David Cross: An eye for a tooth and a tooth for an eye

Mess with Texas | live music and comedy in Austin, Texas
Mess with Texas

If you don’t know David Cross from HBO’s Mr. Show, you will probably recognize him as the never-nude Dr. Tobias Fünke from Arrested Development. From an alien in Men in Black to a pot-smoking RC enthusiast in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Cross continues to pop up in an ever-widening array of movies and TV shows. This weekend, he’s coming to Austin to host the Mess with Texas party, a two-day live comedy and music mini-festival (March 16–17). Amidst all this, he took the time to sit down with That Other Paper contributor Ben Kharakh to discuss religion, politics, and the state of comedy today.

That Other Paper What’s your opinion on the modern state of music criticism?

David Cross I think the modern state of music criticism is in disarray and dangerously close to a pre-post-irrelevance. I think the post-modern state of music criticism, however, is exciting and spot-on, promising great new hybrid words for us in the future.

photo / mecredis David Cross will host Mess with Texas (March 16–17) 

TOP Do you think bad comedians know that they’re bad?

DC I have no idea, but good and bad are completely subjective so… I don’t know. I know when I’m being good or bad because of Santa.

TOP Since good and bad are so subjective, what do you think are some indications of good and bad comedy?

DC Well, it helps to be at least unique in some way. Not that you can tread the same territory and not be funny and/or “edgy,” but I would say that having your own voice that is hard to imitate or deconstruct lends itself to “good” comedy as opposed to “bad.” The inverse is true as well. If you’re out there talking about how hard it is to fuck fat chicks unless you’re drunk or how weird the names are for drinks at TGI Applebee’s – and your cadence and intonation make you sound like a cross between a 16-year-old girl from Orange County and a drill sergeant – then you’re probably not doing “good” comedy. Also, tricks are an indication of weak comedy. If you take a random set of Robin Williams or Dane Cook and reduce them to just a transcript written down on a piece of paper – which I know isn’t really fair because half of comedy is the presentation and performance (the “show,” as it were) – and you take away the corny “gay” voice or the high energy yelling and flexing at the audience and you’re left with some pretty weak ideas that have been offered a million different ways before you. But, again, it’s all subjective. Some people just want to have a good time and not think about stuff and stuff.

TOP Do you think alienation and outsiderdom are essential components of being funny?

DC Essential? No, not necessarily. It probably helps a bit but it’s not essential. As for me, I suppose I’ve always felt a bit like an outsider – but some of that has probably been self-imposed, so no boo-hooing here. I never felt like participation in conversations about the welfare of some temporary pop-culture placeholder that exists solely because ignorant, unimaginative people of all walks of life need something to care about besides their own welfare or the welfare of their loved ones. Black, white, poor, mega-rich, woman, fag… Pop culture is the great uniter!!

TOP Are you able to pinpoint the first time that you were consciously aware that you were able to make people laugh?

DC August 12th, 1969. When she asked us what was special about the day, I made a joke about “69ing” to my kindergarten teacher and an allusion about “making soup” on her “na-na’s” during what was supposed to be my nap time. I can’t say she laughed exactly but it was the first time I was accused of trying to be shocking just for shock value.

TOP At this time, what predictions do you have for the 2008 presidential election?

DC I predict that the first candidate to raise 1 billion dollars will win!!! Also, I think there will be a direct correlation between who [holds the] biggest fund raiser, who equivocates the least awkwardly, and who makes us collectively lap up and swallow their blatant and unctuous bullshit as if it were manna served to us from the sweet teat of Mother Mary.

TOP Was there a particular incident in your life that made you become an atheist, or did you always feel that there was no God?

DC No, no specific incident. Although three people I knew died of AIDS (and not in a “gay” way!!!) within one week of the Bhopal disaster in India. And right after I learned of Bhopal, I sprained my ankle so bad that I couldn’t go to the amusement park a bunch of us were planning on going to. That sucked! I was so mad at God for doing that to my ankle!! But I simply do not believe in God. I just don’t. I’m autistic when it comes to religion.

TOP The word “god” means so many things to so many people. When you hear the word “god,” what do you think, and what does the word “god” mean to you?

DC To me, it’s the thing or person that people think exists to make the hard decisions for them. It’s sort of like a giant Magic 8-Ball that sits in the sky and gives out vague answers to difficult questions that people don’t want to think too hard about. Also, God clearly wants us to suffer profoundly (maybe even delights in it).

TOP Are there any philosophies or worldviews that you subscribe to?

DC Not that I know of. I guess I believe in doing unto others as you would have them do to you. And I believe in an eye for a tooth and a tooth for an eye. I like to mix it up like that. I would love to give two of my teeth so that I might blind some asshole who done needed him some blindin’!

photo / Todd Ross Nienkerk David Cross with the staff of the Texas Travesty in 2003. (Yeah, that’s Greg Behrendt in the black shirt. If you look closely, you can actually see him selling out.) 

TOP What is your comedic philosophy?

DC When in doubt, yell. Or play an instrument.

TOP What’s your opinion on the amount of irony in comedy today?

DC I don’t really have one. What is the amount of irony in comedy today? Are there being tests done? Is it being measured by the American Comedy Institute? Does this constitute irony? I’m sorry?

TOP What are some projects that you’re currently working on?

DC Besides working with my charity Old Enough to Bleed, I am writing a screenplay based on an album I own called, Now That’s What I Call Music 17! Also, a new syrup for old people.

TOP What’s the status of the book you’ve been approached to write for Time Warner?

DC It’s still in piecemeal form, but it grows in words and chuckles daily. I went off my medication back in December so I hope to get it done and in someone’s hands before I set it all on fire in a drunken self-pity fest.

TOP Can you recommend any books, CDs, or movies to our readers?

DC I liked The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, although I’m not trying to be cute here. Obviously I lean toward his philosophy, but I thought he made interesting points in an interesting and often light way. I liked Michelle Malkin’s last book, How to be a Relatively Attractive Parrot – And the Great Left-Wing Conspiracy to Point out my Mistakes. As for CDs… Hmmm, after a show recently, a fan gave me a copy of L. Ron. Hubbard’s The Road to Freedom, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s got John Travolta, Leif Garret, Frank Stallone (Sly’s brother), and Karen Black singing on it amongst others, including L. Ron. Hubbard himself. Also, I like the new Silversun Pickups and the Chavez re(sort-of)issue mini-box thing. As for movies, man, I haven’t seen a good, I mean really really good movie in forever. The Departed? Children of Men? Pan’s Labyrinth? Give me a break. They were just “good.” I haven’t had an amazing cinema experience in a long long time. I guess I’ll just have to wait for Blades of Glory to come out.

Teaser photo by tammylo.


David Cross on YouTube

Warning: NSFW This video contains language that may not be appropriate for those under the age of 18.
But it sure is funny.

David Cross signs at a Spoon performance

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