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All the Negatives Have Been Destroyed October 18, 2009

Posted by monty in comedy.
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Even though there are standup comedians I like better, David Cross is probably the one I’ve gravitated to most over the last ten years (along with Patton Oswalt, which will be a post for another time).  I know it can be a mistake not to separate stage persona from “real life” personality, but I’ve always felt largely in sync with Cross, from his style of humor to his love of left-field music to his views on politics and religion.  His work on Mr. Show and Arrested Development is suitable for a comedy time capsule, and his two standup CD’s, Shut Up, You Fucking Baby! and It’s Not Funny still get frequent play on my iPod (the former, especially, was in constant rotation for about six months after its release).  His standup is visceral and biting, and large chunks of it appear to be improvised, lending it a sense of playful unpredictably.  So, for all these reasons, I was really looking forward to seeing him last night at the Tabernacle in Atlanta.

Things started out auspiciously enough.  In fact, he was rolling through his early material, about the ridiculousness of airlines still announcing that they’re nonsmoking, years after banning smoking from all flights (“This flight is also non-slavery.  We would also like you to know that the Earth rotates around the sun, so sayeth Galieo”) and the pernicious effect years of drinking and drug use have had on his digestive system (“When I shit, it sounds like a junior high school orchestra warming up”).

Things hit a snag 40 minutes in, when a heckler from the balcony – apropos of nothing Cross was actually talking about at the time – starting giving him shit about doing a book signing at Barnes & Noble, instead of “an indepndent book store.”  Instead of ignoring the heckler, Cross stood still for a moment then, incredulous, said, “Wow.  You’re furious about this, aren’t you?”  He launched into a short explanation about how tours work and having contracts with various booksellers and wanting to get his book out to the most people, “and also, fuck you.”  The heckler yelled something else about the band Dinosaur Jr. playing an in-store at a local record store that day and Cross, flashing his music nerd chops, replied, “Oh, that must be Lou Barlow up there.” (Sidenote for those with a life: Barlow left Dinosaur Jr. acrimoniously a long time ago and only reunited with the band recently.)

Cross got back on track after that, continuing with material about the current political contentiousness, the fraud of Mormonism, and a beautiful bit about SkyMall that ended with him on the floor, humping his SkyMall-endorsed Time Mug™.  But now, whether emboldened by the previous heckler or just drunk, Cross was interrupted more and more frequently during the show.  He was able to brush these off, but when he was interrupted repeatedly in the quiet build-up to his closing bit (see Patton Oswalt’s Werewolves & Lollipops album for his treatise on how good comedy bits “start soft and then get loud, like a Pixies song”), a visibly angry Cross gave up. “I just can’t do this.  We’re taping the show in Boston, so you’ll just have to watch it on the DVD and then you’ll understand.”  He continued, “When I was looking at the map of where we’re playing on this tour, I never would have guessed Atlanta would be the shitty audience.  I thought for sure this was going to be a great show.”  He eventually did the bit – and it was funny – but he’d lost his momentum.  He stood there for a moment, looking off into the wings, and then finally said, “So now I don’t know how to end this.”  Another moment of silence.  “Goodnight.”  And he walked off.

I have nothing but respect and admiration for Cross.  From my time doing improv, I know what it’s like to deal with drunks and hecklers, and watching him get angrier and angrier, yet still trying to carry on with his show, just made me respect him more.  The really sad thing is that a vast majority of the  crowd was on his side.  During the debacle of the closing bit there was an increasing amount of push-back toward the hecklers with people yelling at them be quiet.  This, of course, only made things worse.  But, as he said when he came back onstage for a brief bow, it only takes a handful of people to ruin a show.

And, you know, this is something that’s always frustrated me about hecklers and people who talk too loudly during live performances (which reminds me of the two guys sitting next to me at Lewis Black a couple years ago who just carried on a conversation through the whole show) and people who shout song requests at bands and people who won’t shut up during movies: Why is everything always about you?  When you’re in an audience with hundreds (or thousands) of other people, why this bizarre selfishness that allows you to believe your needs take precedence over everyone else’s?  And, better yet, why spend the money to go to a show if you’re just going to impose your retardery on the proceedings?  For the people at the show last night, was it worth it to spend $40 just to yell “Woooooooo!” every time Cross mentioned drinking?  When you’re seeing a band and it’s between songs, will your experience really improve if you interrupt the frontman by screaming out the name of an obscure b-side they haven’t played live in 15 years?  And if you’re just going to talk through an entire movie, wouldn’t it be cheaper just to wait to see it on DVD?  The increasing selfishness and solipsism of Americans is something I’ve become increasingly interested in and concerned with over the last few years, and I had no idea I’d get a good example of it at last night’s show.

Cross deserved better, and I only hope this experience doesn’t sour him from returning to Atlanta in the future.


Current listening:

British man

British Sea Power – Man of Aran