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David Cross - Shut Up You Fucking Baby

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Artist: David Cross

Album: Shut Up You Fucking Baby

Label: Sub Pop

Review date: Nov. 18, 2002

Fusing Politics With Dick Jokes

Given that most popular comedy at the moment leans towards the puerile rather than the political, it's easy to forget that there have been times when comics produced some of our most focused and revealing social commentary. Beneath the rough-edged, often lewd humor of Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, and even early Eddie Murphy was a sense of unsentimental observation and criticism. Racism, class conflict, and sex were explored with great insight, and it was also funny as fuck. Things began to shift slightly in the eighties, and post-Seinfeld, comedy was associated more with dry observations about life's banalities than with excoriating examinations of political hypocrisy. Currently, we're in the sway of "Jackass"-style physical humor, and as amusing as it is to see a man in his thirties exploding fireworks in his pants, one gets the sense that comedy as an art is not reaching its full potential at the moment.

There are, of course, exceptions, and David Cross is one of them. For the last ten years or so, Cross has built up a steadily swelling fan base through his stand-up, appearances in films, and in his short-lived but brilliant HBO series "Mr. Show", made with partner Bob Odenkirk. Not only relentlessly hilarious, the show was also a surreal and unsparing satire of American life, unafraid to point out some of our more unpleasant character flaws. It was also unafraid to structure a skit around a retarded kid in a wheelchair or a gay metal band blowing each other in a hot tub, and it was this kind of fearlessness that truly set the show apart from anything else on TV. HBO, of course, cancelled it after four seasons in order to make more room for "Arli$$", and Cross has spent his time since working in films, on stand-up, and the somewhat ill-fated, still unreleased Mr. Show film, "Run Ronnie Run".

Despite this recent setback, Cross' concert album, Shut Up You Fucking Baby, demonstrates that good comedy only requires one very funny person, a microphone, and a room full of people drinking beer. In the last couple of years, Cross has managed to become the comic voice of indie rock, emceeing the Matador anniversary concerts, opening for Yo la Tengo, and appearing in videos such as Superchunk's "Watery Hands". The album is being released by Sub Pop, which just about brings things full circle. Track titles such as "Shaving the Pope's Pussy" and "If Baseballs Had AIDS On Them" give a good idea of the sensibility contained within the album, even if they're unrelated to the actual material. Cross is typically irreverent (one section begins: "And you know what else bothers me? Niggers! Just kidding."), carefully toeing the line between irony and sincerity, rifling through sensitive topics so fast that you don't even have time to be offended because you're just trying to keep up. And because you're laughing really, really hard.

Much of his material is political, focusing specifically on Bush's America. Although he's preaching to the converted, it's still refreshing and invigorating to hear someone tell an imagined anecdote about President Bush "getting some of that Cabo San Lucas pussy" on a trip to Mexico. There's also a good deal of September 11th-related humor, which is not only hilarious but reassuring in its recounting of human banality and pettiness in the face of such strange horror: camouflaged army troops on Canal Street ("Camouflaged for what? Where's the jungle?"); a gas-mask wearing rollerblader on a deserted Houston Street; a man complaining quietly to himself about football being cancelled ("I've got all these snacks.") Cross has a good eye for detail and an even better one for human weakness and failure. Probably the best bit on here is an extended and painfully funny scouring of the Catholic church, which has, in Cross' words "just gotten a whole lot sexier". There aren't a lot of comics who could find the right tone to make socially insightful comedy about child rape, but David Cross is one of them. The bit is so funny precisely because it works its way into the mind of the abusive priests, laying bare the human frailty that leads to such terrible consequences. Cross is in touch with the sense that some things are so mystifying and absurd that they almost require laughter in order to begin to make sense of them. He's also one of the funniest people you'll ever hear, and proof that comedy as art and social comment isn't dead just yet. So sit back, have a drink, cue up "Diarrhea Moustache", and enjoy.

By Jason Dungan

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