The Arts Desk Interview: David Cross
In which the author discusses issues of great and small import with comedian David Cross.
Washington City Paper: Where are you? [The author often begins interviews with this ubiquitous question. He is aware the question is not interesting, but must make small talk with his subjects in order to put them and himself at ease. Unfortunately, the sheer stupidity of the question "Where are you?" often makes him and his subjects ill at ease.]
David Cross: I just got to Austin.
It's 90 degrees. I'm wearing a baseball cap.
One must wear a hat to cover one's dome.
I’ve come to appreciate how perfect the baseball cap is. For a guy like me, it provides shade. But if it's too hot, I can take it off. But when it’s chilly, it keeps me warm.
What is the purpose of stand-up comedy?
Are you serious?
Your question is not simply answered. Are you talking about Richard Pryor, or Larry the Cable Guy?…There’s all kinds and forms of stand-up comedy and its base function is to make people laugh. Beyond that, you can project on to it what you want.
What is it for you?
Selfishly, or not-altruistically...[Cross thinks.]...for me...[Cross thinks some more.]...I enjoy doing it. It’s a great way to communicate in a very specific way. It’s a monologue for an hour. It’s fun for me. And now I have a career at it and make money doing it and, looking at it in a more-or-less-specific-to-me way, it provides an hour of hopefully thoughtful, amusing, entertainment that will be remembered long after it happened and be more valuable than the time spent creating it.
Why return to the road?
I love it. There’s a small part that is cashing in on 15 years of shitty gigs and driving three hours to get $75 for stage time in rural Vermont where you just have drunk hecklers and doing that for a long, long, long time. Now, it’s very enjoyable for me to get back on the road. I haven’t been out in five years, [though] I've been doing standup the entire time. But this is the first time for a full show in five years. It's really...the first time I’m really over my uncomfortableness with meeting fans and it’s just been a pleasure. Beyond how grueling it is—
[Celebrity Q & A's are often conducted on conference calls arranged by those celebrities' publicists. These conference calls allow those publicists to monitor their celebrities' interviews and prevent journalists from getting their celebrities' cell phone numbers. This Q&A with David Cross is no exception. However, at this point during the interview, the conference call connection is lost. The author tries to call back Cross' publicist but cannot get through. The author checks his email, waiting for Cross' publicist to call him and get Cross back on the line, which she eventually does.]
I was in the middle of the most brilliant soliloquy.
It's lost to history. But perhaps this technical glitch has served as an ice-breaker. Perhaps it's taken the edge off.
I just did that thing where you talk for a full minute, and you stop, and you realize that you're just talking into a blank space.
You were talking about your current awesome tour as revenge for your early, bad tours.
No—not revenge...[Cross thinks.]...I’m always going to do stand-up, but I’m in a different phase of enjoying it more than I ever have because—and this goes back to what I was saying about becoming more comfortable about meeting my fans—I used to hide and run away. But because I’m doing this book-signing thing...[Cross thinks.]…people know who I am. They know my point of view. Fans are coming to see me for a specific reason as opposed to six or 10 years ago where it was like, "Oh, that's the guy from that show." They know it and accept it and are eager for it. It’s very—
[The conference call connection is lost again. The author browses analog synthesizer sales on eBay, waiting for Cross' publicist to call him and get Cross back on the line, which she eventually does.]
It happened again.
It's been a confusing day for me. [The author thinks.] Tonight, I'm playing a poker game hosted by a guy named "David Cross." So, all day, I've getting emails about David Cross, but some are about this interview with you, and some are about the list for this poker game.
The poker game?
Yes. How do you feel about that?
How do I feel about it?
Knocked up. The game might become impregnated with scandal.
We were talking about crowds. Do you feel you're act loses something when you perform before devoted fans and don't perform before random assholes?
It’s still in my nature to antagonize. I did a benefit for a Catholic organization...[Cross thinks.]...that had something to do with…[Cross thinks.]...it was really worthwhile event, a big show at the El Rey in L.A. I did this thing I’ve been doing about rape and the American-Indian genocide. They nearly booed me off the stage. I will always have moments of those even if I just manufacture them on my own. I still play plenty of gigs where people aren’t specifically there to see me. I would say the group…I’m gonna check, are you still there? [The author confirms that the connection is held, and he is there.] The generalized group of all the different types of groups out there that have the worst sense of humor...are liberals and progressives, and I end up doing a bunch of benefits and charities and they are without a doubt the most humorless. They can’t find the humor…as soon as you say the word "Jew" or "retarded," they don’t hear the context, they shut down. I’ll always have the ability—outside of this audience on this tour—to offend.
Perhaps both. I'm coming to the end of it. I'm ready for it to be over. I miss being home, I miss my girlfriend, I miss my dog, I miss New York. I don’t like living out of a suitcase and living in a different city every night and going to the airport. But that’s part of the deal. But also the material…I’ve always had a hard time saying the same thing over and over and making it sound fresh and new. It’s antithetical to what I do and how I communicate. There’s this underlying feeling of falseness to pausing at the same place every time. That’s good comedy timing. But if you’re literally doing for the 35th time in 32 days—if you’re doing the show—it loses spontaneity.…It does get stale, but I do things to make it not.
That's a lonely image. That falseness.
It’s only false to me. That’s what I have to remember. Everyone is seeing it for the first time. Everyone deserves the same show. In some ways the last five shows were better than the first five shows. They’re different and you get different stuff but it’s definitely tighter. You just have to remember that everyone is here to see you. They paid money. They took time out of their evening. They got a babysitter.…[That falseness is] a lame, pussy thing to feel. Once I get onstage, I can’t do that.
[The interview concluded, David Cross, comedian, asks the author to tell David Cross, poker game host, that he said hello. When, later that night, the author tells David Cross, poker game host, that David Cross, comedian, said hello, he says, "Oh" and, even later that night, catches a runner-runner full house to beat the author's flopped straight.]
David Cross performs Wednesday, Oct. 21, at 8 p.m. at the Warner Theatre. $35.
Photographs of Justin Moyer by Darrow Montgomery