The final treat of the L.A. Film Festival was getting a chance to talk to the incomparable comedian David Cross, one of the stars of Todd Berger's terrorist-attack dark comedy It's a Disaster, as well as Dr. Tobias Funke on Arrested Development. As I mentioned previously, It's a Disaster takes a shoe-strong, funny and surprisingly realistic approach to answering the question of what would happen should terrorists strike during brunch. L.A. residents know what it's like to live with a disaster hanging over their head, so I quizzed Cross on the film, his experience with the disaster trio of the Northridge Quake, 9/11 and the New York Black Out, as well as his list of absolute essentials for true disaster preparedness (hint: it involves the dairy aisle at Ralph's.)
First, I'm thrilled to talk because my favorite sketch of all time is your Mr. Show sketch, "Pre-Taped Call-in Show." Without flattering you too much, it's meta genius.
Hah, yeah, it's pretty meta.
It's like the M.C. Escher of comedy sketches.
Nice, I haven't heard it referred to that way, but yeah, it's like an onion of comedy -- not The Onion the newspaper, I mean like an actual onion.
Exactly, you peel away the layers and just get more and more frayed nerves and pathos. In a way, it's like It's a Disaster, now that I think about it.
Yeah, I thought the script was super sharp and funny in an honest way. It's not like sitcom jokes where somebody would never say that thing cause it's just a writer's clever joke. The comedy [in It's a Disaster] really felt honest. All the characters are real and grounded, even though they're all wildly different and represent different types of personalities.
For such a high-concept disaster film, it felt surprisingly (and hilariously) realistic.
Well, one of the genius things about the script, and it came out of practicality because it was such a low-budget film, was you couldn't show what was happening. I mean, it's not aliens blowing up the planet or anything, but because of the nature of what's happening, these people have to seal themselves inside this house. The characters themselves act silly, stupid, with misplaced priorities, but they really represent so much of American culture as well, the kind of self-involved narcissism that each character has in their own subtle way.
There seem to be a lot of these disaster/end of the world films lately. Why do you think that is? Is there a cultural link, something in the Zeitgeist or what?
I don't think there's a link in the culture, but I think things are particularly unpleasant for a lot of people, not just in America, but all over the world. Unless you live in Scandinavia where people are quite happy. But they're godless socialists, so what do they know?
Certainly, our culture is somewhat pathetic. What we consider talent and art that has value in this country is for the most part garbage, as well as what gets rewarded and who gets rewarded -- but I don't think it has any correlation to the state of disaster movies. [In It's a Disaster] some unknown, unseen terrorists set off some dirty bombs. So, it's certainly relatable in that we're all subconsciously, waiting, "When is that gonna happen?" That'll probably happen in a couple of years, right? A suitcase bomb in Philadelphia, that's what, 2014 you think?
It's kind of like living in L.A. waiting for a you-know-what. Were you here for that?
Sure, I was here for the Northridge quake and I was in New York for 9/11. So, I've had that first hand, "Oh shit, now what do we do." A lot of it is about the first 48 hours where there's so much confusion. People understandably don't trust their news sources or their politicians, but in those situations, you really have no choice. You have to suspend that and go, "What's happening, what do I do? Giuliani says what now? Get my water, okay I'll get my water." I mean, it was like that two years later when we had the big blackout in New York. Of course the first thing was, "It's Muslims!" But it's really about what you do in the face of that confusion. You're immediately and shockingly close to a child who needs nurturing and their hand held to know where do I go.
It's revealing, too. When the power goes out and you think everything's going to hell in a hand-basket, you definitely learn things about yourself.
Oh yeah, I learned a lot about myself, especially after the Northridge earthquake. I was very surprised to learn that the first place I'd loot was Ralphs. Prior to the earthquake, the first thing I would loot would have been this men's clothing store on Hollywood Blvd. There's a couple of suits there I wouldn't necessarily pay for, but if they were free, I'd take them. So, I would've thought that'd be the first place I'd loot: you know alligator shoes and shark skin suits. But I was shocked to find myself at the dairy aisle in Ralphs.
When push comes to shove, you'd rather have moose-tracks ice cream, huh?
Yeah, I got Kerrygold butter, the fancy butter, and I got a bunch of aerosol whip cream, for obvious reasons. I wouldn't have said that before the earthquake, but now I know.
On the bright side, community comes out in a disaster. Like in L.A., you discover you actually have neighbors.
Yeah, that was one of, if not the greatest thing I experienced after 9/11 and the blackout. And New York has this in spades -- I would say L.A. doesn't really have this even with a disaster -- but [in the black out] everybody was helping each other, nobody was selling batteries for $20 a pop. I can't speak for all New York but I can talk about the East Village and Lower East Side. It was a very optimistic, heart-warming thing to experience.
So, the Lower East Side is the place to be?
For sure. The building I was in was 12 stories and there were a lot of elderly people and people were going door to door immediately, making sure everyone was okay. It didn't take them hours to go, "Oh shit, there's people up there." It was really the first half hour.
What about free love communes? I feel like, in a disaster, people are suddenly much more open to orgies and such.
Not that I was invited to. It might've been happening but I don't think they sent out Evites. The electricity was off anyway.
So, what's next?
I'm starting to get back into stand-up more, and I should have enough material soon. I've got a book I'm working on with Bob Odenkirk, which is a collection of our movie scripts that never got made. At some point, a movie will be coming out I did with Daniel Radcliffe where he plays Allen Ginsburg and I play his father, and I'm getting married in the fall.
Congrats! Okay, I have to ask, any Arrested Development tid-bits to share?
Nope. I mean, there's nothing to say, there's no script, there's no deal. There's nothing that's going on.
All right. Again, I love that sketch: I think it should be shot out into space on Voyager 3 or whatever so when aliens come across the remains of our race, 5,000 years from now, they'll know what humor is.
Well, I don't know if I'd go that far, but let's get NASA on it.