Evolution is difficult to parse, especially within comedy. How do you talk about a comedian you’ve long respected and pay tribute to their noticeable improvement without implying that their previous work was lacking? In the case of David Cross, it may not matter. His career has existed over such a span of decades that it doesn’t seem disrespectful to point out that what he’s making now feels like the output of a completely different performer. This isn’t just to say that he, obviously, has gotten better since starting his career at age 17. This is to say that his stand-up has been progressing over the last few years at a completely different rate.
In 2016, I interviewed Cross around the release of his special Making America Great Again! and found myself invested in his on stage work more than his TV work for the first time in a long time. That special came from a place that felt like an open wound we were all suffering from, and the bits that could’ve been pedantic in a lesser comic’s hands were dialed-in and trademark contrarian, without drifting into pointed improvisation. For me, it landed with quadruple the frequency of his material on 2009’s Bigger and Blackerer.
Now, Cross is following that up with a special that once again demonstrates similar progression in leaps and bounds. Recorded last August at The Orange Peel in Asheville, North Carolina, David Cross’ new special Oh, Come On will be released on May 10 by Comedy Dynamics. Topics covered include a healthy mix of the personal and the political, as well as a playful spirit that keeps the darkness from becoming crushing to the detriment of the entertainment. His marriage to Amber Tamblyn has provided a sparring ground that has both pushed him into a more progressive direction while also solidifying some of his concerns about the pitfalls of woke culture. In other words, Cross is pitching into a perfect strike zone for what David Cross fans probably want his perspective on.
Here is our interview with Cross ahead of the Oh, Come On hitting the streets.
Paste: First question right out of the gate, what gets you out of bed in 2019?
David Cross: My kid. If it wasn’t for my kid, I’d be sleeping in, for sure.
Paste: You acknowledge at the start of the special that you’ve got the difficult dad album, that you’re going to try to keep it as limited as possible. Was there a concern that you’d wind up doing an entire hour just about being a dad?
Cross: Well, yeah. As I was developing the material, that—it was just dad-heavy. That’s all I was thinking about. But I did have other bits that I had in my back pocket, that I knew I wanted to get to. But everything that I knew that I was coming up with—not everything, but a lot of it had to do with it, so I was like, “I better temper this. Nobody wants to hear this shit for an hour.”
Paste: You have this great line about how putting a baby in a “Future Feminist” onesie doesn’t guarantee that they won’t turn out like Ann Coulter. What practical safety checks are you doing? What are some of your best plans for down the road as you raise the kid?
Cross: Well, you know, the first couple of years don’t matter. She is surrounded by feminist iconography. Half of her books are Feminist Baby and Woke Baby and all this kind of bullshit that our friends give her, that she gets for a birthday present. They’re just silly and terrible, and also have some bad lessons in there. “Feminist baby doesn’t wear what you want her to wear, she wears what she wants to wear!” and I’m like, “Mm, let’s dial that back a bit.” Feminist baby makes as much noise as possible and feminist baby tells you when she wants to go to sleep, stuff like that. When you’re older, sure. When you’re two and you’ve got to travel, that’s not the best plan.
Paste: I feel like this book should’ve gone under the title Anarchist Baby.
Cross: There’s a shortcut to that in theory when you see these books. I think there’s got to be like—we have thirty variations of that around. I have no problem with the ones that teach you history, that’s great. They’re in childish block writing with illustrations, that’s fine, but these things that have—they’re just bad lessons to teach children, you know?
Paste: Last time I interviewed you, it was for Making America Great Again! tour. You were on tour with your wife, and what you said to me at the time was that you feel like your guys’ relationship was that you both push each other and challenge each other, and you both come away having learned something and having come to a middle ground. In the years since then, do you feel like your relationship has remained that, or that your role has changed? In the special, you talk about how your wife is now on tour a lot more and you’re at home raising the kid. How have your politics changed? How has the dynamic in your relationship changed?
Cross: It has only been solidification, if that’s a word, of what I was talking about before, especially now that the kid’s there. When we were on tour before, she had just gotten pregnant. We had found out literally before the first day of the European tour that she was pregnant. We went out, and the same thing happened. The same exact situation where she just had a book come out, and she was promoting while I was touring. She’d roll into a town and she’d do a bookstore, a reading in the late afternoon and I’d have a show at night, except now we have the addition of an infant and a nanny. It was also post-election and a lot of the stuff that was— I don’t want to say frivolous, but it didn’t have as much weight to it? When we were talking about what could potentially go wrong, and we know did go wrong—if you’re like-minded—now has a different tenor and flavor to any of those discussions. She was and remains pro-Hillary, and I was and remain pro-Bernie Sanders. That is a part of our discussions that can’t really be ignored.
Paste: You have a very specific Trump joke in this special: a list of all of the terrible things he’s done up to the point of the recording off the special.
Cross: Think of how much has happened since I taped that in August of 2018.
Paste: It will have been nine months since you recorded it, that people will see this. Everything about it works, and it is weird to watch now because it’s so heightened from that, but you already acknowledge what happens next. Didn’t these things feel like they happened five years ago? The question here is based on what you talk about around that, which is people thinking that Trump is good for comedy—which, he isn’t. What is the best way to do stand-up comedy about Trump at this point? What is the most worthwhile thing to do? What is your philosophy about it? Because it’s clear that you have one.
Cross: My approach to it was to make it less about him and more about his followers. To me, that’s the more germane and interesting approach. We know how awful he is in numerous ways. Mind-numbing ways. Not just spiritually numbing, but physically numbing. We know what he is, and there’s nothing more to say that can be said. To me, it’s about the people who are okay with that and who, at the same time, are “pro-American” and yet everything about the people that they worship and admire are antithetical to American democracy. That’s the more interesting thing to me. You can make like he’s dumb and he’s a narcissist, isn’t curious, doesn’t have much of a vocabulary, whatever. I don’t give a shit. The time for those jokes were two years ago. To me, it’s much more interesting to think of people who are so ready to ignore a hundred different double standards in hypocritical positions, and the psychology behind that.
Paste: I remember growing up and watching SNL sketches where they tried to heighten George W. Bush from how he choked on a pretzel, to how stupid he is. It seems like it must be impossible to heighten how stupid Donald Trump is. There’s no better way to show how awful he is than to show how he is every day, all of the time.
Cross: Yeah, and that was the idea behind that bit. Going on this long list and producing actual pages of stuff, and I even had to edit that stuff. Again, that was August, so think of all of the awful things he’s done since.
Paste: Throughout the special, you have points where you’ll offhandedly mention something about Trump and you can hear these very specific pockets of the crowd in reaction to your setups of things. Then you have a section that is just your Trump fantasy, and it feels walled off from the rest of the special. You’re like, “Here’s my thing, and here’s my idea.” That section felt really weighted now in the wake of—so many people had that Trump fantasy that was the Mueller Report, and now that’s come and gone. In between you recording this then and now, I’ve seen many people who have these specific Trump fantasties have to watch them turn to ash. Is it productive to have a Trump fantasy just to help get you through?
Cross: That’s why that fantasy is so specific, without giving anything away. It has nothing to do with waiting for somebody else to step up and be a hero, because clearly that’s not happening. It seems kind of infantile, anyway. So my thing is just silly, but I do think—especially because the Democrats took back the House—I think there is a tiny sliver of light and optimism that wasn’t there before, especially when I was taping that. We were all waiting for the midterms, and what the results would be. I think there’s just such a general feeling that we just want this to be over. Just please, make it end. I don’t even care about him being thrown into jail, let’s just get back to some kind of version of humanity. Now you can sort of see a little light. If there’s any group of human beings on the planet that can fuck up a sure thing, it’s the Democrats. They have proven time and time again to be just feckless, and somebody needs to be vicious.
Paste: I did truly appreciate your little aside in the special where you’re like, “Yes, I know I’m a member of the DSA, but we have to be practical.” How does that feel for you, to be a member of DSA but also seeing democracy burn around us, knowing that this is an uphill battle?
Cross: Those were my leanings way before Donald Trump became anybody relevant. When Sanders came out, that was exciting. It was like, “Oh finally, someone’s got the balls and the vision.” In my humble opinion, that would be the best thing for America, those policies. If the most practical way to do this is just incremental, then so be it. But there’s nothing more frustrating than that neoliberal centrist outlook. Then a bunch of people whose livelihoods depend on negating Democratic social ideas are on the talk shows and going, “Well, this is just pie in the sky nonsense, that’s not how the real world works.” That’s always extremely frustrating, but I have always—even back when Nader was running against Gore and Bush. Now’s not the time, guy. You could make an argument that Bush was as bad as Trump.
Paste: Do you worry about retribution from the city of Santa Monica for expressing your dislike of it in this special?
Cross: [Laughs] I don’t because I truly don’t care, but I get upset because of my in-laws and a lot of really good, decent folks that are part of the Santa Monica community, many born and raised. But that is my experience there, and that’s how I feel. I don’t imagine the town council’s going to offer me a key to the city and then rescind it. That’s not happening.
Paste: How did you settle on The Orange Peel as a recording venue?
Cross: You know, it was—there were a couple of elements that all came together. One, it was right in the middle of the tour, which is when I like to take the sets as close to the middle as possible because I’ve refined a lot of the stuff. It’s really getting sharp and good. At the end of the tour I like to record it and release an audio version of that, so there’s always different stuff. So the special comes out usually simultaneously with audio, and the audio—I think it was the second to last show I did in Birmingham, back in November. It just gives me more material to play with, and it’s pretty tight. They’re working well. Also, it was a venue where I could do two shows in a night, and it was easy to tack on another show, that’s always important. Then it was also in the South, and I love working in the South, I’ve had really good sets there. I loved Asheville, never been to Ashville before. I really, really dug it. It was just kind of a perfect place when I looked at the route.
Paste: What do you consider this phase of your career to be? Do you see a section here that has been defined by a different tone or now developments? Where do you think you are?
Cross: The twilight? [Laughs] I don’t really think of it in those terms, and I’m so deep within it. It’s me, I’ve been in my head since I was born, you know, and so I don’t view it as somebody would externally. It seems foolish to assign a label to it in the present, because in the future we’ll be able to look back on it as the past and go, “Oh, that’s when this was happening, it ended up being like this and phasing into that.” I don’t make any concerted, calculated steps, like, “I’m gonna do this now and stop doing this thing.” So it remains to be seen, I guess.
Paste: Arrested Development just wrapped for the last time and you got to play Dr. Tobias Fünke for more than 15 years at this point. What is it like to part with a character like that? What are the highs and lows of that? What are the best memories of being able to take part in something that most comedians will never get to know?
Cross: Just being a part of something that is so smart and beloved is, on its own, a really cool thing. That, coupled with the fact that the day-to-day of it, getting to work with all of those people—great cast, great writers, such a treat—like you said, it’s very rare and I’m hyper-aware of how rare an opportunity that is. I’m very lucky to have gotten to do it. It’s a fun character to play and it’s something that’ll always be very close to me. I’m good friends with a lot of those folks still, so it’s all been very satisfying and gratifying.
Oh Come On will be available on May 10 through the Comedy Dynamics Network on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Xbox and more. It’s also playing a limited theatrical engagement in New York City, Detroit, Chicago, Tampa, Boston, Minneapolis, Sacramento, Seattle, Los Angeles and Philadelphia.
Brock Wilbur is a writer and comedian from Los Angeles who lives with his wife Vivian Kane and their cat, Cat. He is the co-author (with Nathan Rabin) of the forthcoming book Postal for the Boss Fight Books series.