September 2009

Don’t Cross Him

Hometown comic David Cross thinks there’s something tragic about Atlanta
Interview by Charles Bethea

I’d appreciate it if you’d ask your questions in a high-pitched Southern-belle accent,” David Cross tells me. The comedian isn’t kidding. Cross, forty-five and an Atlanta native, pushes the boundaries of his interviews the same way he pushes his political and sketch comedy, which has been illustrated—to critical acclaim, if not mainstream success—on stage (Shut Up, You F--king Baby), the small screen (Arrested Development), the big screen (Year One), and now in his new book of memoir/essays/satire, I Drink for a Reason.

You’ve described yourself as “sort of Southern.” What does that mean? I haven’t lived in the South for more than twenty years. Still, I have what I’d consider Southern traits. They come out at odd moments. I remember walking down the sidewalk with this girl I was dating, and I went a few paces over to my left and spit in the street. She was from Houston, and she goes, “Oh, nice Southern boy, spits in the street.”

So when you mock Atlanta in your stand-up routines, are you playing it up? It’s a love-hate relationship. I am disappointed with Atlanta. I love the people, the music scene. Some of my favorite bars and restaurants are there. I’ve got family there and lots of friends. But from the late nineties on, it really sold a lot of its soul and beauty to the strip-mall-ification of it. Where once there was this beautiful patch of woods or cool buildings, there’s now yet another Barnes & Noble or Linens ’n Things. I know it’s growing, but come on. There’s a small tragedy about it.

What was Northside High School like in the early eighties?
I was actually one of the few people who had a really good experience in high school. I had been going to school in Roswell at a place called Crestwood. I felt so out of place, and I didn’t have many friends. It was very white, Baptist, suburban—just a world I wasn’t comfortable in, though I tried: I actually chewed tobacco for a year and ran around in a sleeveless puffy vest. But Northside was a school of the arts; I got to spend that time with a great acting teacher who steered me in a good direction.

Where’d you hang out? As a kid it was all about riding my bike down to the creek and the woods, catching crawdads, playing with firecrackers. This was in Roswell. At fifteen, I moved to a place off of Howell Mill, and my friends and I just drank. We’d go to Collier Park, and climb a billboard Downtown, by the Days Inn. We’d go to the top of the Biltmore and drink beer up there, and the top of the Hyatt Regency. There were midnight movies at Perimeter Mall. I had a fake ID, so I’d go to 688, and the bistro on Spring Street. Then, sometimes, comedy clubs: I started doing stand-up shortly before my eighteenth birthday. Then I got into the whole crazy, artsy, New Wave scene. I hung out with RuPaul and some of those guys. Then, about three in the morning, go to the Waffle House.

Are you proud of your book? I am proud of it. At least that I wrote it. It’s not going to change the world, and it’s not going to be compared to Mark Twain or Voltaire. But for what it is, I think it’s pretty good. I’m happy that it’s not a rehash of my stand-up. Way too many comedians get a book deal and put the stand-up they don’t use anymore in it. I think that’s reprehensible.

Photograph by Jammi York