3 Oct

If there’s one thing I love as much as music, it’s comedy. And my family. And cookies, too. So that’s three things …

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to interview some of my favorite comedians, and since I started a blog … I figure I can stick the ancient transcripts on here for the sake of posterity.

Here’s a transcript of a 2002  interview I did with the always hilarious David Cross.

November 9, 2002

DC: Hello?

Hello, David?

DC: Yeah.

Yeah, this is Ryan from Richmond, Virginia. Chris from Sub Pop told me this would be a good time to call to do an interview.

DC: Sure.

Is this a good time?

DC: Yeah, I mean, I just woke up, so I’m going to make some tea.

Do you need some time?

DC: No, no.

Ok. You’re in a rare position as a comedian, being able to sort of tour on your own terms.

DC: Oh, sure. Yeah.

Could you see yourself doing it any other way? I mean, I don’t know how much you worked on the road just in clubs, but …

DC: Oh, I did that a bunch of times, yeah. I never enjoyed it that much. I mean, initially I liked the work and I liked amassing the experience and everything, but club work isn’t really that much fun. But I never just solely did stand-up. I mean, I did, I guess, like when I was younger, in my early twenties, but I was just fucking around. I mean, I did stand-up because it was fun and you could make a little money, and Boston was a place where you could pretty much just work in New England and not really have to go out much on the road. But I was never like a real road comic, like a road warrior type. And I can’t imagine ever doing that. Because at some point I would just think, “You know what? I’ve got enough money for noodles and rent and heat. I don’t need to go to fucking Tulsa and Amarillo for two weeks. Fuck it, I’m not going.”

Whose idea was it to say, “Hey fuck it, let’s just book it in clubs, like a band would.”

DC: Ummm … I was in Atlanta a couple of years ago filming a movie, and that’s where I’m from, so I know some people that work in clubs, and there was this go who works down there that books this club, this great club called The Earl, you know, just music in the back and bar food up front, but just a kind of down and dirty, but comfortable place. And he asked me, “Hey do you want to do a show here?” So I said, “Yeah, that’ll be fun.” So I chose a band, which was Ultrababyfat, who are friends of mine from Atlanta, and just sort of made an evening out of it, you know? And it turned out really successful, it sold out, and it was really fun. And then about four or five months later, I got a call from the guy that booked that room, and he said, “Hey, I’m booking a room in New Orleans now, do you want to do that thing you did with Ultrababyfat in New Orleans?” And I said, “Yeah, sure.” So we went and did it in New Orleans, at this club called The Howling Wolf, and it went well, so after New Orleans, we just said, “Shit, man, this is fun. We should just do this.” So we just used the same booking agent that Ultrababyfat had used, just this sort of low-level, booking, management type of guy … Big Shot Booking, or Big Shot Management or whatever it’s called, and bookedthis little tour that was, like, ten cities in ten days or whatever, and that was really fun and really successful, so we said, “Shit, we should do this again.” And we were actually in the van, on the way to the last gig in Savannah, when I got a call from Sub Pop, who I had never spoken to before in my life. And they asked me about an album, and you know, hey, would I be interested? So I said, “Yeah, we were just talking about another tour.” So we went to that gig, and went home, and put together another tour to record, and five weeks later we hit the road again.

Was there any resistance from any of the clubs, this being something they had never really done before? Or were they pretty much up for it?

DC: Yeah, I think, ummm … well, honestly, I didn’t really deal with any of that stuff, but I don’t think there was any resistance. I think most of the clubs knew who I was and thought, “Oh, ok, that’ll work.”

Between those tours and the Mr. Show “Hooray for America!” tour, you’ve kind of been crisscrossing the country a lot in the last year.

DC: Yeah.

Does that much touring do anything to alter your pre-existing notions of what the country is like at this time?

DC: Oh, no. I mean, I’ve always, if you know my history, and not that you should, but I was constantly moving around as a kid, and I lived in a whole bunch of places by the time I was ten, and I’ve always been uprooting and leaving and going somewhere else. And I’ve driven across country, before these tours, maybe twenty times if not more, up and down and across and over. So it’s old hat for me. But I like it, I really enjoy it. So far, and it’s been like this for a long time, there are only two states that I haven’t been to, and those are North Dakota and Alaska. But I think I hot that mark, like, ten years ago.

Within the last ten or fifteen years, how has the character of the country changed to you?

DC: The truck stops have better coffee, that’s for sure. They have, like, Starbucks in them now. And you can actually get much better food, better fast food, or at least a better variety. And it’s definitely better since the speed limit went up. But other than that, I don’t really see a change in the people or anything like that. That’s about it.

I interviewed Greg Behrendt not too long ago, and he paid you a compliment when talking about his evolution as a comedian. He said he was always impressed that you were always yourself with your comedy, that he had trouble trying to fir into a certain mold as a comedian, trying to be something he is not, and he never observed you as having that problem.

DC: Well, he never saw me at the very beginning. If he saw me in the first few years that I did it, he would see it wasn’t the same thing. I mean, that’s very nice of him to say, but within the first two years, I was like really, really trying, and you could see it, that I was trying to be this mixture of Andy Kaufman and Steven Wright, you know? And I really wasn’t. And it took me awhile to really find my voice and be comfortable.

What is the worst advice you ever received about doing comedy?

DC: About doing comedy? Ummm … I haven’t really received any … Oh! Yes I have! (laughs). This ia laughable, this is a joke, because at this time, I was already well-established, or at least my sensibility was well-established at this point. But I was working at Catch A Rising Star, which was kind of like my home club in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where a bunch of really good comics got their start. It was kind of our laboratory, you know? And this guy, who to his credit has since said, “Yeah, that was really ridiculous of me to say that, I don’t know what I was thinking,” but I was opening up for him, and I’m pretty positive it was his first time headlining that room, and he was kind of nervous. And (laughs) he would wear suits (laughs), he would wear like a tuxedo (laughs). And I wore what I always wore, and what I still wear, which is, just …

Whatever you’re wearing.

DC: Whatever I’m wearing, right. Like most people do. And you know, I swore a lot, too. So he took me backstage one time, and he started chewing me out, like in front of all me friends and stuff. And you know that this was going to be a huge story and he was going to embarrass himself, and I just let him go on and on, like, “Uh-huh, uh-huh, yeah,” going on and just burying himself. And he’s talking about what I’m wearing and how I didn’t dress right, and what am I thinking, and I’m offending these people, and when they see someone dressed like that they’re not going to laugh, and that I swear too much, and he used as an example, “When Jay Leno tells a joke …” (laughs) So, you know, right of the bat …

You know you’re going to want to write this down.

DC: Right, exactly. So he says, “Jay Leno would say, ‘I was skiing and I fell right on my wallet.’ He doesn’t say ass! He says wallet! And you don’t have to say ass!” (laughs) So that’s a quote of some bad advice.

And you didn’t take that to heart?

DC: No (laughs). No, I didn’t. And I also had the Menthals [sp?] back in Texas, they were the big, uh, I guess the big people in comedy back then in Texas that, I guess they were the ones who ran all the cool rooms … Sharon Menthal [sp?] I think her name was, and her husband, whatever his name was. This was a long, long time ago, like 1987, maybe? And Janeane Garofalo and were doing a set in Houston, and Jeneane and I were friends, and I was crashing at her parents place in Houston, and we were both working at these clubs. And we both showed up in our regular clothes, like we always did, you know, whatever, who cares. And this lady yelled at me about what I was wearing and how these people paid to see someone professional and how I had no respect and that I should, I don’t know …

Wear a blazer?

DC: Exactly, wear a blazer.

I hesitate to ask you too much about comedy, because I finished reading the Mr. Show book a few weeks ago, and there’s a really great quote from you in there that says, “The thing is, I hate fucking talking about comedy. I hate talking about the show, comedy theory, comedy aesthetics, or any of that shit.” And I thought that was really funny, because those have to be things that most people want to talk to you about. So do you ever feel like you’ve gotten yourself wrapped up into this thing that you hate?

DC: Well, I certainly don’t hate comedy …

No, I don’t mean that, I mean the talking about it.

DC: Well, I guess I never really had the occasion to talk about it until Mr. Show. And I found myself then, you know, doing these interviews where … and this is not in any way an aspersion or a judgment, but the thing is, Bob really enjoys talking about it. He’s very bright, he’s formed a lot of opinions, he has set theories about comedy and stuff, you know, a lot of which I agree with. But I find myself talking about it, and I just get itchy like after the first few minutes. And then you start doing these press interviews, and you kind of have to have done this to understand this or feel this, but over three weeks, you do sixty-five interviews, you know? And I just can’t say the same things over and over and over.

Answering the same questions …

DC: Right. And I just don’t care. I mean,, even if I was out in a bar with those guys, it’s not something I usually talk about. I mean, I might talk about something in particular I thought was funny or not funny and why or how, but probably not more than for a few minutes. People ask, “What do you think about the state of comedy today?” and I’m just like, “I don’t know. I don’t care.” I guess if I cared I might think more about it, but I just don’t care.

That’s kind of the great thing about the book. Like, anything I would ever want to ask yourself or Bob about Mr. Show is already in the book. It’s kind of the end of the story, for me.

DC: Yeah, right? Hey, hold on one second …[crash, boom, bang, something] … OK.

Yeah, so it’s all there in the book. Maybe that’ll lessen the burden.

DC: No. (laughs)

Yeah, probably not. You said something interesting on Conan O’Brien the other night about being at the anti-war rally in D.C. …

DC: Yeah.

And it reminded me of something I heard a college professor say once. He said whenever you see all that great footage of protesters protesting the Vietnam War in the sixties, you have to realize just how many people were there just do pick up chicks.

DC: Right. And to just be annoying. And it was even more than that, just the big party atmosphere of the whole thing.

Was that the biggest rally you had ever been to?

DC: Nope. I’ve been to a bunch of rallies. I guess the biggest one I ever went to was in the late eighties, a big pro-choice rally, and there must have been like, I don’t know, half a million people?

What do you think the reason is behind the whole absurd, comic-theater aspect to a huge rally like that? Is it because people have been conditioned to think that protesting is not something that “normal” people do?

DC: No, I think … I mean, do you mean the perception of it, or the people that show up?

Either or.

DC: I think most of them of very well intentioned, they just may not be looking at the bigger picture a lot of times. You know, any protest march is going to have wildly divergent factions in it. There’s going to be radical right-wing Christians there, because the war goes against their religious beliefs, and there’s going to be radical left-wing ecology guys, and they’re kind of coming together to protest this war, but individually … there’s always this large, disparate, mass of people that are all yelling to be heard. And they’re not only yelling it at the White House, but they’re yelling it at each other. I think if you looked at the bigger picture, there are more effective ways of getting a point across.

One of the things I like about your comedy is that it is, to a degree, political, and that you express strong opinions. Do you ever sense any resistance to that from people who come to see you?

DC: Very little. I wish there was more. Very, very little. You know, if I were to go to a club, that’s one thing I do miss about clubs, is that that’s where you get to have arguments. But anyone who, you know, drives two hours to wait in line for hour, in the rain, to see my show, is probably going to be pretty predisposed to what I have to say.

On the CD, and also on Conan, you talk about how bad radio is.

DC: Yeah.

I think radio has to be the most under-utilized medium there is.

DC: Well, I don’t think radio is bad, per se. I think corporate radio is bad, which is 95% of the radio you’re going to hear. You know, the DJ’s are not particularly funny or clever, and they sort of perform their material in a vacuum, and they don’t really know how wildly disliked they are. But I mean Clear Channel is a monopoly, and the deregulation of radio by Powell’s son, the head of the FCC, which started under Clinton so he’s pretty much to blame, it’s just … you know, now the guy that owns the town newspaper also owns the local network affiliate, and also runs the three radio stations in town, and it’s just …

Not to mention it’s basically payola that gets music on the air at these stations.

DC: Yeah, yeah, it is.

Did you find yourself doing much radio to promote the club shows?

DC: Yeah, like every time I would do a club I would also do the radio, and I mean, I did a bunch of clubs before I did that first tour with the band, so yeah.

In all of these times, did you ever find a morning radio show where you said, “Oh, they know who I am and they know my sense of humor and this is OK”?

DC: Ummm … not off hand. There are a couple of them in Boston that I know because they’re run by comics, but for the most part, no. And also, I’m a dick, too, you know? I’m just as bad. I’m not pleasant to interview.

Right. I guess the plan now is for the DVD of the tour to come out the early part of 2003?

DC: Well, we’re … ummm … I’ve got the footage and we’re looking at it, but I just have to make sure that it’s not a big, you know, cock-suck, “Look at me! Look at me! Look how drunk I was!” type of thing, you know? I want to make sure … there’s got to be a worthy reason … I mean, it’s got to be educational … no, not educational (laughs). Entertaining, I mean.

Something beyond the CD in DVD form.

DC: Yeah, it won’t be that at all. It’s all about backstage, behind the scenes type of stuff. We may put some stuff from the show on there that wasn’t on the album, but I don’t know. There have been literally hundreds of these type of things made and I’m not interested in just making another one, so I need to find some type of angle on it.

I saw the clips that were on the CD, and I couldn’t really get a good sense of what happened in Nashville. Something about them setting up or not setting up tables and chairs …

DC: Yeah, well, I had not had any problems at all with any of the clubs, and the manager of that club was just, we got there and they had all of these tables set up in the front area, these tall tables with chairs around them. And it’s too long to really go into, but just to put it succinctly, the manager of that club was cranked up on coke (laughs). All day. Just all day long. And at the end of the night he’s all jacked up and he’s doing that thing with his jaw, you know? And there had been problems all day long, like on the marquee it said “Mr. Show” and it was like, no, it can’t say “Mr. Show,” it has to say Cross or people are going to come and expect something different. And it was a beautiful day out, but he says, “Well, if you want to haul your ass out in the pouring rain and change it, be my guest.” (laughs) So we’re just like, “What?” And he said it again. And then he wanted to put tables and chairs everywhere, because he was implying that he had to make his rent and that if he didn’t sell enough, I don’t know, wing-dings or whatever, he wouldn’t make his rent. And we tried to tell him that, you know, there will be more people coming to drink than to buy wing-dings. And he started saying, “No, man, Nashville’s different. It’s an industry town. The only thing I can compare it to is L.A. or New York.” (laughs)

Wow. There’s also a funny clip of you and Isaac Brock [of Modest Mouse] and I guess you were cutting his radio ID’s?

DC: Yeah, yeah. I was at his house, and they called him to cut some radio ID’s and he just gestured towards me and handed me the phone and I cut his radio ID’s in this really stupid voice.

Well, I know you’re a big music fan, and it’s coming up on the end of the year, so do you have an album of the year?

DC: Ummm … when did “The Argument” come out?

I think that was last year. Maybe January of this year.

DC: I would say “The Argument” if it was this year, and if not, probably The Flaming Lips. And that’s just off the top of my head. I’m sure if you called me back in ten minutes I would have a different answer.

Well, I don’t want to waste your time anymore than I already have, so we’ll just end there.

DC: All right, man. Good talking to you.

Yeah, thanks a lot for your time, I appreciate it. Hope everything continues to go well for you.

DC: All right, thanks.

Take care.


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