Friday, May 07, 2010

David Cross: Bigger and Blackerer

Successful comedians are always smarter than their audiences. They make the people in the crowd think that they’re so clever for getting the jokes. Comedians purposefully do this. Well, okay, Dane Cook is up for debate. But David Cross is one smart comedian. He knows exactly what will make his niche audience squirm, giggle or groan.

Religion. Hard drugs. Whole Foods. David Cross possesses a charming disdain that can simultaneously praise and scold the hipster scene he works in. And they love it. Oh, I might as well go through with this… I love it. I’ve been in Whole Foods enough times to understand why Cross would take a stab at that way-too-expensive supermarket’s way-too-green marketing efforts. There aren’t many other comedians who go there.

In my mind, David Cross is a huge star, but, astonishingly, I still regularly meet people who don’t know who he is. They may know “Tobias from Arrested Development,” but they don’t know the actor’s real name. They don’t realize that he was in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I’m Not There or the best scene in Men in Black. Nor have they ever even heard of Mr. Show. But this is exactly why David Cross is successful. He appeals to the indie kids, that self-centered sub-culture that pride themselves in knowing what the mass market doesn’t know.

So in essence, his comedy should be insufferable. If his audience is comprised of Old Style chuggers and bike polo players, one would assume his comedy would be contrived in the worst kind of hipster way. But no, he’s funny. Why? Because he’s smarter than his audience.

In his latest release for Sub Pop, Bigger and Blackerer, Cross tells tales of encountering shady homeless guys in New York City, shitting his pants due to an excess of heroin, racist pedophiles, sarcastic white entitlement and ironic atheism.

One of my favorite moments is when Cross makes fun of the devil. “He has comically limited powers… If you get possessed all you gotta do is show him a cross. Just show it to him! He hates reminders. ‘Oh! Don’t remind me!’” Cross doesn’t really condemn faith as much as he points out how bizarre it is to do what so many Evangelicals have done: interpret it literally.

“What’s the gravity situation in Heaven like?”

“There must be trillions of people in Heaven by now, it must be packed! …not that many Chinese probably, but still...”

“And when you get to Heaven… are you magically imbued with being able to communicate to all people regardless of language barrier or the era they’re from?”

Smarmy as it is, David Cross helps his fans think of religion for what it can be—absurd. He doesn’t just take on Christianity either; he goes hard at Scientology and Mormonism. Cross criticizes religion with more intellect and wit than Richard Dawkins could ever manage. It’s not surprising though, this is just what the best comedians can do. Through extreme silliness, they make powerful social, political and philosophical statements. They’re the philosophers of the postmodern age, really.

In a lazy era of illiteracy and video game addiction, the majority of our generation’s knowledge has come from the first eight seasons of The Simpsons. But why not, The Simpsons (first eight seasons) was hilarious, and had very strong messages about American society and cultural folly. If kids don’t have the patience to read books anymore, thank goodness there are people like Matt Groening and David Cross out there helping them think in new ways somehow.

Comedy writing is still one of those things that gets through to people. Whether it’s Tina Fey doing a spot-on Sarah Palin, Tim and Eric tapping into our collective subconscious, or David Cross making light of clinical depression, these are the people we’re most likely to listen to. Not a politician. Not a pastor. Not a parent. Why? Because those three P’s don’t want to make us laugh. They just want to change our minds and have us believe what they believe. So if, on the other hand, someone is courteous enough to stand in front of an audience with the sole purpose of making that group of people smile, that individual deserves our attention. Laughter feels so much better when it’s amongst friends. Good comedians are smart enough to know this too. There’s power in numbers, but even more power when those numbers are laughing together.

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