Slap Shots

Something Funny About the Fillmore
Comedian David Cross looks out at the 250-plus audience inside the Fillmore auditorium and adopts the serious voice of someone about to confess:

"I just want to say that it's been one full year since I've been completely sober."

Many in the under-30 crowd applaud. Cross says thanks, then grabs an Anchor Steam from a nearby table, which has been onstage all this time, and guzzles a long drink. The juxtaposition is subtle but scathing, and the kids love it. He smacks his lips, mentions the "sweet, sweet hops," and continues on about the type of people associated with AA:

"I think they're simple, they're weak, and quite frankly, I don't need that crutch in my life."

He follows this with another long gulp. This is Cross in a nutshell -- tasteless put-on that hits a loaded topic. Before his set is over, he will have covered white paranoid rednecks, prostitution, the minimum wage, tobacco companies, pot-smoking surgeons, Boz Scaggs, vainglorious gym assholes, Jesus Christ, amputee drummers, and elephant vaginas. He will also have given a dramatic reading from an actual New Age manual for black males called In Search of Good Pussy:

"Here's wishing you a beautiful good-pussy life, and a wonderful good-pussy day."

Originally from Atlanta, Cross now makes his home in Los Angeles. He does wonderful voice characterizations, and is an excellent writer, which probably explains why he won an Emmy for working on Ben Stiller's show. Cross, currently in production for the second season of his own cable series, Mr. Show, has been carted up to San Francisco by HBO, which has gussied up the Fillmore with a fancy stage and cameras on booms. The cable boys are taping segments for their Comedy Half-Hour series. This is the emerging comedy for the '90s -- ripped jeans and flannel, real-life experiences and anecdotes, often with a heavy dose of indulgent personal minutiae.

Actress Kathy Griffin is also on the bill tonight, her mile-a-minute delivery spinning frantic tales of sexual insecurity and show-business hell: She appears in an episode of Seinfeld. The experience is horribly intimidating. When she gamely tries to get Jerry's autograph, he abruptly brushes her off. Griffin spends the rest of the day worrying and thinking to herself, "You know what? Fuck you, Jerry Seinfeld!"

Loud applause indicates this phraseology has entered other minds.
In addition to Cross and Griffin, HBO has imported big comedy guns like Dave Attell, Louis C.K., Wendy Liebman, and Laura Kightlinger, all familiar television names from shows like Letterman, SNL, and Roseanne. This is HBO's second year of such tapings; last year's series featured Dana Gould, Marc Maron, Janeane Garofalo, and Jonathan Katz.

Locals grumble that the tapings don't accurately reflect the San Francisco comedy scene, and it's true, they don't. This has always been the city's dilemma in bringing comedy to a national level. Many performers say that San Francisco audiences are the best in the country, but you have to move away to get famous; national attention focuses primarily on larger industry towns like Los Angeles or New York. A similar situation exists for local theater.

Despite the obvious out-of-towner slickness -- all the cameras and lights, a warm-up comic whipping the crowd into a Pavlovian lather -- the Fillmore shows are frequently very funny, and the audiences are familiar with the comedians, having already seen many of them do weekly gigs at either the Punch Line or Cobb's. HBO will begin airing the segments in August. Tune in one night and maybe you'll catch David Cross, wondering what the voice of Jesus Christ really sounded like.

There are, after all, no recordings from the time. What if Christ actually sounded like an effeminate Southern guy? In a gentle, soft drawl, Cross guesses how Jesus might worry over his upcoming Sermon on the Mount:

"I don't know what to do, what to say, what to wear."

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By Jack Boulware

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