans.

What are you currently reading?
Jarhead, by Anthony Swafford. It’s good.

What are you listening to?
A guy from Verbicide, asking me questions. I just got the old Rainer Maria, the new Steve Malkmus, what else have I picked up? The new Anthrax and the Danielson Family. That’s what sitting on my desk right now.

How’d you get involved with Sub Pop?
They called me. Out of the blue. They wanted to put out an album; it was pretty cool.

So you’re grunge now.
I’m totally grunge.

So if you hop to a major label you’ll be a sell-out?
Yeah, exactly. Be nice, though. I wouldn’t mind it. Wouldn’t mind selling out.

Are you planning on releasing another album?
Well, I’ve certainly thought about it, whereas it’d never even occurred to me before. It’s something I would consider, but I’m not actively pursuing it. I’d do it again if I got more material, but I’m not going to push it. When it feels right I’ll do another one.

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