Cross Purposes

When asked if he considers any subject to be off limits, comedian David Cross replies, with as much mock seriousness as he can muster, "I will not talk about Fox News. That's sacrosanct." Not ten minutes later, however, Cross blithely breaks this pledge, describing the cable service as "garbage. It's effective, but that's because a lot of people are stupid. There are stupid people in every country, but certainly America has tens of millions of really stupid people. And Fox News is perfect for them."

Obviously, Cross is a man for whom censorship is a dirty word -- and because he's among the funniest, most incisive comics treading terra firma, he usually gets away with speaking the truth as he understands it. Still, he's making a concerted effort to treat those startled or confused by his views with at least a smidgen of compassion. "I was in Athens, Georgia, earlier this month, and I wrote a reminder to myself on the corner of my notes that said 'Be nice.' Because it's very frustrating dealing with ignorance."

At this point in his career, Cross doesn't need to subject himself to such annoyances. After all, he's a popular character actor, having been spotlighted in films such as Men in Black, Scary Movie and Ghost World, not to mention plenty of TV programs; as he puts it, "I kind of supplement my income with these corny commercial projects." Cross currently provides voiceover narration for Oliver Beene, a sitcom on Fox, parent network to his favorite news purveyor. "I get a bunch of money for doing it," he says. "Occasionally I'll go into a studio, knock out a couple of shows in two hours and I'm gone. I forget about it as soon as I walk out the door."

What Cross fans remember most fondly is Mr. Show, a smart, eccentric comedy series than ran on HBO from 1995 to 1998. The program, which paired Cross with cohort Bob Odenkirk, spawned a cult following that would do Jim Jones proud, yet a movie spinoff, Run, Ronnie, Run, has been locked in the vaults of New Line Cinema for over a year and may never appear in the nation's multiplexes. Odenkirk and his wife, Naomi Odenkirk, recount this saga in a recently released book, Mr. Show: What Happened? But according to Cross, neither he nor Odenkirk are interested in bemoaning their fate.

"We're not Hollywood martyrs," he says. "That idea is distasteful to both Bob and me. We've moved on. He's getting a lot of accolades for a new movie he directed [Melvin Goes to Dinner, in which Cross is featured], and I'm doing standup, which makes me happy."

It also presents a challenge he's eager to take on. "I'm going back to clubs, which I do not care for, to face the kind of audience that I didn't face on my last two tours. Then, I was basically preaching to the choir, and it was great. But I need to put myself in the position where I might have a shitty set because 10 or 15 percent of the audience is going to loathe what I say. It forces me to learn how to explain myself in an economical way."

An example? "I do this joke where I say, 'I do not support the war, but I do support the white troops.' Now, to me, that's a funny joke, and it points out that you'll find more racists within the pro-war Republican right wing in this country than you will in the left wing. To explain that means there's twenty seconds of unfunny shit, but I've done it a couple of times when people haven't understood that I'm joking."

On the other hand, he says, "it's a good thing sometimes when people forget that I'm joking, because it shows me they're listening. In a way, that means I'm doing my job."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts