Somewhere along the way, David Cross got to be one of the most influential comedians in a generation. As in, somewhere along the way, he’s become a guy who’s been doing this in the public eye for nearly 25 years. That’s wild!
Maybe it’s his political commentary, his recurring role as cringeworthy character Tobias Onyango Fünke on Arrested Development, or his early work as co-founder of the influential sketch comedy show Mr. Show, but it can be easy to forget how long David Cross has been in the game.
Embarking on a new tour (he’s calling “Oh Come On”) with a new approach to writing material, David Cross comes to Portland on Tuesday, June 19. He spoke with the Phoenix by phone.
The Phoenix: When did you start working on the material you’re touring now?
David Cross: Around the end of January. I approached this tour differently than I have any other tour, which was to actually get material and work on what will eventually be the set. As opposed to every other time, [when I was like] Hey, it’s been five years, why don’t I put a set together based on the five years of material I’ve been dicking around with over 20 minute sets here and there there. It’s been really fun, I would do this again and again. I just booked a shit ton of shows in these small little basements in Brooklyn, and eventually moved into bigger rooms. I did all these shows titled “Shooting the Shit (Seeing What Sticks)” and went from there.
What happened in January? Did you have some epiphany?
Yeah, in the sense that I had been working really hard on this show I did. I was living in London and did this show over there for Sky TV and was waiting for it to get picked up. Networks won’t tell you if the show is getting picked up or not. I shot this movie over the summer and went straight to L.A. to do Arrested Development. Then I sat around for five months waiting for an answer, and my gut said they were not going to pick it up. So to keep myself busy, I started working on material, with the idea that it doesn’t get picked up I just go on the road in the summer. And if it did, I’d just put a pin in it. So I pulled a trigger on this tour. I did three festivals last week, and I’m ready to go.
You’ve talked about how you’re often mislabeled as a “political comic.” Do you worry about doing political material in a climate that’s already so saturated with it?
No, I’m not consciously staying away from it. It always shakes out to be roughly a third of my set because that’s what I go for. A third are silly, dumb jokes or like, impressions of Matthew McConaughey. A third is anecdotal stuff. And roughly a third is topical, political, cultural stuff. That’s intentional. I truly believe that the political stuff feels like it’s more of a show because it’s way more polarizing. It’s inflammatory and it has more of an impact. Even though [a show may be around] 75 minutes — and let’s say 24 or 25 minutes was about Trump and school shootings — you have more of a visceral reaction to it.
That makes sense. I remember listening to [Cross’s 2002 album] Shut Up, You Fucking Baby! during a summer road trip while I was in college, and what I remember most is the material about George W. Bush.
I don’t know, that’s really before I put a formula together. I did this podcast no more than two weeks ago, where the gist is you take a joke and they dissect it. They pulled a bit from Shut Up, You Fucking Baby! and I barely remembered it.
Is there any difference between telling jokes in the age of Twitter and social media compared to the environment you started out in?
The only thing that’s really changed is like a number of other comics, I hire security at the shows, I put signs up and if everyone has their phones out, they’re gone. You just can’t have your phone out. Comedy, like every other art form, is going to suffer tremendously if you just tweet a joke out without context, to say nothing of filming the actual bit. That’s the only thing that’s changed. There’s absolutely no cameras. And honestly, that should go without saying. The show’s for you guys, let’s just be in the moment. I don’t know what the fuck’s wrong with you if you gotta put a camera between you and me, it’s annoying.
Ever been to Maine before?
Yes, a handful of times back in the late ‘80s early ‘90s. A good friend of mine used to summer in York Beach. I went to Portland once, I think, to do a show many years ago, but i’m very much looking forward to going back. That’s not just blowing smoke up your ass — it looks absolutely beautiful. Everyone I know who goes up and summers in Maine has a great time, I’m really looking forward to it.
David Cross: “Oh Come On” Tour | June 19 | Tue 8 pm | State Theatre, 609 Congress St, Portland | $35-45 | www.statetheatreportland.com