If cherry-picked and manipulatively rearranged, aspects of this chat with comedy grand poohbah David Cross could provide the basis for a pensive, possibly watchable, coming-of-age-y indie movie.
It’s the story of a scrappy, eccentric stand-up comedian who after decades as a ubiquitous presence in television, film, and animation, ventures out on a wildly ambitious, globe-trotting stand-up tour. Our hero aspires to connect with human society at-large, and revisit his first love — stand-up, and the stage to which it is conjoined. We could title the film Hi, World. How’s It Going? My Name is David.
Ironically (or maybe appropriately is the right word?), Cross himself would likely pass on starring in Hi, World. How’s It Going? My Name is David to devote his time to a project with a set of fangs. Throughout his career, the Georgia-bred alpha jester has accumulated a track record for comedy that can bite you, clamp its jaws, slash an artery, and bring forth a gushing geyser of blood. In this instance, blood is a metaphor for laughter.
You’ll recognize Cross as Tobias Funke on the greatest sitcom of all time, Arrested Development. He also played “David” on Mr. Show, a role he recently reprised on the ‘90s sketch institution’s Netflix relaunch, W/ Bob & David. Plus he at least made a cameo appearance on just about every rad cult comedy series that we’re old enough to remember. One time, David Cross transformed into a planet-sized tentacle monster and enslaved the population of Earth, but he barely remembers doing that because it was a one-off voice acting job from 10 years ago.
Before we go any further, let it be known that this interview contains no new information about the fifth season of Arrested Development, but does include an awkward and failed attempt to acquire new information about the fifth season of Arrested Development.
Barry Thompson: So we noticed your tour lines up more-or-less concurrently with your wife’s [Amber Tamblyn] book tour? [Promoting her third poetry collection, Dark Sparkler].
David Cross: It’s exactly, literally concurrently. She’s on the bus with me. She scheduled her tour around my tour, which was pre-existing. So we’ll go in, she’ll do a reading wherever the cool bookstore is in that town, and then I’ll do a show that night, or I’ll do two shows that night. Then it’s back on the bus to the next place.
Um, well, I don’t really know if I could do this without her. Having her on tour has made the whole thing so much more fun. Otherwise, not only would I be away from her, but I’d be by myself. I don’t have an opening act or anything. It can be a little lonely and depressing to go to the Sheraton or the Hyatt or wherever, where windows don’t open, trying to kill time before the show, then going back after to watch some TV.
You’ve said your act isn’t as preoccupied with political humor as the title kind of suggests, but nonetheless, I’m gonna ask this ‘cause an affirmative could mean way more Facebook shares. Are you a Bernie guy?
Oh god yeah, and it’s caused a fair rift in my marriage. My wife is a staunch Hillary supporter, and way before Bernie was ever thinking about entering, I did not like Hillary Clinton. I think she’s going to end up disappointing so many young ladies out there. I feel bad for them, in a way.
I don’t think she’ll be terrible by any stretch, but I really don’t — I just don’t believe her, y’know? From what I can see, she clearly does things out of political expediency, and makes decisions — I think, going back 15 years — based on becoming president of the United States. I can just look at her record, look at her own words, and see that’s true.
And my wife was supporting her in 2008, and has a relationship with her, and it’s tough, because, like I said, I felt this way before I got excited by Bernie Sanders. This is the first time in my lifetime that I’ve agreed so much with the simple, basic premise of what that candidate has to say and how to achieve it. I’m sure everybody feels this way about whoever they like, but I feel that this is the smart thing to do to lift up this country, and all the people who are angry for good reason would truly benefit in a much greater way if his policies were put in place. It’s just so obvious to me that it’s frustrating. But I know everybody feels the same way about their candidate.
I think when Donald Trump complains about political correctness, he means something different than when Jerry Seinfeld complained about political correctness on college campuses a while back. Do you find the type of PC culture Seinfeld was talking about problematic?
Oh yeah, think that’s absolutely true. But also, I don’t give a shit. I don’t play a lot of colleges for that same reason. They’re just not …y’know, people to tend to think they’re going to be these oases of challenging intellectual young thinkers, and it’s rarely the case, if ever. It’s just a bunch of fuckin’ yahoos. But I don’t care. I’ve had hundreds of people walk out on me at once. I can’t say that I enjoy that or I like it, but I’m certainly not going to go, “Oh no! This is terrible!” If somebody’s pissed off at what I’m saying, if it’s challenging to them, and they don’t like it, then I’m good with that, y’know?
I read a review of your recent tour that went on about how your act might offend religious people, and I thought “Eh, c’mon. How offensive is that, really?”
It’s offensive. It is. If you believe in the stuff that I’m tearing down, then yeah, it’s offensive. I understand that. I get that. But there’s nothing I’m saying that is not true. So, y’know, the last time I did stand up, I did a whole bit about Mormonism, and that’s all true stuff. If you don’t like it, don’t shoot the messenger. The stuff I do about Catholics, the Catholic church, the Pope, it’s all true. So if you’re offended, I get it, but I’m not offending you by being slanderous or going “this guy’s a faggot!” y’know? What I’m talking about is, y’know, empirical evidence and fact.
You’re the good kind of offensive, I think it’s safe to say.
Well, that’s totally subjective and depending on where you’re coming from. I’d like to think I am. There’s empathy behind what I’m talking about. I could certainly be harsh, and that’s because I don’t appreciate having to contextualize my opinions with being civil and nice. I don’t like that — and this is also a PC thing — I’m supposed give everybody’s opinion credence when they’re just wrong. And that’s about as arrogant of a statement as one could make, I suppose, but that’s how I feel. I have less patience for it as I get older. Y’know, pretending born agains and creationists who don’t want evolution to be taught in school and want it illegal, like I’m supposed to go, “Okay, let’s consider that for a second.” I don’t have a lot of patience for that.
You’ve had either a regular part or at least a cameo on, like, almost every cool cult comedy show throughout the past 20 years. How did you manage that?
Um, somebody asked and I said “Yes,” I guess. I mean, initially, I had to start somewhere. I got hired on the Ben Stiller Show, met Bob [Odenkirk] there, and we did Mr. Show. It’s the same way anybody gets anybody to work on their show. You’re like, “Hey, he’d be great” or “She’s awesome! Let’s ask her!” Y’know?
I believe you’re the only person who’s been on both Rick and Morty and Futurama. And there was also Wonder Showzen, and there was also Aqua Teen, and that’s not even —
Was I on Futurama? I’m not sure I was on Futurama. Was I? I don’t think so.
Yeah. “The Beast With A Billion Backs”.
Oh, god, you’re right. Yes. I don’t know, it’s a pretty small community, y’know? Comedy writers and creators. You have your bunch of like-minded people, and I’m happy that I’m able to do that, be part of those very cool things.
So this is your first formal stand-up tour in six years? And it’s really long? Why go out that long if you don’t absolutely have to?
Well, it’s six months. Right now the calendar goes through mid-to-late May, and I then I have a couple weeks off. Then I’m going to do Canada, some other places in the U.S., and then I go to Europe and Australia. And the answer is because I think, I mean, I’ve always wanted to do this, and I haven’t been able to because I have had so many projects, and I can’t usually afford the time to go out on the road for half a year. But since I already, y’know, I rented the bus, I hired the tour manager, I’m on the road, I’m doing it, why not keep doing it? And I really do enjoy going to some of these smaller places where people are so appreciative. I’ve heard, “Thank you for coming here. We rarely get anybody. Sometimes we have to drive four hours to Kansas City to see somebody.” So it feels great doing that. And I mean, I’m out now. Why not stay out?
You missed the road?
Um, yeah, not when I’m away from it necessarily, but once I’m back out I’m reminded of how satisfying — By the end of this tour, I’ll have done… Shit, I don’t know. I’ll have performed for 200,000 people live, y’know? Maybe 400,000. That’s really pretty cool. And it’s one thing to watch a special on TV, but to actually see a live show is a unique experience. I was recently back home in Atlanta, and I was walking down the street and I was standing across the theater from where I saw — I can’t remember how old I was, 16, maybe? — And I saw Steve Martin which was my first live comedy show, and it had a huge influence on me. It just got me to thinking — maybe I could do that for somebody else, y’know? Introduce that kid who might not necessarily go for it to break into stand-up comedy. It’s satisfying, and there’s no way to replicate it.
I think we might be low on time, so I’ve gotta cover this one, which I’m sure you get asked in every single interview. Arrested Development Season Five?
I have no idea.
DAVID CROSS :: Sunday, March 27 at the Wilbur Theatre, 246 Tremont St. in Boston, MA :: 10 p.m., all ages, $29 to $39 :: Advance tickets :: The Wilbur event page :: Note: Cross’ other two Wilbur shows (7 p.m. on March 27 and 7:30 p.m. on March 29) are SOLD OUT