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Interview Sat Jun 08 2013

Conversing with David Cross

David_Cross_Photo_Chi13_PHOTO CREDIT Peter Ash Lee.jpg

Coming to the city next week (June 11-16) is the TBS Just For Laughs Comedy Festival. The 5th anniversary brings some of the funniest legends and new upcomers alike across nine venues for five days.

I conversed with the versatile veteran David Cross, performing at the Chicago Theatre June 13, on the return of Arrested Development and how he keeps his own comedic process fresh, whether he's in a movie, a cartoon, on television or doing stand-up.

On behalf of many people I know, who love the new season of Arrested Development. I just wanted to thank you for making the 4th season happen.

Oh my pleasure, it was quite fun. It was a great time doing it once again.

Did it feel good putting the jean shorts back on again?

It was terrific.

When I first saw Arrested Development my friend showed me it on DVD, the show was already off the air but there were so many cult fans, myself included. Why do you think Arrested Development was ahead of its time?

Yeah I get asked that. I think the show was just not an easy thing to watch. In the sense that so many television comedies are fairly easy to watch. Friends is an easy show to watch, same people, you kind of know what they're going to say, they have certain characteristics, the setups and punch lines are pretty familiar, you don't have to think too much.

You know a lot of people watch television passively and that's fine. But occasionally a show comes along, and you may have to pay more attention, and the rewards are greater if you do so. And I think it took a little while for people to catch up to that, and by that time we were off the air.

Do you think people watch television differently now?

There will always people who gravitate towards Big Bang Theory, and there will always be a smaller segment of people who gravitate to something like Arrested Development. Those shows will keep happening. I don't think that's changed. I think people's attention span are less than they were 20 years ago and TV is the cause and the symptom of that. But yeah, I also don't know or care.

Why Netflix?

The short answer is Netflix is the one that said lets do this. Netflix did the most to air it. They approached us and said lets do this. Fox didn't have any interest to do that.

So what's going on in Chicago with your Just For Laughs performance? You and your buddies? Is it stand-up or sketch stuff?

No, it's stand-up. I'm going to do stand-up and I'm hosting the show. They asked me to pick some folks out and these guys are all friends, whose stand-up I dig. So it should be a funny thing. There's not going to be a bunch of mysterious sketches and dramatic things happening. It's a show but it will be a good show...with friends. A variety of comedies.

I know you've performed all over. When you come to Chicago, what is you impression of the city?

I love Chicago, I don't like it when it's really hot or really cold, but that pretty much applies to anyplace. I was there briefly there in '87 or '86. I was there in the summer, I spent a month in the winter. I was at the corner of Racine and Wellington. I found people very, very friendly. It's a very sociable, fun place that doesn't have that big city attitude.

When you go to Boston or L.A., two places I lived before living in New York, they have this real palpable sense of competition with New York. They're constantly mentioning it, "We're better than New York. Fuck New York, we're this."

With Chicago, you don't have any sense of that, it's just Chicago, they don't give a shit how you compare them to other cities, and they know they're a great city and they're unique and have an incredible history and that's one of the things I like about it.

But every year there will be some L.A. magazine or West coast magazine, or wherever the fuck they are, you know like, "50 Reasons Why We're Better Than New York." First of all, I don't agree with you and second of all who gives a shit.

You never have that sense with Chicago. As a city, it has a nice high level of self esteem.

Why do you think Chicago has this draw for comedy?

I don't know if it's Del Close you have to thank for that. Establishing a kind of genre that's a groundbreaking form of comedy and drawing people to that. Back in the '50s, that's 65 years ago, where there's just generations after generations who have took it and built it along the way, its not really known for stand up at all. But certainly an appreciation for "improv." So people go there for that.

It seems Chicago is the midwife for comedians. That eventually they end up on the West or East coasts.

Well that's where the film and TV business is. Chicago literally, geographically, being a midway point, that you go through sometimes to get to that other destination.

Any other projects you're working on?

It's A Disaster just came out on DVD and Blu-Ray. In the fall, the film Kill Your Darlings, and I just did a movie called Obvious Child. I'm writing a pilot for Showtime. I have a book coming out in September. I will hopefully be shooting this movie in New York this summer. Then I imagine I'll do a focused stand-up tour at the end of the fall and the winter, and be ready to get back doing a full 1½ hour show. Like the last few tours.

You do it all. Television, movies, books, stand-up. In your opinion, what's your favorite outlet?

They all have their own value to me. I don't really have a favorite. The one that I couldn't do without would be stand-up. This is a strange hypothetical situation to be in, I don't know why I would be in this, but maybe if there was some sort weird psychological experiment where my wife is kidnapped and they tell me, "You have to give one thing up, for her to live," and they're studying me to see what that thing would be, I can't think of why this hypothetical situation would ever exist. But, if I could give one thing would not be stand-up.

Does the process of creating comedy just ever become tiring, does the process ever become stale?

Oh absolutely, I've been through them. Outside of an emotional heart-wrenching break-up, I think it's the worst thing. The worst periods I've gone through. It's almost like insomnia, where you just tend to not sleep and feel frustrated. But instead of that, I can't think of anything, I'm just stuck. The worst is when you're stuck and you can't do stand-up and as you go out there you're hoping that maybe tonight everything will click. Then you do some shitty set. Then you realize, I got nothing, nothing feels right, I can't think of anything funny. It's really frustrating.

Is there ever a shortage of material? Or does the country and culture just keep providing you with some more?

No, it's not for a lack of topics, it's usually because your mind is not working the way it normally works.

How do you hit the refresh button?

There's no magical cure. I wish there was. I wish there was some easy fix, like something stupid. "Hey man, go to the beach and chill for a week. Clear your mind and meditate." It just doesn't work. You just have to get past that point. I wish there was some easy fix, but there isn't.

For all these years, why is the process of stand-up necessary to you in your life?

Maybe it's in some ways vanity. You have a microphone and people come to listen to what you have to say, and they laugh at you, and you feel good about that. It begins this validation and purpose. But, that's not in the forefront of your consciousness, there's a need for it more than I have with writing, or developing a show, or acting.

If there is anything that helps you hit the refresh button, it's getting up on stage and get those wheels turning that way. That will help with any other facet of creativity.

Do you do it for other people, or do you do it for yourself?

It's mostly for myself, to be honest. I'm glad that people like it, but I've also had this feeling, "Well I'm going to say what I'm going to say, and if you're on board, you're on board, but if you're not, don't worry there will be another comedian in 15 minutes." But it's mostly for me. But obviously you develop the show for them.

I don't really write jokes. I'll go up and record my set and kind of hone them based on what I was talking on stage and the feedback from the audience helps me develop that material. And then you can go, "Well this is that thing that worked, that people responded to."

You've done so much in the past 30 years, from movies, TV series, stand-up, producing and writing. I would say you are a veteran in the game. But I had the pleasure of talking with Bob Newhart -- what does that make him?

Oh gosh, if I'm a veteran, that makes Bob Newhart... I guess an Olympiad God. A 5-star General.


See David Cross at the Chicago Theatre, Saturday, June 13 at 7:30pm. Click here for tickets and information on other performances at the TBS Just For Laughs Comedy Festival.

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Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
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Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

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