Published Jul 18, 2016David Cross is on the phone from Stockholm, where he's touring his new standup show, Making America Great Again!!
"That was a terrible mistake," he says about adopting presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's slogan. "I made a terrible mistake and I can't get it back no matter how hard I try."
Like many other political observers, Cross didn't think Trump had much of a chance at winning his campaign to run for President of the United States when he decided to gently troll him with his own catchphrase.
"It was just a goofy, tossed-off title, and now I think a lot of people are expecting an hour of political standup and it's just not the case," he explains, ahead of bringing the show to Canadian cities in July. "I mean, I talk about Trump and gun control, but there's plenty of other stuff in there. And I think a lot of people come to the show — or avoid the show — thinking it's gonna be an hour on Trump and it certainly isn't that.
"But that title, in and of itself, speaks to how simplistic, emotional, silly and vapid Trump's slogan is. And again, it's not to say I'm not talking about Trump and America and ridiculous politics, but it's not a one-man show about Trump."
It's somewhat ironic that Cross is in jovial damage-control mode about his own messaging. For close to 30 years, he's been at the vanguard of comedy, writing and/or performing on influential and hilarious TV programs such as The Ben Stiller Show, Mr. Show, Arrested Development, The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, W/Bob & David, and many more.
He's appeared in dozens of feature films, published a book of essays called I Drink for a Reason, and he's well-known for his three incisive standup records: Shut Up You Fucking Baby!, It's Not Funny, and Bigger and Blackerer.
Throughout a lot of the aforementioned work, Cross has cleverly taken on hypocrisy, dishonesty, stupidity, and anyone who willingly seems to disseminate or accept half-formed "facts."
"I think there's an astounding amount of misinformation and that people don't vet their sources," he explains. "I mean look at the Bernie Sanders versus Hillary shit. All the stuff that pro-Bernie and pro-Hillary people were sending around with no idea what the sources were or who said it. People are happily willing to have their biased, predetermined choice informed by the things that adhere to the choice they've already made. There's no critical thinking at all.
"It's just a misinformed electorate. We've seen tons of political activism from Bernie and Hillary and Trump supporters. Those are active people, they're just ill- or half-informed. It's a lot of hyperbolic, histrionic stuff that's not helpful."
Cross is the mastermind behind The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, which is set and shot in England and he was in Europe when the recent referendum (aka Brexit) determined that UK citizens wished to leave the EU.
"Oh, it's just shock and dismay," he says, describing the mood in cities he played on tour, London among them, post-Brexit. "It was like a waking dream the first day. Now there's a lot of anger, recrimination, and blame going around. People are pretty upset.
"I talked about it quite a bit in my set over there. London voted something like 90 percent to remain and it's similar to the States where you'd have the more liberal, progressive areas voting progressively and then the more rural and suburban areas voting more conservatively and right-wing, and it was similar in the UK for the referendum.
"And there was lots and lots of misinformation and people were shocked. And there's a lot of buyer's remorse from people who are angry now. 'What do you mean we lost a trillion dollars in the budget overnight and the pound had the biggest drop in 31 years? What are you talking about? You didn't tell me this.'
"And they can dress it up however they want but it's really about immigration — 'get rid of the Poles, get rid of the Muslims.' That's what it is and America, hopefully, can take a great lesson from what happened."
Because he's a politically outspoken comedian and satirist — particularly in his sketch work with Bob Odenkirk on Mr. Show and last year's Netflix reunion, W/Bob and David — Cross is often asked to speak on news and events of the day. But it does seem that he and his contemporaries at, say The Daily Show, or the many programs of its ilk now being commandeered by TDS alumni, are being looked to more and more for their actual insight about politics. And yet, they're comedians, writing jokes; they're not, in fact, the very pundits they're lampooning.
"Part of the problem is the act itself of dissecting satire and looking for it to have an immediate effect," Cross argues. "There are people way more succinct and sharper than I am who, on a daily or nightly basis, are commenting. You're kind of preaching to the converted, but I think when you start analyzing comedy and parody, it loses its punch. It's really not meant to be anything more than making people laugh.
"Hopefully they're identifying with it in some way but to expect it to change much is putting too much pressure on it. Everything's not gonna be Stravinsky or something. It'd be a strange world if it was."
At the very least, two of Cross's beloved and funny TV shows, which have come and gone before, look like they may appear again at some point, including W/Bob and David.
"They're not solid, but both of us have always said that we want to do it again," Cross says of Odenkirk and their plans. "It's very tough because of our schedules. Bob has a very strict schedule with Better Call Saul and mine is more amorphous and always changing. That's really the only issue. We'd like to do more; Netflix wants us to do more. We're missing this window; we would've done it over the winter, but Bob was doing a movie and I was doing [standup] so we'll see about next year."
Cross is also upbeat about the chances he'll reprise his beloved role as Tobias Fünke on the influential sitcom, Arrested Development, whose fourth season appeared, somewhat surprisingly, on Netflix in 2013.
"I know the same thing that happened during the talk of season four was that they want to do it, they're trying to work out the deals with all of the entities who own the work," Cross says of a possible season five. "And then, when you get all of that done, you have to schedule, like 11 actors who live all over the same place and are involved in their own stuff. That's quite difficult to do, but I can tell you that everybody would love to do it again. It's a treat and an absolute pleasure and I'd love to do it again. It's such a fun part to play too."
Otherwise, contrary to what people might presume about him based on his rather acerbic, sardonic standup, Cross, who is married to actress/filmmaker Amber Tamblyn, sounds content. Optimistic even.
"It's true that I'm a cynical person, for sure. But that's not to say that I'm not hopeful. My wife, my friends, children — they all give me hope. I don't think mankind is evil by nature.
"Bernie Sanders! That's probably the most hopeful thing I've seen in my lifetime. That was a shock that he got as far as he did and that's about the youth of America — the kids. That's not my generation. So, that makes me hopeful."
Listen to this interview with David Cross via the Kreative Kontrol podcast.