The Nerve Interview: David Cross

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s the co-creator of HBO’s Mr. Show, a.k.a. the best source of sketch comedy since the original Saturday Night Live, David Cross kept basement-dwelling ironists well-fed for the better part of the ’90s. (Whither “Coupon: The Movie”? Where have you gone, Ronnie Dobbs?) Since the series ended in 1999, Cross and Odenkirk have battled to free the Mr. Show movie, Run Ronnie Run, from major-studio henchmen; it’s been sitting, fully completed, on the Hollywood shelf for two years. Undaunted, Cross moved to New York and keeps putting out: his recent projects include guest appearances on Just Shoot Me, an HBO special, a column for Vice magazine and last summer’s Mr. Show tour with Odenkirk. To compound things, or to complicate them, he has just released his first album of solo material, Shut Up You Fucking Baby!. More overtly political and gleefully vitriolic than anything he’s done before, the album finds Cross dutifully tearing new assholes for Bush, Ashcroft, pedophilic priests and the kind of New Yorker who leaves used condoms in the middle of the street. In this interview, he picks up where the record leaves off. — Michael Martin

Nerve: Are you disappointed that Mr. Show didn’t ultimately change the form of sketch comedy?
Cross: Nah, I don’t give a shit. It wouldn’t please or disappoint me in any way. I guess that wasn’t our intent. We knew we didn’t want to do stuff like Saturday Night Live, which we saw as kind of easy, not particularly intelligent and at times really commercially crass. We wanted to do the funniest show we could. And that meant going on a pay cable station late at night, where they left us alone and where we didn’t get paid very much. But we got to do what we wanted to do the way we wanted to do it. That’s worth it in the end.

During Mr. Show, you didn’t do stand-up. Why did you go back to it?
I started in stand-up when I was eighteen, and it’s the thing I like most. I don’t particularly enjoy the process of writing. It has a sense of obligation and . . . work. With stand-up, you get to stay up late and go out, hop up on stage at eleven o’clock, and then you can sleep late and get up late and watch TV and play video games — as opposed to writing, where you have to get up and make yourself write. If you don’t have ideas, you have to try to think about ideas. It’s not as much fun to do.

So the material on the album sounds like the product of a guy who’s been holed up in his apartment watching CNN with a bottle of Jack Daniels and a 20,000-word manifesto.
I’ve always been politically minded, but I didn’t really talk about it onstage. I’m sure this will recede as time goes on — hopefully things will get better — but after September 11, I just could not fucking believe what was happening in this country. Getting out of L.A. really helped me focus on things that are much more important than writing a movie script. And they’re disturbing. I’m thirty-eight, and I’ve been politically aware since I was probably in my mid-teens. I’ve never felt more marginalized or more precarious. America is in a really dangerous situation.

I went to the March on Washington. I got up early, went down to the train station, got on a train. I can’t stand the fuckin’ ridiculous conformity of all, those bullshit neo-hippie kids. I hated it. I didn’t chant any fuckin’ slogans, and I didn’t carry any dumbass signs. But I went, and I marched.

The organizer of the rally claimed there were 150,000 people there, and then it grew to 250,000. I suspect he was overinflating them, like anybody might. I would guess the numbers were closer to 150,000. But the fuckin’ story on page eight of the Times the next day was, ‘Thousands March to Protest War.’ And that’s just distortion. It’s true that thousands marched, in the way that thousands died in the Holocaust.
A war hasn’t even started yet, and you’ve already got at least 150,000 people taking buses to Washington. And you have the paper of record putting the story on page eight. Talk about marginalizing dissent.

Do you find it more difficult to be funny about world events, not necessarily because it’s “not a time for comedy” but because so much of what’s going on seems to be self-parodic?
It’s absolutely more difficult. Mostly because I get so angry that it’s hard to be funny. I get shaky, and my vocabulary goes down to about sixty words, half of which are swear words. And I sound like an angry teen: “What the fuck? WHAT THE FUCK? This is bullshit, man!”

Mr. Show deconstructed things in a whimsical, sort of affectionate way, but your stand-up is very angry.
I would touch on political stuff back then, but it didn’t have the sense of trying to shake people by the shoulders and go, “Fuckin’ wake up!” I don’t want to be perceived as a conspiracy nut, but there are just too many examples of hypocrisy and lying.

So your belief that Bush will go down in history . . .
He will go down in history as the worst president. The erosion of the quality of life for people who aren’t white or Christian is scary. Things are getting worse for lots of people, for most people.

What’s your biggest problem with Bush?
He’s a liar. Every fucking day, he lies. People should be calling him on his shit. If we were in different times, if it were his dad or Clinton or Reagan, people wouldn’t let him get away with as much.

He’s a liar and a criminal. A lot of what he’s done in the past is criminal by his own definition, blatant lies about where he was and what he knew: his dealings with Harken Energy and what he said he was going to prosecute. He didn’t make Harvey Pitt resign. He picked William Webster to be head of the FBI. It’s a joke. I was no big fan of Clinton, but it took someone like Bush — with all his criminal bullshit and deregulation and his blatant politicizing and his fundraising — to make me really appreciate Clinton.

Other than finding used condoms in the middle of the street, what else do you find sexually disturbing about New York?
I guess the frequency with which I get laid. It’s just too much. I mean, I love it, but at some point it has just got to stop.

What’s up with Run Ronnie Run? Did the studio screw it up, or did it just end up sucking?
Well, it didn’t magically end up sucking. The script wasn’t that great to begin with. We didn’t sell the first four versions. The one we were sold was a formulaic studio comedy. Bob and I found ourselves outside the filmmaking process. We weren’t allowed to see dailies, we weren’t in the editing room. Then, movies like Super Troopers and Joe Dirt and shit like that came out, and they didn’t make a lot of money. We’re part of an industry where studios are not interested in making three million dollars. They want to make forty million, and they’re not interested in taking a gamble if it’s only going to get them three. It’s an absurd way to think.

Is it going to come out?
No. I don’t know. You gotta ask the studio. They don’t answer my questions, they don’t take my phone calls. I stopped trying a year ago. Bob and I are going to do another script and sell it somewhere else. We’ll direct it ourselves, and we’ll just make the funniest movie possible.

Listening to the album, it sounds like your sex life has improved since you moved to New York from L.A.
Well, it was pretty good out there too. There are millions of people in L.A. and a couple of good bars and music scenes, and you meet people, and if things go well, you fuck them.

Are you a fan of internet porn?
I’m a fan, and I hate it. It’s like TV. You get on and go, “Oh, look at this thing!” Then it’s an hour later, and you’re like, “Fuck, what have I been doing?” But more than internet porn, I like downloadable Jackass-type stuff. “Hey man, this guy is getting fucked by a donkey! And you’ve got to check out this guy who fell asleep and his friends took a shit on his face!” It’s gross, but it’s fascinating. I see way too much of that stuff.

On the album, you really ream the Catholic Church.
I was raised Jewish, but I questioned religion very early. There was just so much blatant hypocrisy. And the logical questions you have are brushed off with the all-purpose idea of “faith,” meaning “belief in something you can’t prove.” That seems absurd to me. There’s no justice, no ultimate reward-and-punishment system. But people have to believe in them. They have to believe that Hitler is going to pay for his sins. They have to believe that some thirty-year-old, who did nothing but volunteer then died in a random killing spree, is going to get his reward in heaven. It’s a crazy, illogical notion.

Thoughts on the general state of comedy?
I haven’t watched television comedy in quite a while. Sitcoms were never that good. I think The Daily Show is great; it’s really smart and cutting. You can’t look to Letterman or Conan. There’s some funny stuff on there, but it’s just goofy. It’s not pointed or nutritious.

Can Saturday Night Live be saved?
No, and I don’t think they’re interested. I think they would probably disagree that it needs saving. They’re as popular as ever, ratings-wise, and they fill a niche quite well. They’re good at promoting albums that are coming out that week and movies of people who are popular. And, you know, they’re good at introducing catchphrases to a catchphrase-hungry America.

Your entry on Hollywood.com describes you as “unabashedly bald.” Ever considered being more abashed?
Yeah, I have. I took a Learning Annex course to be more abashed. But I mistakenly signed up for a Tex-Mex cooking class. I checked the wrong box; it was the one next to the abashed class. But I went and took it anyway. I didn’t want to waste the money.  


© 2002 Michael Martin and Nerve.com.