Profile in Comedy: David Cross
David Cross was born in Atlanta, attended Emerson College in Boston, dropped out immediately, went to Los Angeles, and got on TV. He starred in HBO's Mr. Show and Fox's Arrested Development. He currently lives in New York City with his dog.
When did you first realize that you were uniquely funny?
I'm not sure about “uniquely” but when I was a kid and moved around the country a lot, once a year at the very least, and it was the only way a freak (read: “Jew”) could make friends.
Who do you think were your influences?
Andy Kaufman, Monty Python, Lou Costello, Steven Wright, Richard Pryor, and Lenny Bruce for sure in the early days.
Do you remember your first original joke?
Yes, I do! When I was about six or seven I came up with the joke, “When a baby boy is born how do you know if he's Jewish? If he's got Matzoh balls.”
When did you realize that comedy was something you had to do for a living?
I don't think I ever thought of it as something that I “had” to do ever. I just knew I wanted to and that I was suited for it.
What was your first job in comedy writing or performance?
The first time I got paid to do stand-up was when I was eighteen years old and I opened for a band in Atlanta. I remember the name was Mr. Phelps at a club called The Nitery. It's now a respectable gay bar. I got like thirty bucks and a bunch of beer.
What is the biggest difficulty you've encountered being a comedy writer?
Discipline. Without a doubt, the toughest thing to defeat.
How do you define “alternative comedy?”
Well, it's a manufactured phrase, but I suppose it has to do with “nontraditional” stand-up preformed at nontraditional spaces, i.e., standing in the back of a coffee house talking about a terrible blow job you got or gave last night.
With Mr. Show and Arrested Development, how much did ad libs and improv contribute to the final product?
With Mr. Show it was pretty much a constant crafting of the sketch right up until taping. I don't think anyone ad libbed when the camera was rolling on tape night, though. As for Arrested Development, very little. The first year there was definitely more but still not as much as people think.
Are there jokes that you do “just for you?”
In the sense that there is a joke that I know rarely goes over well but I think is funny or I want to test the crowd, yes. Lots, actually.
What are the differences between writing for yourself and writing for others?
I've never specifically written for another person, only in the abstract where I'm writing a sketch and I know someone other than myself will play “waiter number two,” and that doesn't change anything really.
What do you find exciting about comedy right now?
I suppose the idea that with the Internet, anybody with twenty cents can put their ideas out there. Of course this could lead to a glut of shit on TV and film when inevitably HBO or Showtime or Comedy Central decide to throw 10 million bucks at something like “Funny or Die” for an overall deal and then we're bombarded with painful crap.
Where do you think the future of comedy is headed?
As audiences are becoming more specific and more segmented, is that making your job easier or more difficult?
Well, I think that goes part and parcel with awareness of me. As I gain more exposure more people are going to see me and say, “awesome!” or “ugh, what an unfunny asshole,” which is pretty much the way it's been since I've become a known entity out there in the comedy world. So to answer your question, both.
What is the best thing about being a comedy writer?
The perks. Free office supplies, almonds, Snapple, shit like that.
Do you have any advice for up-and-coming comedy writers?
Experience as much as you can all the time, THEN write about it.