[14 January 2003]
David Cross is an engaging intelligent comedic force that aims for the jugular at a time when others don’t. As a society, we have a younger generation well versed in the safe comforts of Seinfeld-ish stand-up schtick that compares genders or asks “What’s up with that?” in a clever way. But few these days know the pointed acerbic stylings of those who aimed to change the world with their comedy: a Lenny Bruce, a Mort Sahl, a Richard Pryor, or most recently, a Bill Hicks. And while this is a time rife for questioning everything, most comedians today choose to shrink from controversial topics like politics or religion. No one seems to be doing the kind of comedy that makes you squirm, or at the very least, forces you to think. That is why David Cross seems so very necessary for the here and now.
This master of sketch comedy (mostly as half of HBO’s The Mr. Show with partner Bob Odenkirk, though recognizable to many from guest spots on shows such as Don’t Shoot Me and The Drew Carey Show as well as in both of the Men in Black movies) takes command of the stand-up forum with this two-CD set culled from his recent shows at rock venues.
Cross detests the mediocre safe confines of most comedians, and so uses his track listings to skew the types of routines they do—there is no correlation to the actual bits being performed. Instead, this is just more fodder for clever parody, poking fun at the sort of lame schticks that others consider funny, e.g., Welfare Dentist on a Bender, Monica Lewinsky and the Three Bears, My Daughter’s First Date).
When the actual CD is played, many are bound to be offended by Cross’ topical rants, which is exactly what he’s after. This is more than comedy; this is a wake-up call to a nation that seems to have been coaxed into a stupor of timidity that is alarming, to a population placated and bamboozled by everything from football to patriotism. Cross expresses his own personal outrage at the state of things, from corrupt religion to the current political powers-that-be and beyond, and he makes us laugh along the way.
Culled largely from Atlanta and Portland dates from a tour of rock clubs in the spring of 2002 (opening for the likes of Ultrababyfat and Arlo), Shut Up You Fucking Baby! is a tribute to freedom of speech and thought. Cross takes on the big bad world with stinging satire, quick to point out the absurdity of situations social, political, and religious, peppering his banter with non-stop expletives that become less offensive than the targets they seek.
His style is disarming, casual narratives that ramble at times en route to their points. There’s a sense of whimsy crossed with outrage, as if he can’t believe the absurd realities he pokes at with his pointed stick of verbal acuity.
On Disc One, he takes us on an extended jaunt that starts from a recollection of a lame celebration in Atlanta to growing up as a misunderstood Jew in the heart of the deep White South (he’s an atheist now). Cross goes on to skew the South with such observations as this: “The South has a certain kind of ignorance that is deeper and truer, more unwavering and steadfast than the rest of the country has.” Or this: “The South has a disproportionate amount of irony on T-shirts.”
He goes on to expose the challenges that living in New York presents: “Every 20 minutes, you have to decide immediately—do I look at the most beautiful woman in the world or the craziest guy in the world” and comes close to other comedians in comparing his NYC experience to that of living in Los Angeles: “The best/worst/best part of Hollywood is the non-stop parade of delusion you get to see.”
But David Cross is not like other comedians. When going on about being in New York for the horrors of September 11th (or, as he calls it, “the week football stopped”), he points out the minutiae that others might have missed—the ludicrous notion of National Guard troops needing camouflage outfits on 14th Street, how people seemed to be overly nice to each other, and then segues into how one garbage truck driver tried to pick up a woman on the street. This illustrates an aggressive attitude that Cross then adopts as character, as he goes into an extended monologue/diatribe explaining his strategies.
Cross is good at voices and attitudes, and goes on to tell the tale of Gabriel, one rollerblader with a gas mask who refuses to let the events of terror change his rollerblading ways. This then leads into an exploration of the gay voice (“not all gay men have it, but only gay men have it”) and the absurdity of gayness being anything other than genetic. Cross then wonders about the widespread epidemic that is the redneck voice (“it’s all over the place, not just the South”) and the treat of getting to witness a redneck fight.
His loathing of other comedians extends to the terror of having to do radio promotions for comedy club appearances with local cities’ version of the morning zoo-crew. He rips into these “two nutty guys with Hawaiian shirts on”, dissecting these mindless generic duos and the bits they do.
On Disc Two, David Cross unleashes his political vitriol in a big way. First, he discusses how flag waving, patriotism, and jingoism has gotten to be such an empty gesture of crass commercialization, then he takes on what appears to be the true object of his loathing, one George W. Bush, whom he believes may go down in history as the worst president we have ever had. He thinks George W. Bush is dangerously bad and points out the silliness of aspects of the job he’s doing: “You cannot win a war on terrorism, it’s like having a war on jealousy, it’s an absurd notion all we’re doing is just creating more terrorists.”
Cross is outraged at the special treatment we are giving Dubya, reasoning that he’s only doing the job that anyone would have done in that situation (“Nader would have bombed Afghanistan”). Cross takes the US to task: “We’re all treating him like he came in third place in the Special Olympics, as a nation we’re all like—Hey, good job, you’re doing a great job there, buddy, come on, no more tears, you did good!” In essence, Cross reminds us that “he’s the same moron he was before the planes hit” and that he hasn’t taken any genius pills to change it.
Mostly, Cross is upset with the way Dubya has been using the war on terrorism as a distraction from the way he has rolled back civil rights, women’s rights, separation of church and state issues. He hates the way he lies to us, pretending to be a good-old boy, and just one of us.
Cross goes on to skewer such notions as the privatizing of Social Security and the missile defense shield and how it works: “Well, since you really want to know, quite simply a missile defense shield is a net made of magic held in place by pixies.”
He relates the absurdities regarding attorney general John Ashcroft, a man who believes in the devil and that the statue of Lady Justice is pornographic: “This is a guy who couldn’t get re-elected in his home state, running against a dead man.” Cross then shows us how the $300 tax refund was but a crude ploy to get votes, and acidly comments on the Bush policy of executing retarded people: “Every time a retarded person is executed an angel gets its wings.”
He goes on another extended rant in character to illustrate the wacky way Rickey Henderson refers to himself in the third person, and even puts down ridiculous unnecessary products (e.g., The Squagle from Cosi’s—a square bagel). But the real power of Cross is in the way he attacks organized religion. On the first disc, he talks about the absurd notions of Judaism, and here he brings up the Catholic Church, where molestation is punishable only by being transferred (“ah, fresh meat!”) and how the aging Pope is held to be infallible. Cross might offend many, especially in the way he carries his arguments to extremes just to make a point. Yet, this is what makes him a powerful comedic force, his way of pointing out these absurdities.
He takes on the Bible as something so funny and crazy as to defy all credulity (he goes into detail pointing out the ludicrous first six pages of Genesis), then goes on to read some stories from the religious tract of “The Promise Keepers”. His sense of outrage at the way these stories are comprised of lies and how truly ridiculous they are is both engaging and entertaining.
The savage and often cynical ramblings of David Cross may not be for everyone, but it’s refreshing to again hear an intelligent critic take on the absurdities of society, politics and religion included. His caustic barbs make Dennis Miller’s raves seem lightweight by comparison.
You do get the sense that Cross is outraged by the way things are and as such, the way he presents his freewheeling comedic rants also informs and educates, raising awareness in a way that goes beyond what most stand-up comedy is about. You laugh because what he says is true, even with things you might not have realized beforehand.
To hear someone take a stand against our national complacency, and to bring it directly to younger rock concert crowds, is reassuring. We are not the idiots our TV and films often would lead one to believe, and the comic genius of David Cross thrives on that realization. Thank goodness Cross challenges the status quo by focusing the spotlight on the absurdities contained within the very topics most people choose to avoid. Shut Up You Fucking Baby! is an unabashed pleasure. Relevant, insightful topical comedy lives on!
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/crossdavid-shut/