Interview with David Cross on album, Shut Up, You Fucking Baby! | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Tuesday, October 15th, 2019  

David Cross

Comedy is Not Shitty

Feb 02, 2003 Web Exclusive Photography by Ryan McGinley Bookmark and Share


His new album, Shut Up, You Fucking Baby! isn’t much of a lovefest, so let’s start with a few things David Cross likes. “CMJ just came through here, so I saw upwards of 15-18 different bands that week,” he says. “I’ve gotta say, as over-hyped as it is, the burgeoning New York scene is really great: the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Liars. Then I got turned on to a bunch of stuff: The Danielson Family, Calexico. I just saw The Flaming Lips, who were opening up for Beck. They transcended that typical ‘Oh, they were great.’ It was one of the best shows I’ve seen, ever.”

I figured Cross knows his indie rock. Shut Up was recorded this past summer at music venues, where he opened up for Atlanta’s UltraBabyFat. The Glands and Arlo soundtrack his upcoming DVD, and his album’s sound credits include Death Cab For Cutie’s Chris Walla as well as Phil Ek, knob guy for bands like Built To Spill, Modest Mouse, and Pretty Girls Make Graves. Not a big fan of comedy clubs, Cross prefers doing his stand-up at rock joints. He likes that the audience is standing, and just digs the vibe.

 

Selling Rasta hats in Harvard Square

The “alternative” comedy scene of which Cross was a part in the early ’90s in L.A. clearly reflected a philosophy also identified with independent music. Call it what you will, but much of it comes from hating what’s going on around you. For the regular comics at West Hollywood’s UnCabaret club -- David Cross, Bob Odenkirk, Dana Gould, Margaret Cho, Janeane Garofalo, Bob Goldthwait, and others -- it was the easy, “jokey” stuff engineered to sustain careers on the suburban Laugh Factory circuit. Before the UnCab, Cross was bummed about what he described as the loud, racist, homophobic schtick so popular in Boston in the late ’80s, so he and a handful of others forged a headier scene at Catch A Rising Star in Cambridge. Known as Cross Comedy, their theater-stand-up hybrid contained the seeds of Mr. Show. 

 

Cross now lives in New York and loves it. According to him, it’s a used condom-littered, 24-7 freak show crawling with fine women -- and much preferable to the “parade of delusion” he describes on Shut Up. Naturally, he’s talking about Los Angeles, his previous home. “They’re all gonna make it,” he says sarcastically, “They’re gonna be the next Drew Barrymore… the next Fred Durst or whatever marginally talented artist you can think of…About 13 of them will make it, maybe 14 if you count the woman who goes on Blind Date and then poses in Playboy.”

 

Sexier fart jokes in just 28 days

Cross takes aim at phonies, dopes and assholes of all kinds. He’s especially fond of dumb rednecks, dirty hippies, hyper-motivated bullshitters, and post-9/11 flag-wavers. In one of his regular “My America” columns in Vice magazine, entitled “God, Less America,” he implores us all to excuse God from blessing America for just a week: “I mean, even the inner-city, crack-addicted preemie, born in a toilet stall and abandoned an hour later in the snack-food aisle at Food 4 Less is automatically luckier than 98% of the rest of the world.”

 

As one can guess, politics and religion have a special place in his act. Not only that, he’s candidly political -- largely, one assumes, because of his disgust with the people currently running the show. He joined over 150,000 people in Washington this past October to protest the impending war in Iraq. But, ironically perhaps, he would have done it differently -- at least differently than all the “neo-hippies” in attendance. I thought he was talking about hair and hemp, so I ask him how the peace movement might become cooler. “The idea of something so important and basic as a peace movement having to have a patina of cool to attract people is pathetic,” he counters. “Maybe the coolness is gonna have to come from tomorrow’s Eddie Vedder or whatever. But I would hope it’s not reduced to some kind of ‘Isn’t this neat? Look how cool this is.’ I mean, it’s one of the most important things that's gonna face this generation, which is so pathetically apathetic. It’s amazing that people stand in line for a week to watch a movie, but they won’t stand in line to vote.” When Cross gets to marching, he’s not fucking around. “People are having too much of a good time,” he says. “They’re too happy and satisfied with their own clever little puns about Bush or Cheney. It was quite dismaying. It was like, c’mon, this is fuckin’ serious.” 

 

You will practice random acts of kindness… in bed

Cross’s album won’t be accused of apathy. In the tradition of his earlier UnCab act, it deliberately has a strong point of view. He digs at Bush and Ashcroft, but not with the yuk-yuk neutrality of the Leno-Letterman lapdogs. “I think there’s a very strong possibility that George W. Bush may go down in history as the worst president we’ve ever had,” he proposes. “and I don’t mean, like, in a Millard Fillmore-James Polk kinda way….He is a liar.” Reasons are given: “You cannot win a war on terrorism. It’s like having a war on jealousy.” And credit is given where due, “for having the courage…to find it within himself to execute retarded people….Obviously he’s gotta reconcile that with the fact that he’s a born-again Christian, which must be very difficult, but he’s able to do it.”

 

 

So I asked him how he’s voting in 2004. “I’d vote for whoever the fuckin’ Democrats throw up there, even if it’s Lieberman, who I hate, just to get Bush out of office. I don’t give a shit if it’s a fuckin’ Muppet. The most important thing is to get rid of those people, dealing with the changes from within.” He’s hopeful that others, with a little help from the media, could come to share his critical voice. “Less than 40% of the registered voters voted in the mid-term election,” he cites. “I think there will be a monumental backlash. The media could call them on their shit and have a sense of outrageousness that accompanied other turning-point times in this country: the Vietnam war, Iran-Contra, or anything that was important and world-altering.”

 

Believing he has the capacity to deliver a hip and hilarious social message -- like a Michael Moore for the Jackass crowd -- I ask him if he has any interest. “I can get very passionate about something if I focus on it, but I’m afraid of sounding like some ranting lunatic,” he answers. “I don’t want to be a spokesperson for the left, because I’m not articulate enough, and I’m not smart enough,” I’d probably disagree, but that’s cool. And concerning Bowling For Columbine director Michael Moore, Cross has some serious misgivings: “I enjoyed [the film] and was glad that it was made, although its self-aggrandizing, self-promotion is bothersome to me and detracted from my enjoyment of the movie. But then, weeks later, I was reading on Spinsanity.com about a large number -- not three or four, but ten or eleven -- examples of him fudging the truth and making shit up. Then I lost all respect for him. I’d heard about some shit he’d done with Stupid White Men and how he fudged some numbers and didn’t give credit to some people who came up with shit. Then he hides behind this thing about his satire, which I think is weak and further discredits him. Now I’m disappointed that he’s the spokesperson for the left. I wish he’d just go away and stop doing this stuff. It’s not helping.”

 

Bill ’em all, let Maude sort ’em out

Cross isn’t a big fan of organized religion either. Pouncing on the easy target provided by Boston’s behind-the-scenes, he then heads up his own saucy Sunday school through much of Shut Up’s second disc. Such rants have drawn only occasional protest. “The only feedback I get personally is after a show,” he says. “That’ll occasionally happen, but not so much any more, because the people coming to the shows already know my take on things. I did see some stuff on Amazon, where you can review the album. A couple people were recommending religious stuff in place of my album. You know, ‘If you get this album, you should also get Laughing With The Lord’ or something like that. I thought that was pretty funny. Nothing too negative, although I would welcome it with open arms.”

 

 

When you go back to the less vitriolic Mr. Show, you get more of a feeling that The Lord was laughing along. The greatest sketch comedy show in this writer’s memory, the HBO half hour Cross shared from 1995-98 with Bob Odenkirk and a killer revolving cast combined Monty Python, the best of early SNL, and freedom you wouldn’t even expect from a midnight time slot on cable. They took chances and welcomed challenges that made marathons out of writers’ meetings. Recurring characters, for instance, were ruled out, as were parodies; and each sketch had to somehow transition to the next, a mandate that required four days’ work at one point, according to Naomi Odenkirk’s book Mr. Show: What Happened? “We eventually said, ‘Fuck it, man, just pull into a commercial,’” according to Cross. It was a much-used device, but made for some great shit, like “Van Hammersly,” a brilliant bit where a spastically pompous Bob Odenkirk flogs educational videos that teach and entertain through billiards.

 

Naturally, Jesus made a few appearances: as Jack Black’s Jeepers Creepers, an indecisive messiah who waffles in the spirit of Jesus Christ Superstar, and as the Christ who must scold Marshal, an unknown 13th Apostle/motivational speaker who asks God, “Are you happy settling for omnipotence?” So many appearances, in fact, that He, along with Hitler and gay characters, were eventually barred from writing sessions, so as not to beat the convenient themes to death. Viewers reaped laughs and brain food from such diligent diversity: everything from “Sovereign Nation Open” to “Mafia Mathematicians” to “Mom & Pop Porn Shop.”

 

Never wank with exfoliating scrub
There were a lot of ideas at Mr. Show that never made it past the “shit box,” but Cross doesn’t dwell too much in the self-editing suite when it comes to his stand-up. “I don’t do a whole lot of it, for better or worse, and I think that comes across on the album,” he says. “It was a conscious decision to not edit it down and try to pull a really tight hour from two and a half hours. That’s not what I do, and that’s not what I enjoy doing. Ultimately, as I’m sitting down, trying to figure out what I’m going to do, I’m like, fuck other people, I’m just gonna do what I like. I was trying to capture the feeling of the live show, as opposed to weeding out all the extra ‘uhms’ and ‘likes’ and ‘you knows’ and all the places where I ramble and go off on a tangent. I never sit down and write my act out. I’ll just have my subject matter and start talking about it. And then over different performances I’ll cull what I like about it and what is worthless and unfunny, and try to get rid of that.”

And unfunny is pretty much his only taboo. Cross is one angry dude, and he’ll talk about anything, “unless it’s hurting someone’s feelings that I respect,” he says. He hates the idea of political correctness, but basically exudes it in his general character. Of course, some will take select bits out of context, but it’s these apparent contradictions that serve the complexity of his art. Take the track titles on Shut Up that have nothing to do with the content of the corresponding bit. He explains, “‘If Baseballs Had AIDS On Them’ was inspired by a real bit that a Boston comic did -- an awful, mean, homophobic, misogynist comic like so many of them were. It was a bit he did, saying the reason Bill Buckner let the baseball go between his legs in the [1986] World Series was that he heard it had AIDS on it.”

Another track title came from Cross’s own arsenal of offensiveness. “‘Shaving The Pope’s Pussy’ was actually a real bit I did when I was doing open-mic in Boston,” he explains. “I would pull it out purely for shock value. It wasn’t all that funny -- it was more ‘oh, shit’ kind of funny. I would do it if I was really eating it…Then people would get really upset with me, and I’d leave.”

While Shut Up will introduce many to a whole new brand of shock, Cross’s mom surely got over it years ago. She doesn’t even mind his saying fuck all the time. “She loves it,” he says. “She gets a dollar every time I say it, so she’s a very wealthy woman.”

Shut Up, You Fucking Baby! is out now on SubPop Records. Mr. Show is on HBO Home Video. Cross has appeared inGhost World and on TV’s The Drew Carey Show and Just Shoot Me. Upcoming roles include a small part in the new Spike Jonze film, currently in production. He’s on the Web at www.bobanddavid.com.

 



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Mynet
October 6th 2009
12:04pm

Thanks you…

Medyum Sikis

Erik Danji
September 9th 2014
11:14am

I still don’t think directors have let David Cross shine in a movie yet, he has always had small roles, but still always captivating us with those small roles. I got a kick out of Cross in men in black and Scary Movie 2. I can’t wait till one day he stars in his own movie, maybe he has, but I haven’t seen one. After looking him up on IMDb, I seen that he has had quite a few roles in cartoon movies. That’s awesome, because it really shows how unique his voice is.