With a career spanning two decades, David Cross has cemented himself as one of the most innovative voices in comedy today. His ’90s sketch program, Mr. Show, not only introduced us to some of today’s comic superstars, including Sarah Silverman and Jack Black; it thrust the post –’80s standup world of comedy into the 21st Century with its iconoclastic, no-holds-barred take on society. David achieved cult status for his portrayal of the master of unintentional double entendre and “analrapy,” Dr. Tobias Fünke, on the far-too-brief sitcom Arrested Development. And his standup continues to draw legions of fans wherever he tours. This fall, David continues his legacy with not one, but two shows debuting on television: IFC’s Brit-com The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, which he created, wrote and stars in, and Fox’s Running Wilde, where he’ll be teaming up with his Arrested Development co-star, Will Arnett, once again. Hulu recently got David on the telephone to inquire about these new projects and how he was convinced to work in London. — Martin Moakler, Digital Video Publisher
Hulu: Hi, David! Thank you so much for talking with us today.
David Cross: Hi, Martin from Hulu! How are you?
Hulu: I’m doing quite well. How are you doing?
Hulu: I was wondering if you could start off by telling us a little bit about The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret.
David: Sure, what do you want to know?
Hulu: What was the genesis of the show? I was surprised that you were going to shoot a show in London.
David: The genesis of it was … not the idea for the show itself, but the idea to do a show in London came from this woman Clelia Mountford who is a comedy producer over at RDF Media in London. I was over there doing standup and she came up to me after a show, and with no real show idea, said, “Hey! Would you be interested in exploring this possibility of doing a comedy show where we put you together with a British writer or producer, writer/producer, doing a show for the UK that could potentially be sold to the States as well?” I was like, “Yeah, sure! That’s great!”
Hulu: Now you co-wrote this with Shaun Pye [Extras], right?
Hulu: Did you know him beforehand?
David: No. The very first of numerous processes that went on, very first of them was me going back over to London. We had set up about 12, 14, 16 different meetings with various writers, producers and a lot of people that I’m really enamored with: Robert Popper, Sam Bain, and Jesse Armstrong from Peep Show, bunch of really good people, Charlie Brooke … and Shaun Pye was one of them and we really hit it off. He had the advantage of being at the end of one of my sessions when I was meeting people so went to a pub and then we just hung out and had a few pints and really hit it off. It’s been great. He’s probably responsible for the nine out of ten of the hardest laughs that you’ll have in this show. He wrote those jokes.
Hulu: On what did you base Todd Margaret? Was it someone you knew?
David: In what sense? Was he inspired by somebody?
David: No. I’ve never written with those kinds of parameters before. You know, part of it was we all discussed this and we were all in agreement we didn’t want it to simply be fish out of water. “Hey! The American guy comes to London and doesn’t know what side of the street to drive on” kind of thing. It really is story centric. The travel of the guy’s story and journey is a big part of it. Every episode takes place the next day and it all kind of almost exponentially piles on. His problems keep getting worse and worse and worse almost exponentially because of the lies and what he creates.
Hulu: I guess this would be a good time to ask you to tell us a little about Todd Margaret, himself.
David: He is a directionless guy with no ambition just sort of floating through life who happens through mere happenstance and luck, while he’s at a temp job that one might assume is the 100th temp job in a series of 250 of them, and he’s mistaken for being a tough, hard-ass salesman and jumps on the opportunity that that affords him but he’s in way, way, way over his head.
Hulu: You have an interesting cast. You have Will Arnett and Amber Tamblyn, and we would know them from Arrested Development with you and Joan of Arcadia, notably for Amber. [Ed. Note: Tamblyn also starred in The Unusuals.] How did you guys go about with the British casting?
David: The role of Alice was Sharon Horgan. She was suggested to me. I’d never seen her work. The character was much different in my mind. Alice was originally written as more of an ingénue and softer, more kind of sweetly naïve woman. It was suggested that I should really seriously consider her because Channel 4 in the UK is really high on her and there’s a better chance of the pilot being picked up to go to series if you cast her so I met her and I wasn’t really convinced, but then I saw a show she did called Pulling, which she co-wrote, created and starred in, and it’s fucking brilliant, and then I was like, yeah, absolutely, let’s do it and really went about rewriting the character and writing it for her which I didn’t really do for anyone else. The Dave character, Blake Harrison … we originally had Russell Tovey who’s in Being Human over there and that is quite a popular show and he was unfortunately not available. We tried to make it work, but they shoot their shows in Wales and he was trying to figure out how he could do it but it just wasn’t going to work so we had to recast that and that was a long process. We saw tons of people and everyone … myself and IFC and Channel 4 … all had very different opinions on who should be Dave and that was a long casting process and the other folks … it was less intense and more, “Hey wouldn’t Sara Pascoe be really great in this role, and wouldn’t Matt King be really great in this role?” And the other folks were like just people I’m just really psyched to work with, like Alexander MacQueen’s in it. Not Alexander McQueen, that’s the designer, right?
Hulu: Yeah, the one who died.
David: What’s his name? He was in The Thick of It … I think it’s Alex MacQueen. That’s weird. [Ed. Note: “McQueen” was the surname of the late designer; “MacQueen” is the surname of the actor.] And various people that I was just really happy to work with and who were happy to come in and do just two or three lines just here or there. I really did get a cream of the crop, as it were. I’ve got Will and Amber and Spike [Jonze] on the American side and Janeane Garofalo … it’s a killer cast. Really great group of people.
Hulu: How do you like shooting a British sitcom, which obviously is a lot shorter a run of the season than an American sitcom.
David: It’s 100 percent preferable. We didn’t shoot a thing until I was done writing, which is not how it works over here. And I’m telling a story and you don’t do that on American sitcoms. American sitcoms are designed so you’re basically checking in on everybody and there’s no cause and effect and people don’t change day to day unless it’s a big kind of silly thing like Pam and Jim getting married; will they or won’t they? And Sam and Diane on Cheers. There’s none of that. With this show, every episode takes place the next day, and there’s an end to it. There’s a story being told which you can do in British television. You don’t really do that in America. If the show were to last, say, four series, that would not even span a month in this character’s story. So it’s much different and, for me, it’s more preferable. And as I said, we didn’t shoot anything until I wrote everything.
Hulu: How did you like shooting in London?
David: I loved it. It’s different. They don’t shoot as long as we do, like their day-to-day. They usually have like 10-hour days. You don’t have the 12-hour turnaround that you do in America. This is saying a lot, too, because I’ve worked with some really great crews, absolutely the best crew I’ve worked with. Really professional, really great at what they do. Never complained. We were shooting six-day weeks. We had a tiny budget. We’d shoot some of the pilot so we sort of crammed that in so we were shooting six-day weeks. We’d go over quite a bit. We weren’t in a studio. It wasn’t like you’re at the Fox lot and you have all these amenities. It was tough but everybody loved it. Everybody was into it. Physically shooting there, crews were great. Outside of that, there’s not much of a difference. Everybody’s professional and good at what they do.
Hulu: In your standup, you’ve mentioned your love of New York and your disdain for Los Angeles, so I was wondering how London fit on your city scale.
David: Oh, London itself…as far as being there. I loved it. I didn’t miss the political system of America or anything. I missed my friends and I missed my girlfriend and my dog and I missed New York and walking around and stuff, but if you have to be somewhere for six months by yourself then London’s a great place. It’s beautiful; just gorgeous. I would walk everywhere. It’s got a great transportation system and, without getting boring or cliché, it’s a really good, urban, cosmopolitan city. People start drinking there at like four o’clock in the afternoon, so that fits in with my schedule, as well.
Hulu: Did you have an established fan base there?
David: Yeah, I mean, it’s not big. It’s not like the States. As I said earlier, I was in the middle of a two-week run at the 100 Club on Oxford Street, which would sell out every night. Prior to that, I did a month run at the Soho Theatre. I’m not selling out arenas or anything but I definitely have a pretty good, loyal, hard core following there.
Hulu: How do you find British audiences different than American audiences?
David: The highs are higher and the lows are lower. If they don’t like you, then they really let you know. And if they like you, they really let you know. There’s never any kind of cultural gap or anything like that. They pretty much get 90 percent of the references, but they love their comedy, too. As I said, if they don’t like you, they’re very vocal about it. It’s the worst Evening at the Apollo nightmare you could imagine. But if they love you, you’re a hero. You’re hoisted on their shoulders and paraded around. So, it’s got its goods and its bads.
Hulu: You also have a role on Will Arnett’s other show Running Wilde starting this fall. What are we going to see you do on that?
David: I’m playing Andy Weeks who is Keri Russell’s fiancé. [Keri is] Will’s love interest on the show … an old childhood crush, girlfriend, who comes back into his life. I’m her self-professed eco-terrorist guy who’s an annoying, shrill, lefty, bumper sticker spouting, anti-corporate America guy, which is why I currently have a very long, dyed beard.
Hulu: Can we expect to see any new standup tour or special on the horizon?
David: Dude, I just did one!
Hulu: Right, four months ago…
David: Then I went straight to London to do this show! To write, act, produce … I mean, it’s going to be a long time, it’s going to take me a while just to accrue the material. I’ve been totally focused on this show. I just got back to the States in August, so I’ve only been here about five and a half weeks now, and I’ve been working on this other thing, so standup has taken a bit of a back seat to this other stuff while I focus on it.
Hulu: Finally, so we don’t have to say that we “blue ourselves” in anticipation, do you have any word about what’s going on with the Arrested Development movie?
David: Same thing as always, which is I haven’t heard anything new and I’ll believe it when I see it, and I know everyone wants to do it, but since I’ve been working on the show with Will and Mitch [Hurwitz] who’s been on the set, I have no tangible proof or reason to [think so], but I’m more optimistic.
Hulu: Awesome! We are really excited about Todd Margaret. I saw the first two episodes. They were hysterical, so I’m really excited about the show.
David: Right on, man. I think if you like those two, keep watching, because it really does get more involved and pretty crazy as it goes on.
Hulu: Has it already started airing in England?
David: No. They are contractually obligated to show six weeks after the episodes air here, so it starts here on October 1 and over there it’s November 14th.
Hulu: Again, thank you so much for talking with us and good luck with the show!
David: Cool! Thanks!