David Cross On Hitting The Road And Keeping Ego Out Of ‘Mr. Show’

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The world can feel like a fractious place divorced from reason and reality. With that, it can be super easy to break things down by the red and blue of the map. I know I do, but comedian David Cross finds hope in the reddest places while touring the country.

In the moment, we’re talking about whether it’s depressing to see anti-science rhetoric winning out after his last tour when he was vocal in his pushback against anti-maskers. But Cross is exploring the whole map on his current Worst Daddy In The World Tour, which runs until the end of June and then back at it again (with stops across the pond as well) in the fall after a summer break for family time. And in going to states with a less than progressive reputation, he’s finding pockets, telling me, “The very thing that doesn’t get me too depressed is knowing there are tons of people out there, not just in Brooklyn, but in Knoxville, Tennessee and Missoula and Columbia, South Carolina, that feel the same way (as I do).”

By his estimation, this is the 6th or 7th go at the gauntlet of a massive tour, but it doesn’t seem routine so much as refined by experience. He goes to your town, he walks around, he connects, he slays with material that’s already fully baked (with the potential for tweaks and twists), and then it’s onto the next town. But this isn’t a Steve Miller Band song, Cross is holding onto the tether of his regular life and family, attached to an idea that stability is a good thing. Something that isn’t innate to someone like Cross who moved around a lot as a kid.

Here, we talk about the process of building his act and hitting the road, adjusting to the notion of permanence, the concept of imposter syndrome, and the egolessness of both the legendary Mr. Show and his 30+ year working relationship with Bob Odenkirk.

This tour you’ve set up in a specific way (scheduling breaks for family time), but you’ve been on tour, off and on, for years and years and years. Is that something that’s a little more tolerable for you because of the fact that you have some built-in adaptability (having moved around a lot as a kid)?

Oh, absolutely. The one thing it gives you, for better or worse and quite often both, is the ability to just cut bait and leave. And that includes emotionally too. You don’t get too close to people and you don’t get too comfortable. It’s just easy to go; all right, fuck it, I’m going to go to London, or; fuck it, I’m going to go to Detroit. I’m done here, and just get up and leave. As I said, it can be a good thing, can be a bad thing.

Was that an adjustment for you when you got married?

I just don’t afford myself that mindset anymore. You have to get rid of it, but I’m older, I’m more mature. It’s an adjustment I made.

I assume you go on tour, the idea is to polish the material to get it to a certain place, at the end of the tour, potentially to a special.

No, that’s not right. I don’t go out on the road until I’m ready to go out on the road.

Okay.

Luckily I live in Brooklyn and I can either walk or ride my bike to about five different venues, where I can shoot the shit and see what sticks. I start off with just lots of notes. I tape every set, I’m just riffing material over several sets and then weeks later or a month or two it starts to form and I go; okay. And then I do more time on stage, cut down the special guests and eventually I have the set that I’m going to go out on the road with and then that set is good.

The first show on this tour was in Portland. Great fun night, sold out. Portland’s always fun. I did Portland, Seattle and Vancouver. Those were my first three shows. It was great. The set that I did last night is different than the set I did in Portland, just because of what I said, it’s evolving. I tend to write on stage anyway and I’m riffing this bit. And then this thing that I go off on for a minute that was really good, that’s going to be part of the set. I try to never go over an hour and 20. I’m trying for an hour and 15. I don’t go over an hour 20, just because I think that starts getting a little self-indulgent. And then I’ve dropped a couple of bits that aren’t bad bits, but they now don’t fit in the flow.

I’ve got a nice flow that starts at point A and then it goes all the way around and wraps up at the end of the show. So it feels like there’s somewhat of a feeling of a theme or a story. Not a story, but an idea that’s come full circle and then those bits that I drop will go into the next set and they’re really good, they’re strong, but they just don’t fit anymore in the same way. And that’ll keep happening until I finish and I’ve always taped, and I’m doing it again this time, I’ve always taped the special halfway through the tour, which in this year is going to be in Salt Lake City. So I’m going to tape the special in Salt Lake City. It’s halfway through the tour and then at the end of the tour. I will record audio, because that will be different. It’ll be called the same thing, Worst Daddy In The World. But what you get on audio will be at least a third different than what you see, probably just more expanded.

What’s the germ of the title, The Worst Daddy in the World? Why are you a bad daddy?

I don’t think I am. My daughter does. She gave me that, not specifically, I just took it. She was whining, because I wouldn’t give her a third ice cream or some shit like that, and she was like; you’re the worst daddy in the world. And I was like; oh, there’s my title. There we go.

I’m curious about the other side of your career: writing, directing, acting. Anything in the pipeline there as far as another film?

Unfortunately, Bob Odenkirk and I, and his brother Bill, were developing a show for Paramount Plus, but they opted not to continue with it, so you will not be seeing that. I’ve shot a couple of things that will be coming out at some point. I just, literally days ago, wrapped on what I was doing on season four of Umbrella Academy, which was a fucking treat and an honor to be a part of that.

Are you surprised that the partnership with you and Bob has remained so strong over the years and that you guys still have that same back-and-forth? It’s hard to collaborate with people and you guys have been doing it for 30 years at this point.

I’m not surprised at all. He’s one of my closest friends and vice versa. And we both respect each other, make each other laugh, work very well together.

How do you keep ego out of it?

We never had any ego. I’m not a big ego guy and when I met Bob, he has less of an ego than I do and I don’t even really have one. So it was really impressive. That was one of the things that impressed me so much about him and I learned from him, when we were first starting, his ability to just edit his stuff down, to listen to other people and throw away two days worth of work and go, “You know what? This isn’t good. This line is good. Let’s start again with this line.” Whereas I’d be trying to fix it internally and it was a valuable lesson I learned from him. You’re just wasting your time sometimes, quite often, and it’s just like, “But we’ve been working for two days on this thing. I know there’s something there!”

“Yeah, it’s this line. We’re going to lose all the other stuff and just start over again.”

I don’t know if that directly correlates with ego, but it’s just his ability to go, “No, we’re going to do the right thing for the bit, for the sketch. And I know this was a really funny thing that I did, that it makes everybody laugh, but it doesn’t make any sense in the sketch, so I’m not going to do it.” And that guy does not have an ego and really nobody on Mr. Show had one. It was a pretty egoless atmosphere and those people all went on to do bigger, better things and they still don’t have egos. I guess water seeks its own level and like-mindedness and there was no room for it, and that’s not how we ran the writer’s rooms. And it was just understood and nobody pitched a fit. Ego was really never an issue.

Does imposter syndrome ever play into any of this? Or do you guys just have confidence in the work, in each other, that what you’re doing is good and you don’t have to question it, you just keep on moving forward?

Forgive my ignorance, but I’ve heard that term before, but I’m not exactly sure what it means. Imposter syndrome.

Well, as a blogger or writer, I can tell you it’s literally all I am. So it’s basically the idea that you feel like you’re not worth the job, the accolades, you feel like at any moment in time someone’s going to tap you on the shoulder and say, “Yeah, we got you, we caught up to you. You suck. Get the hell out of here.”

I think earlier on I definitely felt that. I think that a lot of standups have this internal idea like, “Oh my God, they’re going to find out I’m a fraud and I have these tricks that I do to make people laugh.” But just speaking for myself, I look at Mr. Show and I look at some of my standup, not all of it, but the bulk of it and I look at the other things I’ve created and been a part of and I can look at it and even though it’s subjective, I can say, well, that is demonstrably funny and interesting and smart. So you accumulate enough of that and then you can walk around going, “Okay, I’m not an imposter. I guess I am the real deal.” At some point.

Tour info and tickets for David Cross’ ‘The Worst Daddy In The World’ tour can be found here.

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