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Answers by David Cross, Performer, writer & producer; w/ Bob and David, Mr. Show, Arrested Development, on Quora.
Q: How do you prepare for standup comedy?
For something as big and fully realized as a tour, I will cull all of the ideas jotted down on scraps of paper and bits I've been doing (can't really call it "working on") here and there at various friends' shows or benefits or the occasional music fest, and pick out the stuff that I think is the strongest. Then I work on those bits and ideas and flesh them out more fully onstage. I ALWAYS tape my sets during this part of the process and then listen back, and eventually try to get rid of all of the meandering riffing and edit them down to the core idea (I can always play around with the idea and riff once I know I've got it down). I do this because, unfortunately, I can't sit down and write jokes. I've tried, believe me. I'm just not good at it. I wish it wasn't that way, but it is. I do almost all of my writing, after the initial idea comes to me, onstage.
Then, three or four weeks before I go out, I put together what I think the optimum sequence will be. I then book some secret one-hour shows somewhere and run the hour as I think it will work best. I will know pretty much immediately if I've made some mistakes and need to move stuff around. I do that a couple of times until I've got it where I'm happy and then hit the road! I know from experience that the first show I do on this next tour, "Making America Great Again,
" which starts at the end of January, will be quite a bit different by the time I'm winding it up in late July. Probably over a third will be completely new with a bunch of stuff jettisoned along the way.
And again, like all of my ideas, the inspiration will just occur to me in the moment.
Q: What was it like doing standup in the 90's? How has the scene changed since then?
A: I suppose somewhere in the early 90's is where the seismic shift towards, what we'll call out of laziness, the "alternative" scene, really became solidified and an accepted part of the cultural norm. The seeds were planted back in the eighties by a number of folks, Janeane Garofalo being one of the first to break through. That's not to imply it was ever calculated, which it wasn't, just that that's who she was and she was one of the first to catch on nationally. By the 90's there were hundreds of us!!!
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I had a foot in both worlds as I started in Atlanta in the early 80's (I was shit) and got some road work here and there, and then moved to Boston as that scene was starting to peak and worked constantly simply because they needed bodies to fill slots. Back then, the idea of not having a tight set and bringing notes onstage and blatantly referring to them and just winging it about a personal observation or anecdote that had happened to you that day was looked on with mild curiosity at best, and outright anger at worst.
Now it's different of course. But to answer the question, it was a palpable, exciting creative time to be doing stand up with peers that pushed you and challenged you to be your best while being tough judges, but always supportive. That's, in great part, where the "Mr. Show" community came from.