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Posted on Wed, Oct 7, 2009 : 4:16 a.m.

David Cross, comedian, promises something different for Michigan Theater show

By Kevin Ransom

When comic and satirist David Cross brings his current stand-up act to the Michigan Theater on Tuesday, he’ll have a surprise for the audience. He says he’s “tweaked” the show — that it won’t be “just 90 minutes of stand-up.”

Except, he won’t say what he means by that — at least not to an entertainment reporter.

“I don’t want to give anything away, but there are elements of it that are different,” says Cross. “It’s not that I’m trying to build it up to be something it isn’t — it’s not like it’s going to be some grand theatrical thing. But there will be elements that you wouldn’t ordinarily find in a stand-up act.”

It’s not surprising that Cross would want to push the boundries of what constitutes a stand-up comedy show. After all, this is a comic-writer who, in 1995, along with his pal and fellow comic-writer Bob Odenkirk, created “Mr. Show With Bob and David” — which was probably the most original and inventive comedy show to air on TV in the last 15 years.

Ronnie Dobbs compilation, featuring the iconic "Mr. Show" character played by David Cross, from the spinoff movie "Run Ronnie Run." (Warning: Adult language/content.):

Fans of the show, which ran from ’95-’98, will recall “Mr. Show” for its surreal, stream-of-consciousness structure and tone: Typically, one skit or premise would morph into another, completely different one, as though the writers and characters had discovered a secret but bewildering cosmic-comic portal, and slipped through it.

Cross’s hilarious 2002 stand-up comedy album “Shut Up, You F-----g Baby” was nominated for a Grammy, but lately he’s been focusing more on acting. He’s appeared in such recent films as “Year One,” “The Grand” and “I’m Not There.” And of course, there was his portrayal of the “never nude” Dr. Tobias Fünke in the cult-fave TV show “Arrested Development” — which lasted only three seasons despite across-the-board raves from critics and a fiercely loyal audience. And, last fall, he spent three months in Novi, shooting the comedy film “Demoted,” about the rivalry between a couple of put-upon everyman types who work at a tire company.

But, even though his last stand-up tour was in 2004, that doesn’t mean Cross’ stand-up chops have gone fallow.

David Cross goes from parenting to patriotism in "Certain Leaders In Government..." from his 2004 recording, "It's Not Funny" (MP3). (Warning: Adult language/content.)

“I haven’t done a full tour like this in while, but I’ve done gigs in New York and L.A. — benefits, festivals, one-night shows, that sort of thing,” says Cross during a recent phone interview. “That’s how I accrued the material I’m doing on this tour, by going out and doing a lot of 20-minute sets and honing it all down.”

Cross was also busy for much of 2008 writing his new book of comic essays, “I Drink For a Reason,” which hit bookstores in August. Cross will appear at the downtown Borders store at 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday for a book signing.

The book is brimming with the same kind of sardonic, irreverent, often-profane observations, social criticism — and rants — that his fans will recognize from his stand-up act, from “Mr. Show,” and from his appearances on programs like “Real Time with Bill Maher,” where he was recently a guest on the panel.

Indeed, most of the funniest lines from the book can’t be repeated here, but he riffs on subjects like new-age hippies, the uselessness of Valentine’s Day, the inanity of most TV shows, the “mystifying allure of gratuitous luxury,” loud-mouthed right-wing-media blowhards, and what he often sees as the banality of the masses — and of Middle America itself.

And, of course, there is his favorite — religion, which Cross, an atheist, has been mocking or satirizing for a long time in his stand-up act. (And one chapter, “Scrapbooking in Michigan,” is devoted to his sharp, comic commentary on a “scrapbooking convention” he came across at the Sheraton hotel in Novi during the shooting of “Demoted.”)

But those who’ve already read the book needn’t worry that he’ll be repeating those riffs onstage. “Yeah, religion is a big one for me, so I’ll be talking about that, obviously, and also about some of the other subjects I addressed in the book, but I’ll be approaching it much differently, and making different observations.”

Cross is politically minded, and in his current show, he talks about the health-care debate. “But I’m less interested in the individuals involved, or with the details of the issue — I’m more interested in the tone of the rhetoric we’ve heard in the country during the debate. And when I do talk about politics or issues in my current act, it’s in a broader, less specific way than I did five years ago, when Bush had already been in office for a few years.

One of the well-known famous folks/creative types who wrote effusive blurbs for the back cover of Cross’s book is Keith Olbermann, host of MSNBC’s “Countdown” political talk show, and one of the heroes of the political left. In the blurb, Olbermann observes that he doesn’t always agree with Cross, “but he always makes me think, and smile.”

So, what about that “doesn’t always agree” part?

“I’m mostly left of center, and I agree with most of the things that most Democrats or liberals agree on,” says Cross. “But there are some issues I disagree with many of them about. For example, I’m pro-death penalty. And, although I see the value in the government providing welfare to those who are in really dire situations, to prevent even worse things from happening, I also believe in personal responsibility.”

As for “Arrested Development”: Yes, negotiations for a movie version are in the works, but Cross says that it isn’t a done deal, not just yet. “The writers and the studio are still working out the deal,” Cross notes. “That’s about all I can say about it at this point.”

Cross says he had a great time playing the role of Tobias Fünke on “Arrested Development.” “He was the kind of character I hadn’t played before, and initially, I liked the ambiguity. He became less ambiguous as the show went on, though, so it was a little less fun at the end.”

And Cross has a dim view of the TV networks still being so reliant on the Nielsen ratings to gauge any show’s popularity. “At this point, in the digital age, using the Nielsen ratings as an arbiter is just antiquated and obsolete,” he says.

“Based on the response we’ve all received from people who knew and loved the show, I think that if the network had taken into account things like DVRs, and streaming, and downloading, ‘Arrested Development’ would still be on the air.”

Cross is also hoping to cook up another inventive project with his old pal Odenkirk. In fact, they actually began work on a new HBO show about a year ago — before scrapping it.

“When we were writing it, and shooting it, it really had a great feel, and we were really happy with it,” says Cross. “But when we sat down and got into the editing process, it, it just didn’t seem to have the same energy we felt during shooting. So, we eventually just decided that we didn’t want to do that particular show — that we wanted to do something else, with fewer restrictions.

“And HBO said, ‘No problem.’ So, Bob and I still have to sit down and decide what we want to do, and then talk to HBO. I just don’t know what it will be yet.”

PREVIEW David Cross Who: Comedian, satirist, writer, social critic and comic actor. What: Stand-up-comedy show, marked by Cross’s sharp, sometimes cynical observations (and rants) about religion, mass culture and a litany of other topics. Where: Michigan Theater, 603 E. Liberty St. When: Tuesday, Oct. 13, 7:30 p.m. How much: $35. Details: 734-668-8397, 734-763-TKTS, Michigan Theater web site. Related event: Cross will appear at the downtown Borders store, 612 E. Liberty St., at 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 13 for a discussion and book signing. 734.668.7652.


Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, Oct 7, 2009 : 7:57 p.m.

David Cross is a funny, funny man. His character on Arrested Development will go down in history with me as one of the best characters of all time. I hope I can get tickets to this show!

Kevin Ransom

Wed, Oct 7, 2009 : 3:51 p.m.

Yeah, Beach, he was very funny as Donnie. But that show has been off the air for about six years, and I was focusing more on his more recent acting roles. He's always funny.


Wed, Oct 7, 2009 : 10:38 a.m.

awww, what about Donnie from Just Shoot Me, hilarious.