Books

I Drink for a Reason by David Cross

What's unfortunate is that Cross' thoughtful, considered standup routines do not prepare you for the wildly uneven, remarkably slapdash effort that is this book, a hit-or-miss collection of jokes from someone whom we expect better.


I Drink for a Reason

Publisher: Grand Central
Length: 256 pages
Author: David Cross
Format: Hardcover
Publication Date: 2009-08
Amazon

Let us explore, briefly, the unique personality traits shared between David Cross and Tony Kushner.

In Robert Brustein's excellent 1993 New Republic article "Angles in America", playwright Tony Kushner -- who skyrocketed to fame with his epic, two-part "gay fantasia" about homosexuality in the States, Angels in America -- is portrayed as one who does not take too kindly to criticism. In fact, Kushner comes off as pompous, self-centered, and overly sensitive to any sort of critique against his chosen craft, going as far as to write multi-page tirades to the critics who simply didn't "get" his masterpiece (which Brustein has described as what may very well be "the most highly publicized play in American history"), frequently using a surprising amount of venom to tear down those who even think to hold an opinion counter to his.

It's a bit surprising, then, to discover this trait is also held by David Cross, a daring stand-up comedian and brilliant character actor whose work has included the sketch-comedy milestone Mr. Show and the greatest American sitcom of the past decade, Arrested Development. In a chapter of his book I Drink for a Reason entitled "A Little Bit about Me, 'Cause It's My Book", Cross tells the tale of how a blogger named Emily tore apart a set of his for being filled with blatant Bigotry towards Mormonism (specifically in regards to Mitt Romney's then-active Presidential campaign), explaining how South Park had walked the satirical line better and how disappointed she was with Cross in general. Cross, then, reprints his long response, which picks apart Emily's review piece by piece, undoubtedly correcting some of the context in which his jokes appeared (that Emily failed to mention), but still coming off as a very nitpicky and self-serving kind of gesture (you can read the whole piece here).

Yet, even with all of this in mind, at least Cross is bold enough to republish that entire exchange himself in his own book.

In truth, this chapter, as surprisingly straight-faced as it is, shows the largest problem with Cross' first venture into the realm of publishing: for a man with such incredible observational powers, Cross isn't self-deprecating enough to be entirely relatable. By frequently taking the supposed moral high-ground on several issues, he frequently comes off as self-righteous and introverted, a tactic that works majestically for some routines, but can be fairly alienating to an audience in the long run of things.

Anyone who's heard Cross' required-listening two-disc epic stand-up masterstroke Shut Up You Fucking Baby! knows just how bold Cross can be when he's on. Released just over a year after the events of 9/11 -- when the American populace was still in a fragile emotional state following terrorist attacks -- Cross was the first (and, at the time, the only) comedian to go right for the heart of the rah-rah jingoism that was still dominant in the media, ripping it and the Bush administration apart without any sort of mercy whatsoever, tackling controversial topics head-on as other stand-ups simply danced around them. The shock factor that came out of that routine -- a factor that has yet to be personally duplicated by Cross -- only gave more fuel to his jokes, resulting in a routine that was alarming in its frankness but gut-busting in its impact.

The Cross of that era is not the same Cross of I Drink for a Reason. When you boil it down, I Drink is nothing more than a collection of essays, lists, and personal anecdotes, not too dissimilar from Jerry Seinfeld's 1993 tome Seinlanguage (but with far, far more snark). At times, I Drink feels like it was hastily written, with certain pieces barely rising above blog-level syntax with Cross' frequent use of ending sentences with multiple exclamation marks!!! Some pieces meander a bit, some of his pot shots (James Frey, Pitchfork.com, Fox News) are way too easy, and some of his satirical anecdotes (like the time he was staying at a Michigan hotel where a scrapbooking convention was being held) give off that holier-than-thou attitude that paints Cross as one who takes joy from marginalizing those not as educated/world-weary as himself.

Fortunately, there are still several passages that show Cross as engaged and as entertaining as ever. He punctuates his book at various times with tales of just how amazing he'll be at those various high-society parties for book authors (taking down everyone -- including himself -- with relish), reprints a comically playful series of e-mail exchanges about setting up a time to be interviewed by Dave Eggers (those e-mails of which actually became the published piece), and at one point dismantles our national holidays piece-by-piece with a smart edge that's as funny as it is painfully true.

Yet Cross is -- and always has been -- at his best when he's mixing the political with the personal, giving an everyman view of controversial issues that don't really need to be made issues to begin with. The very first chapter of I Drink is about a bumper sticker that Cross saw that read, simply, "Don't Abandon Your Baby". As Cross sums it up:

What kind of person needs to be told, or "reminded," that they shouldn't abandon their child? People who sit around all day, daydreaming and fantasizing about a future they'll never have because they sit around all day, daydreaming and fantasizing about a future they'll never have? What does it say about our selfish, stupid, and cruel society? I guess that we can be monstrously selfish, stupid, and cruel. The Iraq war (or rather the war we started in Iraq; there really wasn't much of a fight until we set up colonization school) is a good example. It's an amazingly disappointing realization to know just how thoughtless and insensitive to other human beings we can so simply and predictably be programmed to be. Tossing a thing you don't want or no longer desire to the curb is not really that bad if it's biodegradable, which a baby is, I guess; but come on now -- let's apply some standards.

Cross is the very definition of what an envelope-pushing comedian should be, and, yes, he occasionally oversteps his bounds -- but what quality bold-faced comedian doesn't? What's unfortunate is that Cross' thoughtful, considered standup routines do not prepare you for the wildly uneven, remarkably slapdash effort that is I Drink for a Reason, a hit-or-miss collection of jokes from someone we expect far, far better from.

5


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

Zadie Smith's 'Intimations' Essays Pandemic With Erudite Wit and Compassion

Zadie Smith's Intimations is an essay collection of gleaming, wry, and crisp prose that wears its erudition lightly but takes flight on both everyday and lofty matters.

Music

Phil Elverum Sings His Memoir on 'Microphones in 2020'

On his first studio album under the Microphones moniker since 2003, Phil Elverum shows he has been recording the same song since he was a teenager in the mid-1990s. Microphones in 2020 might be his apex as a songwriter.

Music

Washed Out's 'Purple Noon' Supplies Reassurance and Comfort

Washed Out's Purple Noon makes an argument against cynicism simply by existing and sounding as good as it does.

Music

'Eight Gates' Is Jason Molina's Stark, Haunting, Posthumous Artistic Statement

The ten songs on Eight Gates from the late Jason Molina are fascinating, despite – or perhaps because of – their raw, unfinished feel.

Film

Apocalypse '45 Uses Gloriously Restored Footage to Reveal the Ugliest Side of Our Nature

Erik Nelson's gorgeously restored Pacific War color footage in Apocalypse '45 makes a dramatic backdrop for his revealing interviews with veterans who survived the brutality of "a war without mercy".

Music

12 Brilliant Recent Jazz Albums That Shouldn't Be Missed

There is so much wonderful creative music these days that even an apartment-bound critic misses too much of it. Here is jazz from the last 18 months that shouldn't be missed.

Music

Blues Legend Bobby Rush Reinvigorates the Classic "Dust My Broom" (premiere)

Still going strong at 86, blues legend Bobby Rush presents "Dust My Broom" from an upcoming salute to Mississippi blues history, Rawer Than Raw, rendered in his inimitable style.

Music

Folk Rock's the Brevet Give a Glimmer of Hope With "Blue Coast" (premiere)

Dreamy bits of sunshine find their way through the clouds of dreams dashed and lives on the brink of despair on "Blue Coast" from soulful rockers the Brevet.

Music

Michael McArthur's "How to Fall in Love" Isn't a Roadmap (premiere)

In tune with classic 1970s folk, Michael McArthur weaves a spellbinding tale of personal growth and hope for the future with "How to Fall in Love".

Film

Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.

Music

The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.

Music

Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.

Music

Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.

Music

Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.

Film

The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.

Music

Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.

Music

Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.

Music

Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.