David Cross

Occasionally bearded genius, cofounder of alt-comedy

"If you don't know about Hanukkah, I'll give you a brief little history. Hanukkah was conceived in 1957 by an optometrist in Nova Scotia, Dr. Maurice Tarnouer. And a lot of people think it's some sort of answer to Christmas to appease children who see the

"If you don't know about Hanukkah, I'll give you a brief little history. Hanukkah was conceived in 1957 by an optometrist in Nova Scotia, Dr. Maurice Tarnouer. And a lot of people think it's some sort of answer to Christmas to appease children who see the

When you travel, what’s the first thing you do when you get home?
David Cross: Literally, a slice is the first thing—I’ll go to Nino’s—just to get that craving satiated. Sometimes I’ll land at La Guardia dead tired and have to wait in line at baggage claim and wait for a taxi. It’s eleven at night, I’ve been up for 36 hours. And then the cab approaches the Williamsburg Bridge, and it’s like I’ve done two lines—two fat lines—of coke. You just feel the energy that no other city has. All the sudden, I’m calling people, going, “Hey man, let’s go out! I’m back in town!”

Who’s your favorite New Yorker?
David Cross: One is a guy who works in my building named Eddie. He personifies what I love about New York. He’s very friendly—New Yorkers get a remarkably undeserved reputation for being unfriendly; brusqueness is mistaken for it. (People in Boston are fucking pricks; I lived there for nine years, and they can kiss my ass.) Eddie is also a caricature of the guy who knows everyone in the neighborhood. And he’s a Yankees fan, and I’m a Red Sox, so there’s a lot of playfulness.

What does the comedy scene in New York have over its competitors?
David Cross: New York’s main competition is L.A., but New York has a very—at least in the alternative scene—healthy, supportive, almost egoless community that works with each other to get work. Maybe it’s a tacit understanding that it’s better for everybody if we help each other out. Nothing comes off being bitter and jealous.

Who on our list would you like to have coffee with?
David Cross: Jay-Z. Or the mayor. I don’t know how many questions I’d have for Jay-Z; I just want to hang out with him. For the mayor, though, I want to ask him—off the record—what really happens. How do you get elected? What lies do you tell yourself? Tell the people? Does the end justify the means? Should I get out of the East Village now? Can you keep the proliferation of the mallification of New York to Times Square, which is already ruined?

Which event in the past 13 years has had the biggest impact on New York?
David Cross: 9/11 is the obvious answer. But—pretending that didn’t happen—I’d say the resurgence of the New York music scene. The Walkmen, the Strokes, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, around 2000 to 2002—and then Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and all the Brooklyn bands. It created a bunch of new clubs that might not have existed, the media became refocused on the scene, more opportunities arose. It’s a slow rippling outward.

You’re a vocal atheist. Is it easier to be godless in New York?
David Cross: Yes, only in the sense that there’s an absence of the outrage I constantly feel in other places. One of the great things about New York truly is the mix of ethnicities, philosophies, culture. Everyone gets along—you have to! It’s one of the intangibles that makes the city great. In Boston, I can’t buy beer on Sunday because of some superstitious nonsense a man wrote before there were calendars. But here, you feel left alone. You don’t feel the touch of it, the touch of grown men who wear costumes and prance around and have secret handshakes. They can’t control the city; there’s such a mix here that no one thing dominates.

What’s your favorite moment from the last 13 years?
David Cross: The blackout in 2002. It’s strange to feel proud of a city; that’s a rare thing. Strangers were coming together, helping each other out. I think it had to do with coming so quickly after 9/11. This one guy on the street was like, “Hey man, if you have any meat in your freezer, we’re gonna get a grill up.” There must have been 50 strangers hanging out: kids, some drunk tattooed fireman next to some vegan yoga girl.

I was in Tompkins Square Park that night. There was a drum circle going, I was up in a tree, this friend of mine—I didn’t know he was there—got naked. And then a cop car snaked through the park. There was a palpable moment of “The police are here! What’s gonna happen?” And then the cop got on the PA and started singing “New York, New York.” I’m getting goose bumps right now.

What are your hopes for New York?
David Cross: My pressing urgent hope is that the city is able to keep its character and doesn’t sell out to corporate interests, like Atlanta, which is just at the tipping point of losing its character completely. I remember when the Gap opened on St. Marks Street, and I remember when it closed. Throw it all in Times Square! That’s where people go who want that shit anyway; they may as well just watch a movie about New York, on a plane while flying to L.A. to look at the Hollywood names of stars etched in pavement.

What does Time Out mean to you?
David Cross: No bullshit: It’s a really good, trustworthy compendium of the things I’m interested in, and of what’s happening. If I get homesick, I pick up an issue of Time Out—even if I won’t be able to participate in any of the things happening—just to make me feel better and to remember.

Complete the sentence: New York is…
David Cross: …better than chocolate-covered heroin.

Wait, if you’re shooting heroin, you wouldn’t even notice the chocolate in it. How is that more beneficial?
David Cross: No, this is a world of heroin chocolate. It’s just a fun new thing to do. Heroin and chocolate. And New York is better.

Next: Tony Kushner >

The New York 40:

Adam Rapp
Amy Sedaris
Anderson Cooper
Basil Twist
Christine Quinn
Christopher Wheeldon
Danny Meyer
David Cross
David Remnick
Derek Jeter
Dick Zigun
Elizabeth LeCompte
Elizabeth Marvel
Eliot Spitzer
Gavin Brown
James Murphy
Joe Torre
John Zorn
Jonathan Lethem
Junot Díaz
Kelly Reichardt
Kiki & Herb
Liev Schreiber
Lisa Phillips
Michael Bloomberg
Nellie McKay
Pat Kiernan
Patti LuPone
Peter Gelb
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Richard Serra
Sarah Michelson
Stephen Colbert
Tim Gunn
Tina Fey
Tony Kushner
Upright Citizens Brigade