David Cross at SF Sketchfest 2024.

Interview: Talking to David Cross About SF Sketchfest, His Podcast, & Florida

David Cross at SF Sketchfest 2024.
David Cross at SF Sketchfest 2024.

David Cross can’t remember exactly how long he’s been coming to SF Sketchfest, but he’s going to guess that this year is at least his 5th or 6th time back. And it makes sense that he would frequent one of the biggest comedy festivals. As a staple of the comedy community for over 30 years now, he’s got a legion of fans that consider Mr. Show or Arrested Development to be required viewings for their closest loved ones.

Cross’s stand-up has always been in a unique class all itself, as he blends together the subversive with the boundary pushing. This is evidenced in his latest special, Worst Daddy in the World. He is just as willing as ever to hold nothing back when it comes to sharing his views onstage, nor will he make apologies for them. “That ship sailed a long time ago,” he says with a laugh.

You can feel all of the love coming right back towards him as he unassumingly walks out onto the stage of Club Fugazi in San Francisco, which has the vibes of an old school burlesque joint. This is clearly a crowd made up of hipper comedy devotees. Dressed in a bright yellow hoodie, he kicks off the show by sharing a personal anecdote about San Francisco. About 25 years earlier, he relates, he drove up to San Francisco for a weekend to drop acid. “LA’s one of the worst places to drop acid,” he assures us. Whereas San Francisco, he reckons, is one of the best. It’s during that particular trip - and the trip there within - when he had a revelation while sitting on a stoop that San Francisco should change its name to “Gay Vampire Night.”

Cross also has a brand-new podcast he just came out with, Senses Working Overtime. The podcast features Cross speaking with a variety of guests and friends that includes Bob Odenkirk, Jason Bateman, Steve-O, Joe Firestone, Marc Maron, Janeane Garofalo, Rob Delaney, Eugene Mirman, and his wife, Amber Tamblyn. Very rarely do they ever get to talking about the podcast’s hook, the five senses.

The next morning after his show, I sat down with David Cross in the lobby of his hotel - Hotel Kabuki - just before he headed back to New York. During our early morning chat, we talked about San Francisco, his reluctance to find a hook for his podcast, naming his specials, touring in the Florida, doing stand-up as different characters early on, and more.

How long have you been coming to SF Sketchfest?

I’m gonna guess that it’s my 5th or 6th one here. It’s probably more but I don’t remember it. Somebody told me “Oh yeah. I saw your Tinkle show.” Tinkle is a show that I did in New York with John Benjamin and Todd Barry. I still don’t remember doing that show here. But that was in 2006, so that’s going way back. I think there was a Mr. Show thing a long time ago. I don’t remember. I’m gonna guess five or six times I’ve done it maybe, but I’m gonna guess it’s probably more than that because people keep going “Oh yeah. I saw you do that thing,” or “You yelled at that guy for bringing his son and telling him it was inappropriate.” I have no memory of that at all.

So I guess the short answer is I don’t know. (Laughs).

But that says a lot about the festival that you keep coming back.

Oh I love it. It’s great. It’s very well run. And it’s definitely artist friendly. Comedians have put it together and it’s a monumental task. The logistics of something like this is way beyond my skill set. And they do it well, it’s run very well. It’s always a pleasure to come out here. I really like coming to San Francisco. When it rolls around, I’m like “Yeah absolutely.”

This is my first time here and all the audiences seem great.

Oh yeah, they’re great. All of the audiences are great, too. When I go on tour, I’m always looking forward to my San Francisco shows.

And I wanna ask about something you mentioned last night. You mentioned the first time you were here 25 years ago. 

It wasn’t the first time I was here. It was a time that I was here. About taking acid? That was all true. I really did think about naming it Gay Vampire Night. It was like an important revelation to me.

Let’s talk about your new podcast. I’ve been really digging it. It’s been fantastic. And was that part of the conceit? That you wouldn’t get to the five senses? 

Nope. Not at all. For years, various people on my team - as it were - were like “You’ve got to do a podcast. You’ve got to do a podcast. If you want to sell tickets, you’ve got to do a podcast.” And I had less than zero interest in that. I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to take up any of my energy doing that. And I don’t listen to podcasts. Not out of any reason. I listen to music or I don’t listen. But most people I know listen to podcasts. My wife does, and the handful that I’ve listened to I’ve enjoyed. And I enjoy doing other people’s podcasts. It’s a much more preferable way to do press and promo.

So finally I was like “Yeah, yeah. I’ll do a podcast.” So I wrote up this little thing. They asked me to write up a proposal that they could take out. And I wrote “I love to talk. I’ve been talking since I was very young, and I am good at it. I know how to talk to people.” Whatever it was. It was kind of this silly thing like “Let’s talk. Let’s have a conversation and we could talk about this thing and have it be free flowing.” And they’re like “No, you have to have a hook.” “What do you mean?” “When you have a podcast, you have to have a hook. Like you talk about food or murder mysteries or touring.” “I just want to talk to people.” “No, you have to have a hook.”

So I thought about it off and on for a good month and a half. Like “I don’t know what the fuck is the hook.” And then it hit me “Oh. I’ll talk about the five senses.” There you go. And I said “This is just a jumping off point to have a conversation.” And then in the first eight that I taped, I didn’t even get to any of the questions. I think there was one or two. I asked Janeane about what’s the loudest thing she’s ever heard, and then I asked I wanna say Eugene Mirman one. And that was it. Not on purpose. And then Headgum even asked me “Would you tape something that says ‘It’s called Senses Working Overtime, but sometimes, I don’t even get to the questions.’” I go “Fine.”

So this is all going back to them insisting that I have a hook, which took me a while to come up with it, and now we don’t even get to it. I’m just having a conversation.

And I feel like if you had tried to squeeze in the questions, it would’ve broken up the momentum of the conversations.

Exactly. I don’t care.

It is a good excuse for you to have a conversation with your friends and share it with the world. I like when podcasts are that loose.

I’m digging it. I’m enjoying it way more than I thought I would. I didn’t think I wouldn’t enjoy it. But I thought it would feel like “Oh, I’ve got to go into Manhattan and do these two podcasts and I’ll be in the studio for five hours.” But now I look forward to it. I really enjoy it.

I can’t wait to hear the other episodes.

I’m doing Michael Cera when I get back and then I go to LA for five days and I’m gonna do Fred Armisen, Tony Hale, Margaret Cho. A handful of people.

I wanna ask about your special, which we put out. I wanna ask about the title, Worst Daddy in the World, which your daughter inadvertently named. At what point do you realize that that’s going to be the title after she says it? 

It’s not like she’s only said that once. That was a refrain I heard quite often. Like with any of the tours or special, when I’m trying to think of a title, it takes me a while because 95 percent of what I think of are either too pretentious or too punny. Like they’re a dumb pun joke. And it always takes me a little while to figure out the title. She had said that and I knew the material was kind of being a dad centered. And I was like “Alright, I’ll just call it that. Great. Thanks!” Done and dusted. Let’s move on.

And it’s got kind of a dual purpose because she - my six year old daughter - would say I’m the worst daddy in the world. But also because of the things I’m saying onstage and my viewpoint and the way I’m raising my daughter - which I think is a good way to raise my child - other people, certainly in America, would think that I’m a terrible father for allowing her to go to a school with diversity (laughs) and to be truthful. When she asks me a question, not sugar coat things.

Which leads us to your ending, with the whole Florida chunk. Have you done that in Florida yet? Or would you do it there?

I certainly would. Often when I was on the tour, and I think I did 76 shows or something like that, I would say a third of them after the show - regardless of wherever I was, in the Pacific Northwest, Canada, California, Milwaukee - but a number of times people would say “Do you do that bit in the South? What’s that like? Do you not do bit bit?”. Everywhere I go, I do the same thing. Unless it was for personal reasons, I’ve never not done something. “Oh I’m in Florida. I better not do this.” I don’t give a shit.

Because it’s your viewpoint. If they’re offended, that doesn’t change you.

I don’t care. That ship sailed a long time ago. (Laughs). But I don’t like Florida, I don’t like performing there. And it’s also a pain in the ass to get to. You have to go out of your way to get to Florida on the tour. You really do. And I didn’t do it for several tours. And my mom who was living there at the time was like “Why don’t you do Florida? You never do Florida. Come down to Florida.” And I’m like “Because Florida sucks. I hate it.” And I was like “Fine. I’ll do Florida.”

So on the Making America Great Again tour, which was 2016, I did Tampa Bay, Orlando, and some other place I don’t remember what it was. But all those shows sucked and it was a bunch of drunk, fucked up, crazy people. And after that, it was like “Never again. I know I said it before. But now I’m never going back to Florida. Fuck Florida. If it was in the middle of the country, yeah, I’ll go through it. I’m not going to go out of my way to do shows for these fucking assholes. Not liking it is one thing. But every show. And it got progressively worse. I was doing some anti-cop stuff. One lady got up and threw a beer that didn’t even come close. She got up, came down the aisle, people were yelling at her, flipping the bird, then circling around and going “Fuck you assholes!” Yelling at the audience. It was just ridiculous. And that was probably the best one.

There’s no reason to go. I’ve got enough money. The United States is huge. I could do shows here and Canada and even in Europe. No reason to go to Florida.

Is there a specific bit from the special that took the longest for you to perfect?

I don’t know about the longest to perfect, but the bit that I closed with was something that I closed with. It’s something that I did in the last special that was like a tossed-off line that I riffed onstage right before I shot the COVID one. I had them take it out. Which I do a lot. There’s something that I’ll have them cut out of the set, because I know there’s a bigger idea there. I know I can work on this. So that whole bit which is six or seven minutes long, came out of a little 30 second riff. It was just a throwaway thing.

So in that sense, that bit went from an aside, a little tossed off idea, as became fully realized. It’s a fully realized bit with a beginning, middle, and an end. That took a while to create that chunk.

And going off of that, I’ve got to ask about the editing joke in the special. Is that something you had always wanted to do?

No. It was I knew when I was shooting it, which is the stuff I was editing out - which is roughly about 9 minutes of material that is all about abortion - I knew that could be worked on. It was also running long. I don’t like to do more than an hour and 10 minutes or an hour and 15 tops. So I knew I was going to cut that out because I can work on that and it’ll be in the next special.

But you still wanted to do it for the audience that was there.

Yeah, yeah. Unfortunately for stand-up unlike any other art form, once you do it, it’s done. Once it’s aired, you can’t ever do it again. So I knew I was going to take that out. Rather than trying to stitch together a graceful cut, I figured “Just embrace it.” So I told those guys at 800 Pound Gorilla “Okay, I’m going to be here and I’m going to say this. And then I told the audience ‘Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to cut.’”

And I’ll bring this up as well. I’m the historian/archivist for one of your comedy influences, Andy Kaufman. And that bit felt very Kaufmanesque.

Oh wow!! Well I take that as a compliment.

Have you had other specific bits that you think have that sort of Kaufmanesque feel to it?

I mean, I can’t draw a direct line. But there’s certain things that I do that are mildly subversive to the idea of a stand-up show. Like one special, I had a kid in each town I went to with a bald cap. I sent sides to a casting place wherever I was. And a kid came out as me. Clearly a 10 year-old boy wherever I was with a bald cap on and fake glasses and do a set of some pretty raunchy material, and then go “Fuck you, motherfuckers. I’m leaving.” And then I came out to a song. Stuff like that.

And when I was younger, before anyone knew who I was and I could get away with [this], 80 percent of the time I would go up as a different name, a different personality. Nervous, shy, very effeminate first timer who’s a first timer and getting upset. I went up as an impressionist but he had throat cancer. Just things where the audience didn’t know “Is this real or not?”.

I love that. Finally, it’s been over 20 years since the start of Arrested Development. Is it surreal to you now that the fanbase is just as loyal and as strong all these years later? The fanbase literally got Netflix to back away from taking the show off their platform last year. 

I wouldn’t say it’s surreal. I mean I get it. Fewer now than before, but I’ll still run into an occasional person who’s like “I never saw it until my wife made me it down and watch it last year.” So people are still coming into it. And it’s a fucking great show.

How to watch the SF Sketchfest livestream.

SF Sketchfest is in its final weekend. Can’t make it? Veeps has you covered, with livestreams of various shows!

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