After about the halfway mark of Making America Great Again!, the new stand-up special from David Cross, the editors jump to a picture of a woman heading for what they wanted us to believe was the exit. They emphasized this point by placing it right before Cross marveled onstage about getting angry walkouts every night despite the fact that anyone who is curious could have accessed his previous albums and specials rather than thinking, as he put it, “Oh, Tobias is in town! Let’s go check it out!”
Even though I still wonder whether that poor lady they caught on camera was making a hasty retreat for the bathroom rather than home, I don’t doubt for a minute that Cross pissed a healthy portion of attendees with his most recent stand-up tour. The 52-year-old comic doesn’t flinch on this new special as he exposes the hypocrisies in the right wing political arena and the world of religion, practically daring anyone to try and question his logic or his authority on the subject.
While that may sound like Bill Maher territory, the key distinction is that Cross dares to go one step further than his fellow comedian. During an extended and bracing segment discussing the continued kowtowing by politicians to the NRA, he works in the point that so many of us make: that if the government wasn’t willing to act after 20 children were shot at Sandy Hook Elementary, there was no hope of sensible gun control measures actually happening any time soon. Cross then turns on the folks wondering how God could let this happen, claiming to have an answer. “But you’re not going to like it,” he says, before declaring that maybe those kids were killed to stock up the 72 virgins promised to Muslim men after death.
If you cringed and let out a mixture of laughter and shuddering groans, then you had the same reaction that many in the crowd did. Even in a left-leaning town like Austin, Texas, where this special was filmed, that touched a nerve. That same reaction arose out of a lot of Cross’s material throughout, particularly during an extended bit that suggests that the way to unite all the world religions is to get them to gather together and trade tips on how best to abuse children. (I promise not all of his material is about hurting kids.)
It’s interesting, though, to compare this to the most recent special by Anthony Jeselnik, also a Netflix exclusive. Both men are touching on taboo subjects and flicking raw nerves to elicit laughs. But the audience for Jeselnik’s Thoughts and Prayers special was far more effusive and loud than the folks who attended the Cross taping. And I think the reason lay in just what Cross was talking about with regards to folks walking out on his shows.
Listening back through his sincerely great work of the past like Shut Up You Fucking Baby! and Bigger and Blackerer, Cross doesn’t go quite as hard for the jugular as he does here. He’s visibly fed up with a strain of anti-intellectualism that is rearing its ugly head in this country and pushing a dangerous demagogue like Donald Trump far too close to one of the most powerful jobs in the world. Gone almost completely are the pithy observations about the weird advancements in beer can technology or his drug-fueled escapades with the members of the band Harlot. Cross wants us to envision a world where teachers and young children are packing heat and troglodytes are claiming that the Founding Fathers are the only ones who can save our country, and he wants us to recoil in horror. You know, after laughing at his jokes.
Is he more often than not preaching to the choir? Absolutely. But I suppose considering his work on the Chipmunks films, the Scary Movie franchise and Arrested Development, there might be some folks who bought a ticket expecting much more light-hearted comedy. If we’re lucky, some of them had their minds opened and their biases challenged in a healthy way. More than likely, though, they stormed off in a huff. In which case…fuck ‘em.
Robert Ham is a regular contributor to Paste and the author of Empire: The Unauthorized Untold Story, out now via Regan Arts. Follow him on Twitter.