David Cross: interview
'Arrested Development' star and outspoken American stand-up David Cross takes time out from shooting his new sitcom in London to talk to Time Out about his duff start in comedy and why the Catholic Church is evil…
You started your career in comedy at the age of 17…
'Yeah, it was literally right before my eighteenth birthday. It's one of those things where it's factually 17, but I feel obligated to at least bracket it. It was 17, but I was 18 probably ten days after I did my first stand-up show. Do with it what you will. I was in high school, how about that?'
Where you were voted 'most humorous' by classmates in your graduation year book…
'Yeah, whatever. I mean, that's nice and all but I'm still waiting for my certificate and my award money. There was no banquet held for me, either, now I come to think of it.'
Do you remember your first routine?
'I don't remember all the material, but I remember the experience vividly. A friend of mine and I went down to this open mic night in Sandy Springs, a suburb of Atlanta, at a place called the Punch Line, which kind of became my comedy home in Atlanta after that. The whole experience was absurd to the point that, if you saw it in a movie, you'd question its authenticity. This was the very first time I'd ever done stand-up and I killed. I mean, I crushed - at one point I said, “Well, the red light's on, I gotta go,” and I've never seen it happen before or since but people in the audience were like, “No! Stay! Come on!” It was triumphant.
'I left imbued with the false idea that I was a great comic but I would say,no exaggeration - and really think of the number I'm telling you - I would say, the next 16 times I just ate it. Bombed. “Boo, you suck!” Crickets. Silence. “Get the fuck off the goddamn stage, asshole!” Exactly the same material. I couldn't understand it. I can't tell you what it was. It was crazy. It was like an amazingly well-constructed prank had been played on me.'
So what kept you going?
'The ability to justify my failure as being the audience's problem. It's not even arrogance, it's just a contempt for the audience, not as individuals but as a whole, as an entity. You keep going because something inside you says, “I know I'm funny.” So you blame them, “Well, I wasn't that funny this time, but they should have found the diamond of funniness within the unfunny carbon outer shell. It's up to them to chisel it out. Fuck them! What am I, a diamond cutter? Fuck this!” Eventually, though, you figure out it's you and not them.'
But you've never been one to pander to an audience, have you?
'Never, ever. I've got to say, though, I think most people from my clique - the “alternative scene”, if you will - nobody really panders, and maybe that's one of the differences between us and the mainstream.'
You've also never had any qualms about taking on the taboos of religion or politics…
'Well, religion will always be a part of my act, but it's interesting; I've never considered myself a political comedian. I don't sit down to write and go, “Oh shit, I need ten minutes of political comedy.” I didn't do a whole lot of stuff when Clinton was in office. I did a little bit more when the first Bush was in office, but there was a ton of stuff I did when George W Bush was president. It's all stuff that occurs to me, that is in my consciousness, that I'm talking about with friends or that I'm reading about.
'But it has to mean something; I never go for the stupid, simple, easy observations like, “Oh, Clinton got his dick sucked by Monica Lewinsky, blah blah blah.” That just doesn't seem like something worth talking about - all you're doing is just a stupid joke but with a politician as your pop culture reference instead of Britney Spears or whoever. However, in the new special that I just did, there's a thing about the healthcare vote and the whole Tea Party movement but there's nothing really political about it. It feels and sounds and smells like a political bit, but it's zero to do with politics and everything to do with American society and the sadly childish level of discourse we have in our country.'
One of your old routines about paedophilia within the Catholic Church has just become frighteningly relevant again…
'Well, it's always been there, it's just come out into the open now, that's the only difference. I fully believe it's been going on non-stop since the church started and it's only now that they've left a paper trail that you can point to. Until something is really done about it, will go on repeatedly, over and over again, every day with more kids, fresh kids. It's awful. It's one small side-reason of why I think the church is literally evil.'
You're over here at the moment shooting your new series, 'The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret' - what's it about?
'Well, it's about four astronauts, two of them are animated… No. That's my next show. It's a guy who flukes his way into a job. He's a temp worker at this office in the States where he's mistaken for being a hard-ass guy who can get things done, and lies about his capabilities and his experience and finds himself, literally 48 hours later, in London, heading up an office selling energy drinks. He's in way over his head, and every bad thing that can happen happens.'
There are a lot of your friends playing cameos in it…
'It's one of the luxuries of being where I am in the business. Not only do people not care if I cast my friends, they positively encourage it because I'm lucky enough to have some very talented friends. It also makes it a lot more fun on set, and to be able to write for Will Arnett or Spike Jonze, Amber Tamblyn or Sharon Horgan is a real joy. It also means you can relax a bit; you write something a bit funny and can go, “You know what? Will will make this bit really funny.” I think it's going really well, and it'll be on Channel 4 in the Fall.'
David Cross's DVD 'Davis Cross: Bigger and Blackerer' is out now.