Back to the Grind 

After Vacationing as Dr. Tobias Fünke, David Cross Returns to Stand-up

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The last few years have been a vacation of sorts for David Cross. That might sound strange, as the 45-year-old comedian has appeared in myriad movies and television shows (including America's greatest sitcom Arrested Development). But compared to writing and performing live comedy, Cross says, acting is a breeze.

"That's part of what I like about film and TV," Cross explains. "I don't have to write, I just memorize the dialogue, do it convincingly, do it the way the director wants, and hit my marks...." As Cross continues, his soft voice rises to a familiar tone dripping with sarcasm: "Usually craft services. They've got a nice array of nuts—maybe some deli-meat tray."

But the days of loafing around someone else's set are through. For the first time in five years, Cross is headed out on the road to get back in touch with his first love: stand-up.

"A stand-up show is fleeting and it's temporary, and that's part of what I like about it," he says. "You see a stand-up set on TV, I don't care how great it is, it still doesn't come remotely close to the experience of the live performance being there."

Cross says he enjoys the immediacy of the stage, and how each performance is shaped, even if it is a greater responsibility. "I have distinct memories of really fun shows," he adds. "And even though 80 percent of material is the same, they're all different."

And while Cross hasn't headlined a show in years, he has performed short sets when opportunities arose, in hopes of staying sharp. Still, after five years, things have changed.

Cross' past stand-up routines could be unrelentingly harsh. They addressed topics like religion, politics, and ugly social phenomenon polemically, offering up little more than bitterness and outrage as counterpoint. Cross says it was a reaction to a now-bygone era, and the new material is "significantly lighter than the last time I went out."

"The times are different," he explains. "We can look back on what was happening in 2001, 2, 3, 4, 5, and we have the benefit of hindsight. But when we were in the middle of it, we didn't know that a guy named Barack Obama was going to run and win the presidency, and things seemed really strange and dangerous and scary. I don't mean scary in a hyperbolic, Final Destination 3D way, but scary in 'wow, I don't like the direction we were headed in.' I had different feelings about life and America."

In addition to the new stand-up act, Cross has written a book, I Drink for a Reason. It's a collection of short bits on everything from what he would do if rich (get $60 million of "bionic shit installed in me") to what to wear to a funeral ("No Tevas!")—plus riffs on consumerism, scrapbooking, and Mary J. Blige. The book is in part responsible for the comedy tour. Combining the two, Cross says, "just made sense."

There is little overlap between the book, which Cross will read from at signings, and his two evening stand-up performances—except for a feature called "Ask a Rabbi," and a bit about wearing an S&M mask on a plane.

"I really did that," Cross says. "So that will be a repeat, but it'll be [in] my charming voice—the soothing, dulcet tones that lull you into a sleepy place called laughs."

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