It's hard to pinpoint what David Cross is best known for at this point in his career. His comedic character roles seem almost countless, and they range from smartasses to nerds to nice guys to jerks. His range is broad, but whatever role he takes, he always plays it "extra," so he's pretty unforgettable. On the wacky and beloved sketch comedy Mr. Show and its follow-up, W/ Bob & David, he showed his gift for writing as well as acting, and he's been doing more and more behind the scenes since making his directorial debut, a dramatic comedy film called HITS. He's seen (well, heard) in the current critically acclaimed movie Sorry to Bother You and appears in season 2 of Goliath on Amazon, not to mention new episodes of Arrested Development currently on Netflix. Still, the husband (to actor-writer Amber Tamblyn) and new father clearly enjoys interacting with audiences in person — riling us up, pissing us off and most important, making us laugh. With his new stand-up comedy show, Oh Come On, at the Orpheum on Saturday, Aug. 18, he will surely do all of the above. We spoke with him about it.
L.A. WEEKLY: You've done so much and you have so much going on. Let's start with the comedy tour. Your last stand-up show, Making America Great Again, is currently on Netflix. Tell me about your new show, Oh Come On.
DAVID CROSS: Well, it's a new set obviously. It follows the same recipe that all my sets do, which are, you know, roughly a third of it is jokes that are just regular old jokes. Nothing political or ideological — they're just jokes. And roughly a third is anecdotal stuff. This thing happened or somebody said this or whatever. And then roughly a third is political, current events, topical stuff with a little religious stuff mixed in.That's pretty much the formula I have for all my sets. There will be more of that, but obviously different stuff.
OK. Well, let's just go there. Obviously with Trump, I can't imagine for someone like yourself, a writer and comedian, how you choose what to talk about; he gives you new material pretty much every day, doesn't he?
I talk about that very thing in the set, what you just mentioned, I actually talk about.
Well, he gives us non-comedians something to make fun of every day, so I'm not surprised. Do you find yourself updating the political part of each show with the newest atrocities and ineptitudes of this administration? Can you give us a little taste of what your observations are on this? Are you having trouble keeping up or...
No. I mean that's my material.
Oh, OK, I appreciate that. Well, let me just ask you this then, aside from the material in the show (which we have to go to, to hear and enjoy)...
Yeah, that's how it works. [Laughs]
But what does David Cross have to say about what's going on Trump-wise today? This interview is happening on the 14th of August, so everyone today is talking about Omarosa. He called her a dog ... the FBI guy got fired ... by the time this is posted, I'm sure there will be something else.
There's not any kind of escalated outrage or horror. I mean, it is, it's just more of the same. I think the Omarosa stuff is a gift for him. I think that he couldn't ask for anything better. It diverts us from the really important stuff and it's got that level of D-list celebrity that America loves so much. And she's got no credibility. Zero, none. The idea that anybody would give her more than 10 minutes of air time is absurd, but that's the country we live in. That's what people gravitate toward. It's titillating, it's easy to digest and it's absolutely the least important shit that is happening right now, but, you know, it gives pundits and late-night comics and radio DJs and uh, op-ed guys, something to talk about.
How do you approach your political humor? Is it like, this is just absurd and let's just laugh. Or are you trying to change anyone's mind on political issues?
No, that's never been my goal. Frankly I don't think I'm up to the challenge. If it's a side product, then great. But no, my obligation, my duty, my job, my goal is to make people laugh. If I can make them laugh and think and see something in a different way they hadn't before, then great. But that's just gravy. My job is to make people laugh.
What about the anecdotal stuff you're doing? I heard you being daddy on the phone a minute ago [Cross was talking to his new baby girl at the start of our phone call]. Are you injecting any of your new-father experiences into the show?
Oh sure. Yeah. Most of the darker jokes are about having a kid. There's some pretty dark stuff in there. Funny dark, you know. I've actually dropped some of the anecdotal stuff because, you know, every time I do a — well not every time, but most every time I do a set — I'm riffing something new and then that becomes part of the set. The set that I start out with is quite a bit different than the set I end up with. There is a very specific way the show unfolds that is intentional, and it's certainly light in the beginning and gets heavier at the end, which is also something I do consciously.
I assume your perspective as a father changes your views about the world and the future, as it does for any parent.
It does. I'm very jaded and cynical but a kid is completely innocent and I want to keep her optimistic. I talk about how do you negotiate those things and how much reality do I let her in on? But she's still very young, you know, she's not even talking yet. She's not asking me questions. I think those days are just around the corner and I think about that. I think about what values I want to instill in her because she doesn't know what white ethnocentrist nationalism is. But yeah, that is addressed in hopefully a humorous way.
Speaking of white nationalists and "white" stuff, a lot of people have been talking and writing about your role as the "white voice" in the film Sorry to Bother You.
Yeah, well, it's not the voice I'm using right now.
So you obviously have different voices for different characters. What do you do to make your voice sound "white"? I mean, you sound white right now and this is how you sound normally.
Well, I am white. I am white normally. So I probably do sound white normally.
Yeah, but what is a "white sound," anyway? What makes us know a voice is "white" when we hear it?
Well, I mean there are probably 10,000 shades of variance on a white voice, but mine is basically, what I did for Sorry to Bother You — and sometimes do voicing animated movies or TV shows — is, it's based on a lot of suburban dads when I was growing up, and they're like, uh, you kind of pitch it up a little bit [makes his voice higher and whinier] and you make it a little brighter and sparklier and a little bit more, "Golly gee." And there's kinda a little Ned Flanders to it. [lowers voice back]. That kind of idea, you know, it's basically that.
I see. OK. What about Tobias Funke [from Arrested Development]? That's an exaggerated voice also, right?
That character is kind of based on two different types of guys, both very white. One, kind of an East Coast liberal, uh, monied kind of guy, like a turtleneck-wearing, Dick Cavett–watching kind of guy, and marrying that with a Northern California, Marin County, touchy-feely, psychotherapist kind of guy. Both overly articulated. It's a blend of those two, which are quite different.
You are one of those actors who seems to pop up in everything. I heard your voice on Rick & Morty the other day. Then there's your role on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which was great. Pretty diverse.
I haven't seen those. [Kimmy] was one of those things I thought would be really fun to do. But I'd just had major reconstructive surgery, rotator cuff surgery, and I should not have agreed to do it. I was in a lot of pain. I wasn't able to move. And you know, they basically take shit off and reattach, putting screws in your shoulder. It was dumb for me to do. I thought, "I'm going to do a quick arc," but in the middle of directing a show in London they wanted me to come back to wrap up the character. I was like, no.
That's probably why they made your character get a new plastic surgery face with a new actor. Interesting.
Yes, because I was literally in London until ... I flew back nine days before my wife gave birth and also we moved 36 hours after I came back. It was just the most intense couple of days after having worked nonstop for, I dunno, 11 months in London. So yeah, I don't think I'd do that again.
So you haven't seen your work in Rick & Morty or Kimmy? Do you not like to watch yourself after you finish a job?
No, it's not a rule or anything. I just haven't gotten around to it. You know, sometimes, I'll flip through the TV and it'll be there and I'll check it out. But I also don't watch a lot of TV at all. Occasionally my wife and I'll pick something to, you know, watch a season of. The only show I really watch religiously now is Better Call Saul, and we'll pick a six- to 10-part documentary series or something and watch that. There's a lot of stuff that we started and just eventually it was like, oh, this is starting to suck. Like House of Cards was, by the end of season two, I'm like, fuck this. And Stranger Things was like, oh, this is great. Then, no, it's not great.
You are obviously very up on pop culture and news. If you're not watching TV or TV news, are you reading books or newspapers? Where do you get most of your information?
I guess I get it mostly on the Internet. I have a handful of things that are bookmarked, and if I'm able to take half an hour to an hour in the morning, I just sort of peruse a handful of sites and then, sometimes there's more specific stuff up on Twitter.
Your comedy writing on Mr. Show and, later, W/ Bob and David was definitely topical. It was also pretty boundary-pushing, which your stand-up is as well. Is there anything you wouldn't tackle comedically, like, that goes too far and might be off limits?
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A personal attack on somebody who can't defend themselves ... like a rape victim or a sexual assault victim. You know, I've never really censored myself or dropped material out of sensitivity. But there were a few jokes I did about having a daughter in the conceptual sense — not about my daughter — that I liked, but my wife wasn't comfortable with. I didn't feel too strongly about it, so I dropped those. Occasionally somebody will be able to chip away past my stubbornness and show me why, 'No, this is really insensitive and you know, you need to figure out a way to say it differently or don't say it at all,' and I will get that. But outside of that I stand by everything I've said conceptually and the jokes. You know, I can defend them, and I can tell you what the point of them is and why I said a certain thing a certain way.
I'm sure you still offend a lot of people, though. You're OK with that, and even prepared for it on this comedy tour, right?
Yeah. I mean, it doesn't even remotely come close to what it was like last time, where I had people walking out. Almost every show. Sometimes very loudly. And this time there's only been a handful of people leaving. But I feel like, do your fucking homework. It should not come as a surprise that I dislike Donald Trump and say some negative things about not just him but his fans. I'm also good at what I do and I've been doing this a long, long, long time. If somebody wants to go one-on-one with me, I'm more than happy to. And I've got a microphone.
David Cross' "Oh Come On" stand-up show is Sat., Aug. 18, at 8 p.m. at the Orpheum. Tickets here.