David Cross has a knack for getting involved with deeply beloved but underwatched projects. All three of the TV shows he’s starred in have been labeled “cult classics”: Arrested Development; Mr. Show With Bob and David, currently revived for Netflix as With Bob and David; and The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret (he also had a hand in the creation and writing of the latter two programs). But now, thanks to two decades of appearances on television, in movies, and in comedy clubs around the world, he’s turned into something of a household name. To further assert his presence, he’s hitting the road with the most stand-up dates he’s ever performed on a single tour, visiting cities he’s never been to, on his “Making America Great Again!” trip.
I spoke with Cross over the phone and we ended up talking about his return to stand-up, political comedy, and making Mr. Show available to everyone.
What made you decide to go back on a stand-up tour after six years?
It was two different things that happened simultaneously. One was that we were gonna do more of Bob and David, and that got postponed. I found out that I had to have a major surgery and there’s a long recovery period. So I thought, if I can’t work on anything else in front of the camera, I’ll try to put together some stand-up and do a tour.
A lot of things you work on recently came back from a long hiatus: Arrested Development, Todd Margaret, Bob and David. Is that your MO?
It’s happenstance. Obviously the Arrested thing has been talked about and in the works for years and years and years. Todd Margaret didn’t make much of an impact on IFC when it aired, but then over the years it got this whole cult following on Netflix, and there was a bit of an international fan base to it, enough certainly for IFC to approach years later about doing another series. And then Bob and David was something that we’ve always wanted to do. That came about because we realized the 20th anniversary of Mr. Show was coming up, and why not use that as an excuse to get together? Those just all happened to converge at the same time.
What was it like going from all those collaborative projects to working on your personal stand-up?
I’ve been doing stand-up in between projects for the better part of two decades. It’s always nice when you’re working in a democracy with other people and you can’t get certain jokes in, even though it’s your show—that how it works. It’s nice to go, well, fuck it, I’ll just talk about that in my stand-up.
How has your stand-up changed over the years?
I have no set formula. But this set that I’m doing and as it’s shaped up to be and is shaping up to be—it’s always changing, it’s pretty amorphous: I would say it turns out to be about a third anecdotal stuff, things I’ve observed and things that happened to me on a plane. Then a third of it is some kind of political or topical zeitgeisty stuff with religion thrown in. And then a third is just pure silly, stupid jokes—dumb stand-up goofy jokes.
That’s not any formula that I try to work around, but that’s pretty much what it ends up being.
You’ve never been afraid to make political jokes, and now is a time ripe for that. Especially with the name of your tour, is that a bigger focus this time around?
There are so many places where you can get that kind of political joke, [an] observation based on something that happened that day or the day before, and it used to not be like that. Now you’ve got so many sources of it: Daily Show, Colbert, Samantha Bee, Larry Wilmore, Bill Maher, the Onion—there’s tons and tons of them. So I probably don’t do as much as people might think, especially because of the title, which is really just that I had to come up with a title. The guy called and said, “Hey I need something by the end of the day.” [Laughs.] I talk a little bit about Trump. There’s topical stuff, and there’s stuff about gun control.
What was it like going to work on Bob and David after 20 years?
It was so much fun. Bob and I had been writing together for roughly a month, because that’s how we always did Mr. Show. Bob and I would meet for a month before we brought the writers in, just very informally kick ideas around, show sketch ideas either finished or half complete, and just work with each other and just shoot the shit really to make each other laugh. That first time we brought all the other writers in will go down in my lifetime as one of the five best days I’ve ever had. There was so much laughter—I haven’t laughed that hard in a two-hour period in my life. It was great to see everybody again and everyone immediately just falling into the same roles and dynamics of who’s making fun of who. Bob and I were really energized and excited by that meeting and just had a great time. We will definitely do it again. Hopefully we’ll be able to do more than four next time.
Do you feel like you’ve reached a larger audience on Netflix, one who might now be able to appreciate the original Mr. Show?
Maybe. It’s not available anywhere. That’s a small part of why we wanted to get the show back on—we were hoping that whoever owns it would say, “Hey, let’s put this back up, it’s worth airing again.” But it’s not available to anybody, and it’s really a source of frustration to both of us and really disappointing. But that’s business, right?
Should we get a hashtag going to get those shows released?
Do it! You know more about that world than I do. Get on it.
How has the current tour been going so far?
This is going to sound cheesy, but it has truly been so much fun. I forgot how satisfying and fun this is. I remember very vividly at the end of my last tour being in Washington, D.C., saying, “I promise it won’t be another five years till my next show!” And then of course [laughs] it was another five years. It’s really been so cool going out there and seeing people and meeting people and going to places I normally would never go to. This is a pretty extensive tour.
Will this tour end with a special and an album?
Oh yeah. I’m taping a special in Austin on April 21. We’re going to do it the same way I did the last special I put out, where the stuff that airs on TV will be somewhat different than the stuff on the CD. There will be lots of new material coming out when I’m done with the tour. v