David Cross hasn't been to Kansas City since suffering the drunken mindfuck he describes at length on his Grammy-nominated first album, 2003's Shut Up, You Fucking Baby. Launching into his tale of how he came to be undone by booze and the medium-lousy band Harlow, he says he started the night alone because he had no friends in Kansas City. "And good for my friends," he says.
That cheap shot hasn't stopped Cross fans here from quoting lines from that bit most of this decade. If you're reading this, you probably know someone who has affected a low, nasal voice and told you to "answer your telephone" -- or you've done it yourself.
Still, knowing that all the liquor in Westport wasn't enough to endear KC to the comedy hero of Mr. Show, Arrested Development and the upcoming Channel 4 show The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret -- well, that's disappointing. Cross is showing a segment of that new show, which he has co-written, to some audiences on his new tour, which stops tonight at the Midland downtown. (The show's at 8; Todd Glass opens.) He won't run into any acts from VH1's Bands on the Run, so the way seems clear for him to like us this time.
The occasion for Cross' tour is I Drink for a Reason, his new book of short essays, lists and tangents. It's his first book, and at this writing, it's holding at No. 32 on the New York Times hardcover best-seller list.
I talked to Cross for a few minutes last week as his tour got under way. I blame the flop-sweat inferiority complex induced by a quick refresher with the Harlow-Kansas City track from Shut Up for some weak questions. So if Cross still thinks KC is lame, it's probably all my fault.
So, uh, you're coming back to Kansas City ...
I'm sorry. I can only apologize so many times. No, seriously, I just remembered that the airline lost my luggage coming into Kansas City for that show, so I had to wing around 20 minutes that I normally would have had stuff.
This is your first theater tour, as opposed to playing clubs. Is that a product of doing book-related events, more David Sedaris-style stuff?
The idea of doing theaters came later. I knew once I finished the book that there would be some kind of book tour. I went to a marketing meeting at the publisher's office, and that world is so different from TV or film. I wasn't expecting it, but their plans were pretty bare. I mentioned doing book signings. They were like, "Yeah we really don't do that." So I was like, "Maybe I'll do stand-up and we'll self-promote it," and they were like, "I can't really help you with that."
So I booked the theater tour. I hired a PR firm, and I've never had a PR agent in my life. I've done TV shows that hired firms, but I've never done it for me individually. I was always opposed to it. It seemed extraneous.
Are you liking it, having agents do this stuff for you?
These guys are fucking awesome. They know me enough to stay away from that other stuff. The signings have been great.
And the theater shows?
I like playing in theaters. I've done two shows so far. I did some warmup shows at the UCB in New York and at All Tommorrow's Parties, but these shows are the first with just my name up on the marquee.
Writing the book, did you get a lot of input from various people?
The editor was pretty hands-off. I didn't really seek out any advice from anyone, though. After I was done, though, there was an immense amount of pressure from the publisher: Do you think this famous friend will do something? Having the publisher try to get me to get people to say things about the book.
Is that the kind of lame plan you were talking about before?
Yeah. There was no plan. Oh, no I'm sorry, there was a plan -- it consisted of getting on The View and Good Morning America.
No, really. And I know myself enough to know I would have been tired, hung over, cranky, out of my comfort zone. And I would have said something detrimental about the show I was on.
What was your writing process?
I remember seeing a "Don't abandon your baby" bumper sticker and jotting it down somewhere. There were a couple of those ideas, a lot of the sillier, list-type, frivolous pieces came from things I'd seen or thought about already. I would go back to those to get a break from prose writing.
You're doing some readings at events. Had you read any of the book to yourself as you went along?
No, that never occurred to me. The first time I read it out loud was doing the audio book. I stopped in the middle and laughed at the "Ask a Rabbi" section and I was like, man, this is really harsh.
What's it like recording your own audio book?
Oh, it was awful. Fucking six or seven hours. It was boring - just listening to yourself go on. My girlfriend is on tour right now. Her milieu is different: poetry. She's at coffee shops and poetry places.
When was the last time you wrote a poem?
I tried writing a poem for my girlfriend, and it was awful. I thought it was good at the time, and then when I reread it, it looked like it was trying too hard.
So if we see you after the show, what are you drinking?
Regular old beer. And tequila.
Any particular brand?
Whatever someone puts in front of me.