Fans of David Cross’ stand-up comedy won’t be disappointed by his new book, I Drink for a Reason. Much of the book is written in the persona that Cross assumes onstage: personal, ranting, profane, political, often antagonistic and hyperbolic, and enlivened with an engaging and imaginative silliness. The book comprises dozens of short chapters, most roughly five pages long. Some of them read like stand-up routines set on the page; others are elaborations on material that has earned Cross his reputation as a fearless polemicist. Many are essentially concerned with language, marking Cross as a potential heir to George Carlin, the language-obsessed and consistently hilarious lapsed Catholic comedian.
Cross explains that he was raised Jewish and now considers himself an atheist. He fits into that category of atheist Jews whose Jewishness informs their outlook without touching their ethics or spirituality. The basic polemic posture Cross strikes — the sardonic critic attacking established assumptions and popular misconceptions with sarcastic and impassioned commentary — sounds recognizably Jewish. Organized religion is among Cross’ favorite targets and, since he would identify himself as (at most) culturally Jewish, organized Judaism and its adherents come under the hammer frequently in I Drink for a Reason. Cross’ self-criticism, which he points out is not self-loathing, is representative of the opinionated secular modernity that Judaism’s tradition of argument has helped create. This may be the ultimate Jewish joke: After everything we’ve done to shape this free and modern world, this is the thanks we get?