David Cross: A Cubs Fan Who Learned 'The Smell of Fear' Living in Chicago

By Lizzie Schiffman Tufano on June 5, 2013 9:50am 

CHICAGO — David Cross' ears must be ringing.

The Internet's been abuzz about the comedian and actor (pronounced with a hard "o") since his beloved sitcom "Arrested Development" was resurrected by Netflix for a fourth season seven years after being abruptly canceled by Fox.

Delight at the return of his quirky character, never-nude and analrapist Tobias Fünke, has spawned fan sites and tribute videos, iPhone accessories and even a lengthy Los Angeles Times profile of his denim shorts.

With the fourth season wrapped and movie rumors on hold, Cross' next undertaking is an ensemble show, "David Cross and his Super Duper Pals," which headlines the TBS Just for Laughs Festival on  June 13 at the Chicago Theatre.

We caught up with Cross for a chat about the new season and the year he spent living in Chicago that was so miserable he almost threw himself off a forklift.

We're excited that you're coming to visit! Are you in Chicago often?
I go there happily when I get the opportunity to, but I wouldn't say I go there — it's not like L.A. or New York or Atlanta, places that I tend to go often — I guess often is a relative term, but I do enjoy my time when I do get there.

Anything you make a point to do when you're in town? Most people's lists start with food.
Yeah, that was the first thing I thought of. I like going to the aquarium and checking out the otters there. If I'm lucky enough to be there when the Cubs are playing, I absolutely go to a game, that's one of the highlights for me. Sometimes a little after dusk I'll go to the South Side, try to get shot, I do that a bunch. I've been wildly unsuccessful. And just missing! I mean, there'll be like 25 murders in a weekend, and I'm like, "I'm f---ing here, what do I have to do?" I go to City Hall and get some graphs. And then just chill at the airport for a couple of hours.

We've had a standing Blue Man Group performance here since '97. Working with them is one of [your Arrested Development character] Tobias Fünke's dreams.  Have you ever seen the show and commiserated with the stars about the blue body paint experience?
I've never seen a full show. I've never even seen a half a show or a quarter of a show.

What was it like working with the old crew again for the new season of "Arrested Development"?
It was great. I half couldn't believe it was actually happening, that we were actually doing it. I can't say this about a lot of people or projects, but I would do whatever I had to do to make sure that I could work with Mitch Hurwitz and that cast anytime an opportunity was presented. I mean, it's a dream show to work on, it's a fun character to do, the cast is just — we're all friends. And working with Mitch's materia l— it's just an absolute f---ing gift that for some reason I got.

What's the feedback been like on the fourth season?
Personally, people have been very complimentary and enthusiastic and excited. I've certainly read a bunch of negative stuff online, but I've started to see — and this is kind of the hope — an understanding from other people who've responded that it's a fool's errand to compare apples and oranges. I mean, the thing that you liked about that show, the first three seasons, that doesn't exist anymore, nor will it ever probably. So understanding the new set of strict parameters of what we were working with, I think people are kind of warming to the idea like it was never going to be a season four that was just like seasons one, two and three. That's impossible, because when you're shooting a show, everybody's contracted and in the same place, and that wasn't an availability to Mitch. So he had to work at constructing the show when you only had a few people for a few days here and there. And I think he did a really great job considering, and I've only seen the show once.

You've seen all the episodes just once?
I finally got through the last four episodes about five days ago, because none of us had seen it. And I know as I was watching it I'm like, "I have to watch it this again." I knew when I was watching it [that] it was gonna take a second viewing, maybe even a third. And I've gone to some sites that are compiling the inside jokes, and I missed easily two-thirds of them.

Oh wow, so you've been watching it all on Netflix with the rest of us?
We saw it how we all saw it. The same exact way. And that goes for every single person [involved in production]. I mean, Mitch didn't even hand it in, the final thing, until like 10 days before it aired. Maybe not even, maybe a week before it aired. Yeah, we didn't see s---. We saw the first and fourth episodes and that's it.

Some people are marathoning through the season and others are spacing it out. What's your approach been?
I couldn't do it. I watched, I think I watched five in a row — I know it was over the course of four viewings. I can't remember how I broke it up exactly, but it wasn't all at once.

What was filming like for you? Did you have other projects going on? Were you on set for an extended period of time?
I wasn't the problem. [Laughs] I was not the issue. There were people who were involved in other ongoing projects. I mean, I read a lot about people complaining, "How come Buster was barely in it? Buster's episode was so short, Mitch should've used Buster more." He couldn't because of "Veep," HBO wouldn't let him out. And that goes for half the cast.

Because it's not a TV series, it's not a movie, it's sort of the scheduling of a movie, but you're trying to do this big ambitious project and you're just hoping it works out. I had blocked time because I got married [to actress Amber Tamblyn] in the middle of it, so it was, "OK, we can't shoot any Tobias stuff from here to here. We can't do Portia here, because she's doing this." So it was a very, very difficult thing to get together.

How does a former Atlantan and Bostonian end up a Cubs fan?
I lived in Chicago briefly, I can't remember the date, it was either '85 or '86 or '87. It was the year there was a terrible heat wave and a bunch of people died. And if you're a baseball fan, you're going to gravitate towards the Cubs and Wrigley Field.

The only place comparable is Fenway Park. It's such a rare opportunity, to get to go to an old park and see baseball the way it was seen four generations ago. If you're a baseball fan, it's just the best. And I lived near there, so I'd go to games whenever I could, when I could scrape up some cash. It's just a great place as a baseball fan, and as a fan of the history of the game.

Being a Red Sox fan for a long time, I can commiserate with the heartbreak that Cubs fans go through every year. I just loved that park. I love a good baseball game, especially a day game, and in that area, I love walking around that area. You know you're in a residential neighborhood, and few parks are in that setting anymore.

Where did you live when you were a Chicagoan? Any favorite local haunts?
I lived on Racine and Wellington, smack on the corner. I used to go to [a bar called] Nancy's. They played a lot of Sinatra there, and you get one of those orange juice glasses of red wine. I was always a fan of Nancy's, and that was also walkable.

What were you doing while you lived here?
I was there 'cause I had nowhere else to go. I was there living with a girlfriend who lives in Boston, but who was living in Chicago, and I was kind of homeless-ish and had no money. Not to imply that I was using her. We were in love and had been going out on-again off-again for years, but it seemed appropriate, and I went out there and moved in with her. But it was brutal. I had no money, I had a series of awful, terrible jobs, and there was an insane heat wave. It wasn't the best of times.

What was the worst gig?
God, I had a bunch. I think worst was when I worked in a warehouse for Gately's Department Store. I worked in the warehouse way down Ashland in the middle of nowhere, kind of an industrial, s----- area. The people there were terrible. I was making minimum wage. Actually — and I'm not exaggerating, this is the absolute God's honest truth — I was on a forklift, and I was taking TVs, and I was standing on the tines of the forklift, and I was roughly 22, 23 feet up. And I was moving these TVs, and they're big and bulky and this is pre-flatscreen era, and I was lifting them up and sort of turning my body and putting them down on the shelf, and I very, very seriously thought about just falling and getting worker's comp.

And I smelled something I never really smelled before: It was me, I was sweating bullets and it was a really like metallic, irony smell, and I just faced that that was fear. That somehow whatever was coming out of me in my sweat was fear-based, and my chemicals were making these other chemicals change. And I was so trying to zen myself into, "Okay this is gonna hurt, but it's all worth it. You may break your arm and your jaw and your hip, but you'll have some money and you won't have to do this s----- job anymore." And I obviously lost my nerve, but it was something I seriously contemplated, and I'll always remember that smell,  that smell of fear leaving me.

David Cross & His Super Duper Pals will headline the TBS Just for Laughs Festival on Thursday, June 13 at 7:30 p.m. at the Chiacgo Theatre. Tickets are still available at Ticketmaster.

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