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Friday, October 22, 2010

Speakeasy with David Cross

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One of Atlanta's favorite sons, David Cross, is currently starring in a new television series on IFC that he co-wrote, called "The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret." He plays a bumbling fool named Todd Margaret who lies his way into an executive sales job in Britain, where he uncomfortably tries to sell the energy drink, Thunder Muscle. The prolific comedian, writer, actor and political misanthrope recently caught up with Creative Loafing to discuss his new show(s), explain why it's been so long since he did stand-up, and share his expectations for this year's election season.

"The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret" airs on IFC Friday nights at 10 p.m., and re-airs every Tuesday at 11 p.m.


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In the show it's clear that you're making fun of American business practices, and trying to show a culture clash of sorts, but what made you choose Britain as the other country that Todd Margaret goes to?
The reason it's in Britain is out of necessity, because the origin of the show idea came not from me, but from a British production company. I was doing stand-up in London and some people approached me about co-writing a show that they would do in Britain and potentially sell to the US.

Was there a reason that you, as a writer, chose to make energy drinks the product that your character has to sell?
I just imagined it was something you could kind of fake, and didn't need to know too much about to still talk about and try to sell.

So much of the show is your character sticking his foot in his mouth, and catching verbal diarrhea within social interactions in a different culture. Do you write those lines, or just let the camera roll?
Those are really fun scenes to shoot, and we cast everybody with an eye towards improv. ability, but we usually have some lines written, and once we've gotten the take, and the director is satisfied, then we'll definitely play around. But once I start going I can't help it, it's like a mild form of autism.

It's a pretty edgy show and they let you get away with a lot in the dialogue. Is that how the show ended up on IFC, and how did they become the right network for the show?
There was a brief concern, but what was very helpful for me as a writer and creator, was that the show was made knowing what the show was, and knowing where the show is going, and they [IFC] bought into that idea, and that's great. So they came into it once the pilot was shot, and they liked it, they liked me, we met a number of times and they seemed interested, as we were. There was a concern if they were gonna bleep language, because it was the first time IFC was going to have advertisers, and they watched the first episode and said 'eh, we liked it how it is, leave it.'

Will Arnett plays a great recurring roll as your obnoxious big-wig boss, and you're currently playing a small recurring role on his new show on FOX, "Running Wilde." Do you guys have an agreement that you'll co-star in all of each other's projects now?
He does, I don't . I expect to be in everything he produces, but I'm not going to necessarilly use him in all of my stuff.

The show's name indicates that things are only going to get worse for the main character. How do you write a show that people know is going to be a train-wreck, and still keep them interested, and make them care about what happens next?
I think part of it is to make Todd not hateable. I would never hang out with him, I would lose patience with him very quickly as a friend, but he's not a bad guy. Even though he's a fool, he's well-meaning, and he doesn't mean any real harm. That's one part of it, but also, as a writer- and this is a key to the show- you're not just watching each week to see what kind of trouble he's going to get himself into; we're telling a story... each episode starts the next morning and there's no release from his life. The LA times did a negative review about how there's not a story, but it's all one giant story. Every episode is the next day in this guy's life, that we're letting you know from the very introduction of the show, is one big story.

Are you bothered by criticism about your work?
The idea of criticism has never bothered me. But invalid, baseless and wrong criticism bothers me, because the potential is so damaging. The show is done, it's filmed and posted and ready to go, but this reviewer is so instrumental in whether or not the show gets picked up or not picked up. Yea, that's infuriating that I may not get to finish telling my story because someone didn't like it. So again, I don't mind criticism, but I hate baseless criticism.

Have you been doing any stand-up recently, or are you too busy working on the shows?
I have not done stand-up since last October. I literally have done stand-up once, in London since the show. The Todd Margaret show really was 24/7. I mean, we were shooting six-day weeks, casting, looking for shot locations. It just took up all of my time.

Do you have plans to return to the stage anytime soon?
I wouldn't say they're plans, but I anticipate and imagine I'll be back. I have no material. I've stepped on stage once in the last year, I mean not even to just do 15 minutes.

Well, with the political season and elections coming up, that's got to be a good source of material for you, no?
That's a little different in that, I definitely have ideas on it, but there are so many ideas being articulated and done by [Jon] Stewart, [Stephen] Colbert, and [Bill] Maher, that by the time I do a bit, it's all been done three times, so I don't really do the political jokes anymore. There are things about the elections that I always notice though.

Like what?
It keeps being called the most important election in America's history, and they say the same fucking thing every God damn election, and it never is. It's the same shit every time!

You're considered to be one of the great satirists of our time. What influenced your sense of humor in that way, and which satirists did you look up to growing up?
As a comic I was influenced by Carlin, and Lenny Bruce... my mom taught me about him. I didn't think he was very funny, I still dont, but I certainly thought he was courageous. As I got older I got really into Bill Hicks, I read a lot of Mark Twain. As far as becoming so satirical, it's not something I chose, it's just the voice I developed over time, I guess.

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