'While I’m doing Alvin And The Chipmunks, I’m thinking of awful risque things'
Interview with David Cross
I took this information from Wikipedia so not sure how accurate this is – but is it true you went to a performing arts school in Atlanta?
Yes that is true.
Have you always been destined to perform?
Yeah kind of, I don’t know how much I did until I went to that school when I was around 15. Before that, I was in a typical suburban lily-white school and it was awful, I hated it. Everyday my life sucked. So that was a big deal for me. It was really important. As great as it was to take theatre and acting classes, it was just being able to get out of out of that conservative and restrictive jock-type school [and] courses in a bunch of crap that I was never going to utilise
Was your school very like Fame, singing and dancing in the cafeteria?
Well one of the funniest and most pathetic things I have ever seen was when I started going to that school. It was right when Fame came out. Do you know that part in the movie when a guy starts banging a tune with his knife and fork in the cafeteria and then someone joins in with a saxophone and then everyone starts dancing, and all that crap.
I remember being in the cafeteria when a couple of a people tried to make this happen, and it was the saddest thing ever. There were five or six people in on it, and that was fine, but for everyone else who was sitting there with sandwiches in their mouths, they were going, “What the fuck are you doing? Are you seriously trying to do that thing you see in the movies that was choreographed for two weeks? We’re eating our lunch – stop it.”
Your career is varied, from pretty risque stand up to Alvin And The Chipmunks. Do you ever feel a little schizophrenic?
No I mean, not really, because of the way my mind works while I’m doing Alvin And The Chipmunks, sitting on the set that day I’m thinking about those awful risque things that you describe. I guess if I watched all my stuff all the time then I would be a little schizophrenic, but, you know, I haven’t seen any of that stuff.
I read that you were once booked to perform in a Jesuit college to people who had never seen your stand-up. I’m guessing that didn’t go too well.
I wouldn’t call it the worst gig I have ever had, but it was the most unnerving – that’s how I would describe it. Believe me, I’ve been in plenty of situations when the audience didn’t like me. And I’ve felt physically threatened.
I didn’t feel like that, but it was not good. 300 people walked out, and one guy came up onstage while I was doing my set and that was unnerving. And of course there were people waiting to talk to me about Jesus afterwards who were very upset. You know, because I was making fun of their “best friend”.
When I was on my way over to the gig, I asked the students who picked me up in the car: “So what’s the town like? What are the schools like?’ And they replied, “Yeah we’re pretty established, been around 150 years, probably one of the highest rated Jesuit schools in the nation.” And I was like, “Jesuit school?! Have you guys seen my act?” and they said “No, not your stand-up. You’re the Chicken Pot Pie guy from Just Shoot Me.”
You were also in Arrested Development. To many fans, it was the best comedy ever made. Why was it not successful in terms of audiences?
I think it was a couple things. One is that it was a tough show to come into in the middle. It wasn’t extremely difficult but there was some information about the characters and their relationships that would be helpful to know if you were coming into it late.
Also it was so pushed by people; people who loved it really loved it. People were like “Oh man you got to check out this show and you’re a fucking asshole if you don’t like it.” People who were on the fence about it were put off by that attitude and that was a tiny part of it.
But the biggest part which outweighs any other part was because it was purely a victim of bad timing. When Arrested Development was cancelled, they hadn’t yet started calculating the people who Tivoed or DVRed the show to watch later. They didn’t start counting those factors into “viewership” until the year after we were cancelled.
So you have this new series on More 4, The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, which you star in and co-wrote with Shaun Pye. Can you sum it up?
Well it is not your typical American sitcom. There is a story which has a beginning, middle and end. Each episode takes place the very next day, and we start with Todd in the dock and then flashback to two weeks earlier.
So we get to see how he got there and what’s going to happen. We follow this kind of ambitionless, soft, kind of nothing guy who’s a temp in some unnamed company, who just completely flukes into an opportunity to immediately go to London to head up a satellite office and sell energy drinks to the UK.
He is in way over his head in absolutely every aspect of this, and he bluffs his way into the job because he has an equally ignorant boss who is played by Will Arnett. He lies about his familiarity with the UK and he knows nothing. He’s never even been outside of Portland, Oregon, in his life.
He is well-meaning but his poor decisions to try and make everything right by telling these often ridiculous lies just compounds the situation as the show progresses.
On his co-stars:
Do you enjoy being the leading man?
I don’t mind it. Work is work and a role is a role. I wish I had more time to do the other off-camera stuff though. I would love to sit back and be at the video monitors and concentrating on writing, and what the whole show looks like. I certainly enjoy the role that I’m going to play. I just wish there wasn’t so much of it as there is other stuff that I would rather be doing. I really should talk to the writer about lessening my part.
The series is being shown in the US but it is basically a British production. Why did you decide to do something over here?
I didn’t really; I was approached by Clelia Mountford and Jane Bell at RDF Media. I was in London doing some stand-up and they came up to me after one of my shows and basically asked me if I was interested. They said: “We are trying to create a project to team up an American actor/writer with a British writer/producer to create a show to star you, co-written by you for the UK with the potential to sell it to the US as well.” That’s where the whole thing came from. The show and the story is my idea, but the idea to do it was their idea.
I was here for a total of six months, writing, then doing pre-production, then shooting and there was about six or seven weeks of editing and mixing and stuff. Also my dad is actually from Leeds – that is one very true piece of trivia. He is one of five kids and he was like 14 or 15 when he moved to the Bronx, right after the war.
Do you think there is a different sense of humour here in this country than in America?
Not really. I mean it is tough to generalise the sense of humour of 335 million people, you could say that the Brits enjoy the cringe humour more than the Americans but that still means that there are more Americans than Brits that enjoy cringe humour. It’s just not represented well; you don’t see a lot of it on TV in the States.
There really isn’t much more of a difference. The one subject thing that is brought up here in Britain is class and that’s not a big source of humour for us. We also have comedy shows that are based on race and ethnicities and that’s not the biggest source of humour for your guys. The differences are very slight though.
The show was originally part of the Comedy Showcase; did you have the whole series worked out then? Or did you do the pilot and see how that was and then start writing the rest of the series?
A little bit of both, I definitely had an idea of where I wanted it to go. I knew I wanted to start in the dock and I kind of always knew what the end was going to be and certainly, the beginning, but the middle was not written or conceived, so that’s the stuff I had to come up with.
I could go four more series pretty easily and feel good about it, with each episode taking place the very next day. I have that mapped out now, should we be asked to do more.
With Shaun Pye describing the series:
Finally, what kind of reception do you get here? Do people recognise you? And what from?
By far the most recognition comes from Arrested Development. It had a huge, appreciative bunch of fans here who watched it daily and then of course there are people who recognise me from Alvin and The Chipmunks, but eight out of ten times it is Arrested Development.
- The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret starts on More 4 at 10.30pm on November 14.
Posted: 29 Oct 2010