Q&A: David Cross
David Cross is on tour for the first time in five years, providing him a rare break from his prolific work on film and television. Series such as W/ Bob and David and The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret have recently found him pushing comedy boundaries into more innovative territories. Cross, who appears May 7 at the Joint inside the Hard Rock Hotel, spoke with Las Vegas Magazine’s Matt Kelemen about how recovering from surgery led to his return to stand-up.
Do you think you’d be doing a stand-up tour this year if your shoulder surgery in September didn’t interfere with working on film and TV productions?
No. I mean that was really the … the project that I was going to be working on, that I had carved out a bunch of time for, got postponed, and then I found out that I needed this surgery, which was pretty intensive. So yeah, that’s what made me consider it, think about it.
What was wrong with your shoulder? Did you injure it?
It’s an old injury that I never took care of that got really bad. I didn’t know how bad it was until I went and got an MRI and X-rays, and the doctors were like, “You have to do this right now. You have to do this.” Two of the four tendons that hold it on were completely ripped off and recessed under the cuff.
Have you recuperated pretty well? You’ve already been on tour for a while.
Yeah, I had the surgery in October. I discussed everything with the surgeons and the hospital and everything, and worked out a plan trying to do a slightly more intensive beginning of the physical therapy so that I could go out on the road at a certain time, which is when I started the tour and I told the booking agent that I had to be in New York for this period of time. I had printouts, and they gave me all the stuff I’d need to use, and I was pretty good with it. I maybe missed two or three little sessions that I had to conduct on my own, but it was pretty good. I’m about 90 percent back to normal. It takes like a full year to get back to normal, but I’m doing good.
Was it cool to be able to catalog the last five years of stand-up ideas while you were recovering?
Eh, I wouldn’t say it was cool. It’s always a little daunting when you start putting stuff together and I go through the same thing every time. I did for this as well: “Oh no, do I have enough material? Is this going to work? Is it good enough? What structure should I put it in? Is this thing too weak?" The thing about the surgery is it’s really inconvenient. You can’t use your arm for months. Even after I got it out of the sling the initial pain from having screws out in your bones was … you know, you can’t lift anything. It wasn’t a pleasant time.
You keep waking up in pain from rolling over on your arm while your sleeping.
Oh yeah. I had this whole thing kind of kitted up. You can’t really sleep on your side. You have to sleep standing up, and I had this whole thing with all these pillows and blankets that were set up to do that. Anybody who’s had the surgery knows what I’m talking about, but yeah, I had a time I had to get everything ready by. Went out, started working on bits, then did two kind of unannounced one-hour drop-ins to see if it was the right sequencing. That’s usually the biggest question. I’ve got all this material, but what goes where? There’s no way to really know what it’s going to be like to come out on stage in front of, whatever it is, 1,600, 2,000 people, and do an hour-plus until you actually do it—as many little kind of warm-up sessions that I could do in a basement in Brooklyn for 40 people. I guess there’s no real way to know until you do it. Jumped right in, now I’m a little over halfway through, I think.
You’ve mentioned that your approach to stand-up hasn’t changed much, at least since the mid-to-late '90s.
One-third jokes, one-third topical, one-third anecdotal.
That’s not really how I approach it. That’s how it ends up shaking out. If I wanted to I’ve certainly got enough material that three-fifths of it could be anecdotal, and two-fifths jokes and no topical stuff, or I could mix it up, I just think this is a pretty good, evenly distributed hour and 15 minutes, I think.
You’ve also talked about becoming more intuitive. Can you pinpoint certain times when it felt like you were hitting a new level? Like all of a sudden something that required focus became more instinctive?
I can’t pinpoint anything. It’s just after doing the same thing over and over and over again, I can look at my … you know, probably the biggest difference is trying to approach this set and this evening in a different way than I did the last tour, which was a different way from the time I did it before that. First time I did it, it was consciously loose and rambling. I had bands open up, it was all in music venues and it was all standing. It was just a night of kind of drunken debauchery, and I would be up there for two hours, two-and-a-half hours drinking the whole time. It was very loose and more of a dialogue almost, and then the second time I went out it was a little less of that but with all sorts of plants in the audience. This was just, “I’m going to do this at theaters. I’m not going to have an opener. I’m going to come out and do an hour and 15 minutes, maybe longer, and it’s going to be tighter. I’m going to work towards that, because I haven’t really done that.” So that’s somewhat of an evolution, but I just wanted to approach it differently each time, each tour.
You’re hallway through this tour. Have you noticed any change in audiences from five years ago? Social media’s been around awhile, but the impact on attention spans and people feeling there’s less of a boundary between performers and themselves had definitely evolved.
I don’t feel a change in that aspect at all, no, but there are more people attending that don’t really know my stand-up. They know me from numerous acting things and are not necessarily familiar with my stand-up. That’s slightly different, and one interesting aspect is that my audience has expanded because now that I’m older, I’ve always had younger fans, and especially when I was in my 30s. Now I’m in my 50s and I still have those [younger] fans, but I also have older fans from when I was 30. You didn’t have a lot of 50-year-olds coming to my show, so now it’s expanded, which is great.
Your stand-up style has been pretty consistent; one thing that’s marked the more popular film and TV work of your current career arc is innovation in structure. Whether it’s your project or something you signed on for, it seems like they are taking things to the next level. Is that a conscious process, or just a pattern in your work at this stage in your career?
I think it’s just, without knowing exactly what you’re referencing it’s probably just I get a little bored with standard stuff and want to introduce different aspects to it. I kind of always have leaned towards doing that, although I don’t really do it that much on this tour. It’s probably more straight-ahead standup.
The latest season of Todd Margret and your recent film directing debut Hits were pushing the envelope forward in terms of challenging the audience with a little more of an unconventional structure.
Oh, okay. I see. Well, certainly with Todd Margaret. That last season was pretty crazy. I’m not sure that’s ever really been done before. I’m not sure to what degree Hits expanded anything. I mean, I liked it, but there’s no kind of pushing the envelope, I didn’t think, or groundbreaking aspect to that.
No, but I think the satirical aspect touched on an emerging reactionary in society people haven’t really portrayed in films much yet.
Oh sure, yeah. There a cool thing in there where—I don’t know if anybody noticed it—there are three different points where people say, “We’re here to help,” like they say that exact line, three very different people, and none of them are helping. At some point in the movie these three very different people are like, “We’re here to help.”
But it’s all about them.
They’re not helping at all.