Comedy actor takes on new literary role

The crowd that gathered for David Cross’ pre-book signing Q&A at Book Soup last Thursday was so large that it nearly bled onto Sunset Boulevard. And when the 45-year-old entertainer moved to take his place — sharpie in hand — behind the back-wall register, all of the film geeks, underground comedy buffs, Arrested Development fans, squealing women and plaid-wearing cool kids clutching copies of Cross’ first book-writing attempt, I Drink for a Reason, wound an orderly single-file line between shelves of recommended paperbacks.

The diverse congregation of fans was new for Cross, who never imagined that he would be adding “book author” to his long list of cross-medium comedy accomplishments.

Tough guy · Cross initially struggled to write I Drink For a Reason, his debut humor book that delves into pop culture and social commentary. - Photo courtesy of ID PR

Tough guy · Cross initially struggled to write I Drink For a Reason, his debut humor book that delves into pop culture and social commentary. - Photo courtesy of ID PR

“I’m brand new to the publishing world,” Cross said in an interview. “It’s very much a different experience from anything else I’ve done.”

Starting as a standup comedian in the mid-1980s, Atlanta-born Cross has expanded his offbeat jokes and biting humor into a multifaceted career. Currently, he is most recognizable as the goofy-looking psychiatrist-turned-wannabe-Blue-Man-Group-member Tobias Fünke on HBO’s Arrested Development, but his complete list of accomplishments is more expansive, spanning from one entertainment extreme to the other.

He wrote Emmy-winning sketches for The Ben Stiller Show, created and starred in his own HBO series Mr. Show with Bob and David, picked up bit parts in movies like Cable Guy and Scary Movie 2, recorded three full-length comedy CDs, appeared in music videos for The Strokes and Yo La Tengo and, more recently, has lent his voice to video games such as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and children’s movies like Kung Fu Panda.

Underneath his extensive Hollywood resumé, however, Cross is still true to his standup roots. He often performs at comedy festivals and is known for popping in on friends’ shows and rattling through an impromptu set. It only seems fair, then, that his venture into the foreign realm of book signings is being coupled with the format most familiar to Cross as he turns his upcoming North American appearances into stops on his first standup comedy tour in five years.

“I just haven’t gone out on tour and done a new hour of material,” Cross said. “And the fact that I haven’t done that in a while and the book is coming out just sort of made sense.”

According to the press release, I Drink For a Reason is Cross’ “first and final book,” an understandable statement given the stress involved with its production. After being approached with an offer by an agent he’d never met, Cross spent seven frustrating months trying to comply with the contract’s anti-humorous fiction clause.

“I started to write stuff like George Saunders … and I was really struggling with it,” Cross said. “It wasn’t my forte and it was harder than I thought.”

So when he approached his editor to ask for an extension, Cross mentioned his months of difficulty trying to write a book of truths. The editor said it was no problem — “Write whatever you want” — and for the next year, the unhindered words of comedy’s king of intelligent randomness began to flow.

“It was like they took off the handcuffs,” Cross says.

The result of Cross’ writing freedom is a humor book that defies the standup-comedian-writes-a-humor-book cliché. It is not a transcription of favorite routines with cool text formatting like George Carlin’s Brain Droppings. Nor is it full of anecdotal memoir notes with supposedly funny commentary, like Ellen Degeneres’ My Point…And I Do Have One. Instead, I Drink For a Reason is 236 pages of pensive essays, stream-of-consciousness rants, pop culture scorn, autobiographical untruths and nonsensical lists written specifically for his literary debut.

The compilation reads less like a well-polished humor book and more like a one-sided conversation where Cross imparts onto readers every overly expanded random thought — and tangental sub-thought — he’s had in the last three years. Although it’s sometimes hard being sucked into the innermost depths of Cross’ brain, the subject matter is relevant and the variety of structure styles is the literary manifestation of his extensive humor experience.

“I wanted to compile a book of a bunch of different types of comedy writing — which I did,” Cross said.

When greeting anxious fans at last week’s book signing, Cross gave no sign of inexperience with the process. Sporting a wooly, graying beard, he confidently signed personal messages into hardcover editions and listened with a smile as people used the opportunity to mention when they last “met” him. With a quintessentially Cross humor book now under his belt, the comedian can again focus on his original love.

“Every medium has its benefits, but in the moment that I’m doing it, standup is always more fun,” Cross said.