From 1995-1998, a sketch show called "Mr. Show with Bob and David," that was as humorous as it was intelligent, aired on HBO. After 30 episodes Bob Odenkirk and David Cross called it quits. Cross went back to his standup comedy roots and released two CDs, a tour DVD, and most recently landed a role as a very flamboyant, yet still in the closest, mustachioed never-nude on the best written show currently on television, "Arrested Development." Season 3 of "Arrested Development" starts in September. This interview was conducted prior to the 2004 election, shortly after Cross's tour DVD was released. Cross and Odenkirk's website, Bob and David, is updated regularly.
You and John Ennis from Mr. Show rented out a room in a frat house right?
We were in a room that was behind a kitchen that was meant to be a storage space. It was triangular shaped. It was at a frat house in UCLA, Zeta Si I think it was. And I don't know what they're like now, but back then they were kind of like on the lower end of the social scene of the hierarchy of frats. They were kind of the dorky, nerdy frat, not like nerds, but they just weren't—it was like a bad '80s movie. They were sandwiched between these huge jocky guys, kind of good looking Abercrombie and Fitch catalog, latent homosexual type guys. And these guys just had a ridiculous image of themselves. Like one guy smoked a pipe. It's like, “Come on, you're 21, what are you doing you asshole?” And there was a guy that called himself “Animal” I think it was, or “Wildman” or some bullshit. And he ended up getting drunk and throwing furniture off his roof, onto the street. But it was so pathetic because the furniture was so big he couldn't throw it very far, and it only went as far as gravity took it, so it would kind of bounce out, but basically fall about six feet in front of him. And it was like, “What are you doing? You look like an idiot.” And he'd go, “Raaaw, I'm Animal!” and it was pathetic.
Was this Animal from “The Muppets”?
I don't know. I suppose so.
Did he do any drumming?
Do I do any drumming?
Oh, I understand now. Sorry, I was a little slow on the uptake. Drum circle. He did a lot of drum circles.
How did you end up living there?
We had come out to L.A. We were staying in a car before that. Because we had come out there, and there was this comic, who is still around, named Barry Sobel. This guy said that we could stay at his place. And then we got there and he was leaving to go on a tour and I think we stayed there for one night. Then he says, “You know I changed my mind, you can't stay here.” And we were like “What?” And he said we couldn't stay there. That guy's a fuckin' dick, total asshole. Our friend Paul was also going on tour so we had no place to stay and we told him that. He said, “I'm sorry man, I just don't feel comfortable with you guys in my apartment.” Then Paul said, “I'll tell you what, you guys can at least stay in my car,” because he wasn't taking his car out. So we stayed in his car and I think we were in the car for a week. We were already in the Westwood UCLA area and they have flyers up, and during the summer you can rent out rooms in the frat. So we ended up staying in this room and then got moved back because it was cheaper to go into this room behind the kitchen. It was just a storage room. It was me and John, and this other kid we met named Tiger.
Was that one of the worst places you lived at?
Oh, yeah, easily. You also had to deal with these frat kids who we were a couple years older than. And I've never seen more pomposity from basically 19-year-old kids, and they were bossing us around, kind of getting off on it. It was like we were their tenants. It was all this stuff like, “Dude, sorry, there's no smoking in the anteroom.” And they would have beer for themselves and you'd go to get a beer and they'd say, “Sorry brah, that's brothers only. That's for the brothers.” And I was like, “It's 3 ounces of Tuborg, this keg cost you 9 dollars.” It was pretty miserable. I was also miserable already.
It seems now that you have a lot of fans like those college students. There was that Anne Frank sketch on Mr. Show where you sort of made fun of college students. How do you feel about that?
Well that's not necessarily our fans. That sketch was based on my real reaction to going to the Anne Frank house, which really happened. I had gone to Amsterdam with some friends and I had been there before, but I was like, “I've been here before, but I should really go to the Anne Frank House.” It was almost like I should make my Jewish pilgrimage to it. And I had read the book and seen the play and I really imagined it to be much smaller. My initial reaction was like, “Oh, this isn't so bad. Why don't you tell that bitch to stop her whining?” And as soon as I though that I felt, “Oh, that's terrible.” And Amsterdam is filled with obnoxious college students. It's the shittiest thing about Amsterdam . I mean, it's prohibitive, because there are so many of them, and they're loud and stupid. So that's what that sketch was about. It's not necessarily about our fans. Our fans really run the gamut from like really quiet, smart older people to every college archetype you can think of.
I noticed on the tour DVD you seemed to showcase a lot of crazy stoners, especially at the Black Lodge Video house.
Oh fuck. And there's other stuff that didn't make it into the DVD just because we didn't get releases or we didn't have a camera. I used to do it—I don't do it that much anymore—but I used to go out of my way to find a place onstage when I'm doing my set to say, “I don't really get high anymore.” I do lots of other drugs but I smoke pot maybe 5-10 times a year now. I used to smoke it all the time, but I don't, and I haven't for awhile. That's just because it makes me, and I'm not saying this about everybody else, but it makes me kind of dumb and self-conscious. I don't necessarily have that great of a time when I'm high. If I do get high, I'm usually pretty drunk already, so that just exacerbates the whole situation and I just stop having fun. Also, if I'm at some stranger's house party it just makes me want to leave quicker. And people get disappointed. But that Black Lodge is a good example of why I don't do that, because I'd still be there today hanging out with those guys, making pseudo-philosophical statements.
That part was great when the guy keeps saying, “You tell me where we're at, because you have the camera.”
And it's like, “Well we could engage in that, but I actually do need the information from you, if you could get back around to that eventually.” I know you want to do your guru thing. But those guys were nice and I do feel a little guilty and a little bad about it. Ultimately I come back to the fact that they knew they were on camera and what it was for. It wasn't like we tricked anybody or hid the camera, ever. So people saw it, people knew they were going to be on camera and we told them what it was for. That ultimately makes me go, “Well, fuck it, they knew.” I was really surprised at all the negative reaction to the DVD, where people thought it was just being mean. I read reviews of it, not by magazines, or professional reviewers, but just people who had rented the DVD, or purchased it.
Was this on Amazon.com?
Some of it was and I know I read other things that popped up. But just a number of people thought that I'm obnoxious, and shitting on my fans, and that I'm mean and take advantage of people. But if I didn't show that stuff, the DVD would have never come out, because it would have been pointless, it would have been a congratulatory pat on the back. And who the fuck needs that? And also I don't know why people are bummed out that I didn't just do a stage show and show you what's on the CD. Also the whole reason I didn't do that was because it seemed gratuitous and exploitative, and it's just a way to make money, and that's not what it's about. I didn't want to put the DVD out there unless it had a different angle. It was showing people more what it was like to go on tour and do that stuff. If those things weren't in there, it would have been boring. And that's culled from literally four and half weeks of touring. I think that stuff's interesting. Everyone in it kind of buries themselves.
Yeah, it's not like you come on there and make fun of them.
Yeah, it's not an episode of “Punk'd” or anything, they all know the camera's there and what the purpose of the tape is. I'm just surprised that people were like, “It's mean.”
I probably liked that blonde girl who talked about Clear Channel the best. Her mouth was just all over the place.
I did a weekend at a club in Raleigh and she was there. I was getting over the flu. I had to cancel the first show and I had to fly down the next day. I was just really fucked up, really really sick, I should have just cancelled the whole thing, I should have never flown. But I felt bad. And I was talking about Nyquil and she was at the show and, even though I'm really sick and just want to go back to my hotel room—and another thing is that when you're sick and you do two shows a night, your adrenaline pumps up to allow you to do the show for an hour, but when you come off the stage you're like triple exhausted. And she was like, “You should come back, we're going to have a party.” Like she was going to get whatever drugs I wanted, and I was like, “What? Listen to me, have you heard a word I've said in the last hour?” But she was like, “No, come on, it'll be fun, you gotta come.”
Do you get offered drugs a lot by fans?
Not a lot, but sometimes. Which I appreciate, I like drugs, and I make no secret about it.
Do you have a favorite drug?
I used to really be much more into hallucinogens but in the last couple years I've really gotten to like speed a lot. I really like it, and I'm good about how I take it. I never take too much—I don't have an addictive personality at all—and a pretty good resiliency and tolerance and don't overdo it. So I can take a little bit of speed and—have you ever done it?
It's good, you get this kind of euphoric—and I don't mean euphoric, that's too suggestive a word—it's just like you're happier, a little lift. It's not like coke at all. You just sort of get more energy and of course I do a tiny, teeny little amount. And you can just hang out drinking, having fun until 4 in the morning.
Do you run at all? On Mr. Show it seemed like you were wearing a lot of shorts and your calf muscles really got showcased.
No, I don't really run. I hate working out. Now I have to do it a little bit more than I used to because my metabolism has ceased to exist. I fucking hate working out, I don't really run. I naturally have a lot of energy and I'm always tapping and bouncin' and shit like that. I just wear shorts because it's hot. In L.A. it's hot most of the year and that's what I'd wear when we did the stage shows and Bob [Odenkirk] would wear a suit. That was never a conscious decision, ever. Once we did it, and established it, so we figured we should sort of stick to it. But we shot those shows in the summer and it's fucking hot. I don't wear long pants when it's hot, ever. And if I'm wearing long pants, it's because it's cold.
How do you feel about Scientology?
It's really a source of amazement. It's just utter made up nonsense, gobbledygook, garbage. And you have two levels to it. You have the teachings and tenets of Scientology itself and then you have its source, which is a whole other—I mean, anybody who knows even the slightest bit of history about L. Ron Hubbard, that wasn't written by himself, would be immediately suspicious—it would also, you would think, make you look at what he's saying with a slightly more skeptical eye. Like Christianity, I can see how people believe it. I understand the human need to have faith in something and an explanation, no matter how flimsy it is, and sort of adhere to it. And that's the definition of faith, to believe in something that can't be proven. But Scientology goes so above and beyond that—it's just crazy, every bit of it. And it's also so clearly made up as he went along, like if you know anything about Scientology and the idea that the way you get clear, you reach these OT levels. There was a period of time when people were completing all the courses and they [Scientologists] needed to keep them involved and find a way to keep getting their money. And I think religion should cost 60 percent of your salary. So they kept adding new OT levels and at some point L. Ron Hubbard said something to the effect that when the common person, without using the steps that L. Ron Hubbard used, to get the knowledge that he knew, that they would die. Like it's not possible for you to function after knowing the truth, you have to work your way up to it. It's just garbage. It's imaginative, Science-Fictiony silliness.
I really thought that some people might question Scientology a little bit after “Battlefield Earth” came out.
Well, but I think “Battlefield Earth”, in fairness to it—and I don't know that that will ever be said by anybody that's not in Scientology—but that was basically kind of a story that had morals that applied to Scientology, but it's not the story of Scientology or Dianetics itself. It's a tangential offshoot of a story, but it's not Scientology itself.
Do you have any theories as to why so many celebrities are Scientologists?
Not really. I would guess that a lot of the actors, and actors by nature are self-centered and vain, not necessarily in an obnoxious way, but those are qualities that a lot of actors have. There's a certain sense of vanity, narcissism and self-centeredness and also insecurity, there's a lot of insecurity. And Scientology, like any religion, is an answer and a guide for dealing with those character flaws that people have. It's a way without really thinking about it too much, to be able to think that you're making a difference in your life. And actors are already susceptible to believing anybody who kind of pumps them up and says, “You're great, you can do it, you can achieve your dreams. Here's a way to have a clear head and go for what you want.” And there's probably also the lure of who the first celebrity Scientologists were. People will think, “Hey, here's a shortcut to getting into the movies.”
On the comedy album there are quite a few jokes about America post 9/11 which pointed out how absurd we as a society are acting. Do you think it's gotten any better or worse since then?
I think it's pretty much following the script one might have written the day after 9/11. All that patriotic furor will ebb of course, because you can't maintain that level forever. I think that people are slowly starting to wake up, not quick enough for me, but people are starting to go, “Hey, wait a second, maybe all these decisions we made post 9/11 weren't the right ones, maybe we were a little rash and looking for a quick fix.” It's slowly starting to get there it seems. Again it's pretty much what I, or maybe you, would have expected. People, albeit very slowly, are finally starting to have discussions about things and debates, it's not just going to be angry rhetoric thrown at this division of left and right, and liberal and conservative, and hippie and businessman. All that silly cartoonish way that we were letting ourselves be labeled, on every side. That's probably the most depressing aspect is the fact that everybody seemed perfectly fine with the anti-intellectualism that was happing, like that was a good thing that was happening in this country, that the idea of having a calm, rational debate about these ideas and whether we were taking the proper course of action—it was like, “Uh-uh, not now. You gotta wait at least two and a half years. I don't even want to talk about it, we're just going to do it”— And really championing the anti-intellectualism that Bush has wrapped himself up in. It's all that kind of bullshit, cowboy crap, you know like, “Hey, just a simple talkin', straight shootin', tough son-of-a-gun.” I mean, who wants to live in a country where your leaders are proud to be stupid and ignorant? I know I don't.
Do you think there's a possibility for a Democratic candidate to win?
I do, yeah. First of all I think so much is going to happen in the next 11 months that we can't predict. There's going to be wild swings. You're going to consistently—and it's going to increase as it goes along—have certain publications and journalists saying, “There's no way. They can't win, they can't do it.” And then there'll be plenty of people saying, “No way, what are you talking about, comparing this to McGovern and Nixon. This is a completely different time, anything can happen. What about Truman?” You can't poll 11 hundred people in a country of 3 million and ask if this is going to happen or that is going to happen. So you're constantly going to have those two factions constantly writing about it and talking about it.
Are there any candidates you think have a chance? How do you feel about Dean?
Well I'm disappointed because of that [Cross performed at a Dean function and Dean denounced Cross's so-called “ethnic” humor], because he's doing the safest thing politically that he can do. He had a great opportunity to come out and go, “I hope nobody takes this the wrong way. Clearly this guy is making a joke and he brings up a valid point that we can't live in a society that is so restricted that we can't even talk about these things without people getting upset.” He could have gone that way, he didn't have to, but instead he chose the easy, safe, stupid, typical political thing to say, “I don't like ethnic humor, we're one community.” I mean, shut the fuck up, you're not my kindergarten teacher, we're all adults here. But I'll definitely support him. I'll support whoever the Democratic nominee is. I'll do my best to convince people that it's worth it to go and register to vote and spend the 20 minutes in line to vote. I'll do whatever I can do to dispel this absurd notion that Ralph Nader and the Green Party put out there that there's no difference between the Democrats and the Republicans. That's absurd and ignorant and dangerous, and just wrong. I'm going to do this thing that Fat Mike from NOFX is putting together, punkvoter.org, and I'm going to go and do stuff for that tour where I go and talk for 10 or 15 minutes, in my adorable humorous way, about the need to register to vote and just inform yourself of what's going on. I mean, there are all these motherfuckers who fucking wait in line for a goddamn movie. They'll wait fucking overnight to see a movie that's going to be out for 3 months anyway, and they can't stand to wait 20 minutes in line? Those fucking assholes. They don't deserve to live in America, those fucking assholes. I hate them. Every dumb hippie anarchist bullshit—aah! They've lost their right to speak and argue with me. As long as you voted, let's talk, let's engage in a discussion. But that's just ignorance, it's nothing but ignorance. I hate those people who proudly don't vote.
There seems to be generally a lot of apathy.
But they're not apathetic, half of these people are not apathetic about it at all. They're concerned. Some of them are lazy, but I really don't think it's about being lazy, it's just about being so wildly brainwashed that the answer is to somehow spray-paint “Smash the state” on a Humvee and throw a brick through a Starbucks window, that that's your answer. And to pass out literature on the Communist party. I can cite a hundred examples of things that I'm sure they would agree with are better that the Democrats would do. And I'm not a Democrat. This administration is so right-wing and these people are so fucking blind that they play right into their hands. And things are really, really bad, and they're going to get worse if Bush is in office for another 4 years where he doesn't have to worry about getting elected again. I mean, how motherfucking long can John Paul Stevens hold on? What is the guy, like 94? He's the last true liberal Supreme Court Justice and I'm sure is praying every day that a Democrat gets into office so he can finally retire and enjoy a year off before he dies.
What was it like working with Christopher Guest on “Waiting for Guffman”?
Oh that was great.
Did you get a script?
No, I met with him in his office and I was kind of nervous and excited because he's kind of a comedy hero and I was like, “Fuck man, that's Christopher Guest.” So half the time I was talking to him I was thinking, “Holy shit, that's Christopher Guest.” And we got along, we just sort of shot the shit about stuff for maybe 10 minutes and he said he had this idea for me and he would call me. So we talked on the phone about some stuff and then I came out and one shitty feeling that I had immediately—because I flew out to Austin and it was one of those things where I landed and they said, “We're going to send a car, we're way ahead of schedule, and we're going to shoot you today”, and I said ok and threw my shit in my room and they got a car and I went out to the set. They put me in an outfit and I had all these ideas that I had thought of on the plane and said them to Christopher, who was in the middle of doing a hundred different things, he was sitting in his chair and talking to his editor and answering questions, and he I told him these ideas and he basically shot them all down quickly. He wasn't unpleasant, but you could tell he was in production mode and thinking, so also there was no kind of letting me down easy, it was just, “No, no, no." I was like “Ok, alright,” and then he basically threw me out in that field and the camera was far away and just said “go.” Like there was no audience and you can't hear anybody, and I can't even see him. So I'm just rambling and I have no idea if I'm going the right way or not, and just making shit up and there's no reaction to go off of. It's like when the dentist puts on that lead apron and everyone scurries to the other room to take the X-ray and you're like, “What? Where's everybody going?” But then there was one interesting thing where I hung out on the set for the rest of the day and it was about a 40 minute drive back into Austin from where we were shooting and somehow, I don't remember the exact details, but I sort of gleaned that if I missed the last shuttle van that was going back to Austin then I'd be kind of forced to ride with Christopher Guest. So I kind of just dilly-dallied and made up these ways to delay myself and not be ready, “Oh I gotta get my thing from the trailer, shit I forgot, hey you guys go without me." I somehow figured out a way to do that. And then he was basically like “Oh, you need a ride back? I'll be going in a second.” So it was just me and him in his pickup truck driving back. And I barely said 10 words, he was doing characters—the cd for the music had come in that Harry Shearer and Michael McKean had sent in—and I was listening to it with him for the first time. And we were coming up to Austin and he's doing these characters and I realized that he was going miss the exit, he wasn't paying attention to our exit to go back into town, so I didn't say anything. He realized later that “Oh wait, I missed the exit,” and I didn't say anything at all so I got to hang out with him for an extra 15 minutes. Even though it made him late I didn't say anything so I could just listen to him. He did a character that seems like the one that was in “Best in Show.”
Were you freaking out?
Fuck yeah man! Absolutely. I didn't really say that much and I would feed him questions every once in awhile, but mostly I was just letting him go off and do these characters and encourage him to keep talking. It was great, it was really cool.
Was Eugene Levy or any of the cast around?
He was at the first meeting and he didn't say two words to me. That was the first time I had ever been in Austin and I fucking loved it. I ended up staying an extra couple days. I just rented a bike and I rode around. While we were there the Oscars were going on and they had rented a room at the Sheraton where we were staying, and it was the cast and some of the crew of the movie. So it was Catherine O'Hara, Eugene Levy, Parker Posey, and Christopher Guest. It was really exciting, hanging out in this room and we had done one of those Oscar pools were you put in your money and everyone does their Oscar picks. Fred Willard was there. I was there and I had done it, and I was doing well. It was pretty much between me and Eugene Levy, because we were winning most of the stuff. I ended up winning and I think he was genuinely—like I thought he was joking at first for the first 20-30 seconds—because he was really pissed off, pissed off at me. Like saying things that I thought were jokes like, “This kid isn't even working on the movie anymore, what's he doing here?” Like haha, it's a joke, but it didn't seem like a joke after awhile because he kept fuckin' saying these kind of shitty digs because I won about 300 bucks or whatever was in the pot.
How did Bob (Odenkirk) get involved with the movie?
He asked both of us, because he knew our work. He asked us both to do something and the thing he wanted Bob to do unfortunately got cut. I think it's in the extras right?
He's in there with the cape but not very much.
He shot a whole scene where he was auditioning as a preacher. And it was funny, but unfortunately it got cut.
Have you ever taken any singing lessons?
Kind of yeah. I went to a school of the arts in Atlanta and they had classes where part of the thing—I was kind of concentrating on acting—but part of the thing was like choral and operatic singing. Not that I ever learned or retained any information on how to sing.
Well something worked, you have a really nice voice.
Thank you. It cost a lot of money. I was in Switzerland and I had my vocal chords shined. I had them taken out, removed, and shined. They shine them up for you and then put them back. I'm actually due to go back, because it's coming up on 7 years, so I need to go back and get them re-shined.
It's definitely paid off, they sound great.
Thank you. Bob and I have an inverse amount of talent when it comes to singing and guitar playing, because I cannot play guitar to save my life. There's that one scene where I play guitar and it's really bad and took me forever just to learn those three chords.
That was in the honey-moon sketch right?
Yeah. I almost couldn't do it. I almost had to figure out a way at the last minute to do it. I can sing, but Bob can play the guitar but he can't sing, though in an amusing way. It's not like he doesn't know that. I remember when he wanted to sing the red balloon song and initially I was like, “Oh no. Um,” and I didn't want to seem like a dick and try to take it away from him. And then of course it's perfect. If I would have sung it, it wouldn't have been nearly as perfect as Bob singing it. He's all off and it's great, the fake English shit.
What was the happiest point in your life?
I've thought about that before, and I'm pretty happy now. I'm happier now than I have been in a long, long time. I think that has everything to do with getting out of L.A. and moving to New York and having a great girlfriend. I think I was probably happiest in the couple years before I moved to L.A. when I was in Boston . I didn't really have any money but I was getting enough standup work where I didn't have to have a day job, those last couple years. My standup was starting to really come along and I was starting to find my voice. I was playing softball three times a week with a bunch of comics and musicians; we'd get together in the afternoon. And I'd just ride my bike around. A lot of my friends who were musicians were getting successful and that was exciting. There was a great music scene. Me and my friends were putting on shows all over town. If I wasn't doing standup, I had a sketch group. I'd perform with other people at these loft spaces in South End. It was just really, really, truly care-free. That age, whatever it was, 27-28, where I just didn't care. I lived in a pretty shitty apartment with my roommates but it just didn't matter. If there was enough money to drink and eat, that was it. I'd go out drinking and play softball during the day and dick around and put these shows together. And as I said, truly care free. I didn't have a care in the world. That was when I was happiest.
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Photo by Jeremy Conant