David Cross: “I Don’t Do Anything For Shock Value”

We Talk to the Comedian on the Cusp of His New Stand-up Tour

Comedy Features David Cross
David Cross: “I Don’t Do Anything For Shock Value”

When David Cross last went on a stand-up tour, Donald Trump hadn’t been elected president yet. The reality TV host’s political ambitions had already left a huge impact on Cross’s act, though. The co-creator of Mr. Show and co-star of Arrested Development called that 2016 jaunt the “Making America Great Again!” tour, and as our review of the Netflix special attests, it was a stridently political hour that dug in hard against the anti-intellectualism and demagoguery of the Republican party.

Next week Cross launches his first stand-up tour since Trump’s election with a headlining slot at The Onion Comedy and Arts Festival in Chicago. (You can buy tickets here.) Everything he railed against in 2016 has only gotten worse since, as Cross seems to acknowledge in the exasperated title of his “Oh Come On” world tour. His new set, built from months of heavy work in the Brooklyn area, should see Cross return to his comfort zone, which, if you’re familiar with his stand-up, you realize can be pretty uncomfortable for others.

Cross has had a complicated couple of years, which have seen the lows of social media callouts, the highs of returning to Arrested Development for a new season (which premieres on Netflix on May 29), and the uncertainty of where a provocateur comic fits into the modern stand-up landscape. As you might expect, this is all material for his new hour.

We sat down for a candid, open talk with Cross about stand-up, Arrested Development, the Me Too movement and more.

Paste: Let’s talk about the tour. Excited to be going back out? What topics are you taking on?

David Cross: Very much so. Um, you know, hard hitting stuff that no one is talking about: the difference between dogs and cats. Between New York and LA. How bitches be wanting money. Ironing. Ironing is weird, isn’t it?

Paste: You’re starting your tour at the Onion’s 30th anniversary at its comedy festival. Anything you’re excited about there?

Cross: I always love Chicago. I have fun shows there. This show has special guests. Including one very special guest. I’m very happy with this set. I’ve been working on it for three and a half months, and this is the first time I’m doing it in an actual theater. There’s no fucking around anymore. I was developing the material in Brooklyn. I was anticipating that the [TV] show I was working on in London was not going to get picked up. Bigger studios wait until the last minute and instead of waiting around, I started doing a set and putting material together. Just in case. I started very informal shows with just scraps of paper and basement rooms. I started riffing and talking and recording everything, and then the show got dropped, and I was glad that it got passed on because I would’ve had to uproot my family to London. I’ve got a wife and daughter and it just would’ve been difficult. And I was digging this set. So I started booking bigger stuff and now I’m ready to share it.

Paste: What’s Amber [Tamblyn, Cross’s wife] up to while you’re on the road?

Cross: She’s with me. She’s got a new book coming out in June and so she’s on the bus with me and she does book store readings and signings during the day in the same city. Then we hop on the bus that night with our kid and move on to the next town.

Paste: How have you seen stand-up change in the last 15 years?

Cross: The biggest change is that the sheer amount of places where you can do stand-up is different. There’s all these streaming services and cable companies that are buying stand-up shows. That’s great. More comedy isn’t a bad thing. Mostly.

Paste: Mostly.

Cross: I haven’t been exposed to a lot of new comedy. I don’t take Wednesday nights to go check out new acts at the Comedy Cellar. So doing my shows has been my first chance to see new, clever people. There’s one comic I’m taking on the first leg of the tour with me. I almost never have openers but I invited Janelle James to take on that role.

Paste: I was a huge fan of The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret on IFC. There’s no chance for any more episodes of that, right?

Cross: I don’t know how. I mean, I said that after the second series, too, and we did a third series. It’s got that weird time-bending thing. You’d have to re-edit huge chunks and also, remember, the first season was eight years ago. I look completely different. I couldn’t go back without changing reality.

Paste: Not many people know The Russo Brothers did the pilot for your series. Do you ever wonder what would have come from the show if they’d stayed on?

Cross: That would have been great, yeah. I love working with them and I always learn from them. Yeah. It did not shake out that way.

Paste: Is it weird to see the guys who directed your pilot direct the biggest action films in the world now?

Cross: No. They’ve always loved movies and directing. They’re so smart. They’re so good at everything. What would Harmony Korine do with a $300 million budget? Who knows. It’s cool and great.

Paste: You just mentioned re-editing things. I have to ask: what do you think of the Arrested Development season four remix?

Cross: My wife and I watched four episodes of it. She enjoyed it more than I did. She liked it more than I did. It does… what they set out to do? It’s much less confusing. I know I’m in the minority, but I prefer the old way. I initially didn’t care for it. And I saw it originally how everyone saw it, when it released on Netflix. None of us saw it before then. We all watched it, I guess, in a screening the night before for the first few episodes. It took a few binge watch nights to get through it. I didn’t understand how to watch it, until maybe the seventh episode? Then it clicked. I saw how it worked. Then I finished it and knew I had to start it again. I didn’t like it at first, but I warmed up to it and then I loved it. I liked the final product. I liked the work the viewer had to put into it. I did feel disappointed at first, but then it was layers of realization.

Paste: I rented a room in the Queen Mary the night before the premiere so I could watch that season first thing in the morning… on the ship. Turns out, and this should surprise no one, that the Wi-Fi on a docked historical ship was not good enough to stream video. And even when it buffered, I could only get in those first few very confusing episodes.

Cross: That’s amazing.

Paste: What are you excited about regarding the new season of Arrested Development?

Cross: Just that it will be out there. That’s the best cast you could ask to work with. I love all of them. It’s always good to see those guys.

Paste: You mention loving your entire cast. This isn’t the first time you’ve brought up your support for Jeffrey Tambor. Can you expand on that?

Cross: Not beyond what I’ve said elsewhere. Which is that I support him but I do not condone the behavior. But he’s a friend and you don’t drop a friendship over… unless, you’re the sort of person I’d never want to be friends with in the first place. “You did what? Bye. You’re a monster.” I don’t think he’s a monster. I know the guy and love him. It’s a conversation I’ve had a number of times. It’s something I feel strongly about. My wife is very involved in—and is one of the founders of—the Time’s Up movement. We’ve had a lot of conversation. And Jeffrey is not the only friend I have who has found himself on the other end of things. That will be brought up on stage, as well.

Paste: With your wife’s position in that movement, what do you see as your place? Is there a role you see yourself playing or is this the shut up and listen time for you?

Cross: We both learn and listen to each other. I have evolved in my views and have become more enlightened based on what she’s offered in the conversation. And vice versa. We’re not idiots. We have a conversation that goes beyond other conversations we’ve had that become frustrating because—a trigger word can shut the conversation down. That’s anti-intellectualism. We’re both thoughtful people. Obviously, everyone has a different set of eyes on this behavior and what it means. I’ve heard some things several different ways, as ideas, and I still disagree. And sometimes I get it. But that’s the product of listening and having a discussion, which is different than pointing to a bumper sticker, crossing your arms, and walking away.

Paste: You’ve always been a provocateur as a comedian. How complicated is it to navigate the current cultural comedic climate for you?

Cross: I’m never going to edit myself. Unless it is a personal thing. Outside of that, I’ll say what I want to say. I believe what I say. I have conviction and I can defend it. I can say that for all of my stuff. I’m aware of calculated button pushing, but that’s part of the whole picture. If people are not going to—there are things I’ve dropped while getting this set ready. If it doesn’t hold up to the scrutiny that I just mentioned. I’m not going to shrug off something I can’t defend. I don’t do anything for shock value. I don’t find being true to myself to be a difficult thing.

Paste: I did want to ask you about process here. I recently interviewed Marlon Wayans about testing the material for his new album in the South and how that led to him releasing a special in 2018 that talks about how Caitlyn Jenner is unfuckable.

Cross: That’s so perfect. That’s so tone deaf. “Yeah, I really get it now. You know who’s not getting it now? Caitlyn Jenner.”

Paste: In 2005, you called out Larry the Cable Guy for couching bullshit racist humor in “tellin’ it like it is” and I wonder if you think about how a decade later we got a President who used the exact same excuse, and how you were calling it out so long ago?

Cross: Not really. Only because I hadn’t thought about it. Now that you mention it, I can see it for sure. I just kinda forgot about that. That initial assessment was from a Rolling Stone piece. A couple years after that Larry… the Cable Guy… you have to say the Cable Guy, by law. Larry… the Cable Guy… wrote about me in his book about how he was being attacked by me and the PC Left. It was comical because, are you kidding me? I’m way more non-PC than you are. It is just thoughtless labeling.

Paste: How difficult is it to control your image, or what stories people have to share about you and your past behavior, when you’ve been in the industry this long?

Cross: That’s a lot. That’s a lot to chew on. I’m really not adept at social media. I still fuck up. I’ll tweet something and Amber will call immediately and say “Take that down immediately.” And I defer to her, because she’s right. I’m not making some aside to a group of friends at a bar. I’m making public statements. You don’t have control over what happens, and I learned that the hard way, by being accused of being a racist from a single event ten years ago. I did myself no favors by responding the way I did. I responded poorly. It was not well thought out. I made some poor choices and tweeted things I should not have. There’s no—no one is interested in any context you can give a situation. One of the problems I have with the MeToo movement is the—an accusation is made and there is no gray area. That’s just what happened. And I’m not talking about egregious situations about raping someone, I’m talking about something like the Aziz thing. That’s… I felt so bad for Aziz. What he did was boorish behavior. And he was getting mixed signals. But publicly he felt the need to hide. That’s shitty. He didn’t do anything to merit that response. Obviously, I’m aware people have a different take and will be upset with me for both thinking and saying that. There’s a problem with context. Again, I’m obligated to say that I’m not talking about egregious behavior. I’m talking about things that don’t so neatly fit.

Paste: What does Amber have to say about your take on this?

Cross: You’d have to sit in on those debates. There are people who truly believe that I am a racist and have said as much. They still get on my timelines to say shit. And you cannot convince them otherwise. That’s the only anecdote that’s come up in my entire history and anyone who knows me know that I’m not a racist. People who know me know that I am not a racist. People who don’t know me think I’m a racist. Who knows? In the future, am I going to have to explain to my daughter that I’m not a racist? It is frustrating and shitty. I tweeted about the Chicago show tickets going on sale. The very first response, within seconds was “Unless it is an hour long apology to Charlyne Yi, I’m not interested.” I thought about tweeting back, “Well, it’s going to be an hour and a half, but you can leave early if you want.” I thought better of it. But to circle back to your point of how do you maintain your image, I guess my answer is that you cannot.

Paste: I guess to wrap this up on a more positive note, do you have advice from what you’ve learned over the years that you would pass on to people coming up now on how to avoid—

Cross: Yes. Be nice. Be decent. Take a breath. There is really no excuse for that kind of behavior. That’s the simplest advice. And that’s advice that I should follow too. Everything is frustrating. You can’t take it out on people that don’t deserve it. You don’t have to hug everyone and buy everyone coffee but don’t be difficult. Don’t yell. There’s no excuse, no matter what kind of artist you are.

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.

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