Published Jul 18, 2018In February 2017, comedian David Cross and his wife, actress Amber Tamblyn, celebrated the birth of their baby daughter, Marlow Alice. But then a few months later, things took an unfortunate turn for Cross and his fans.
For one of the most prolific and uncompromising comedic voices of our time, the inherent sentimentality and requisite emotion involved in raising a child seemed at odds with Cross's public persona, which he has cultivated over a 30-year career, writing or starring in pointedly cynical productions like Mr. Show with Bob and David and Arrested Development.
His idiosyncratic standup show, which he's currently performing across Canada and the United States on his Oh Come On tour, is often more extreme and angry; at the risk of taking this all too literally, his classic 2002 standup album is called Shut Up You Fucking Baby!
"I don't think so," Cross says, when asked if being a dad has softened his comedic perspective. He's on the phone, heading to Edmonton from Calgary. "Maybe I'm too inside of it to know, but I suppose, if anything, there's a greater sense of urgency to what I'm saying when commenting on the world. I do see it in a less self-centred way, where I was thinking of the world that I'm given, that I walk around in, that I was part of creating, and also had no part in creating.
"That used to be my mindset. Now I see it as, 'This kid is a completely innocent, existentialist creature that doesn't know what hatred is, doesn't know what nationality is, doesn't know what white, ethnocentric nationalism is,' and any of those things. I think about the world that I'm giving her and that I think about almost hourly. But it hasn't necessarily changed my comedy. At least not yet; she doesn't even talk yet."
While basking in the glow and weight of fatherhood, Cross was called out by comedic actress Charlyne Yi in October 2017. Over a series of tweets, she recalled meeting Cross a decade earlier with her then-boyfriend, actor and fellow Arrested Development cast member, Michael Cera. Yi said Cross made classist remarks about her clothing, and racist remarks about her heritage, all of which Cross said he had no recollection of doing, citing Cera as a credible witness to their interactions that evening.
At worst, Cross says, he might have been joking without malice, comedian to comedian, embodying a redneck character. That said, while he doesn't dismiss Yi's recollection of the experience she says she had, and has privately apologized to her, he remains convinced that these are not the kinds of jokes he would ever make at any point, let alone on a night where he was meeting his friend's partner for the very first time.
But after this issue was raised and made headlines, Cross again landed in hot water, defending his embattled Arrested Development co-star Jeffery Tambor against stories that Tambor bullied his on-screen wife, Jessica Walter, to the point of tears during the show's production.
When asked about what was up with Cross, Tamblyn made a statement suggesting that the incidents profoundly impacted her husband and that she had serious conversations with him about how what maybe flies among white guy comedians tends to crash among women and marginalized people.
And yet, during this period of heightened sensitivity, Cross has named his new tour Oh Come On. It can be interpreted many ways — as a reaction to America's clown court of a government structure and the subsequent news reports it generates — but it also has a "why so serious" vibe, like, "Can't you take a joke? Are you seriously making a big deal out of that?"
"My audience is pretty great and smart and intuitive and I trust them," Cross says, "and if I'm doing something that I think is funny and enough people think it's insensitive and I do it three, four times and I'm getting the same reaction each time, if I can't defend it, then I drop it. I don't have to do that very often, but if my audience thinks, 'That's not cool,' then I drop it.
"But the incident where I was accused of being a racist didn't change me," he adds. "It probably made me more cynical than I already was. Knowing the climate we're in, and the way people conduct themselves and communicate, there's a real specific cause and effect that I'm now privy to."
Litigated on Twitter and social media, the Yi allegations were "settled" and Cross believes there was and is no way for him to engage in any rational discussion about the facts of the matter. That's where his cynicism stems from.
"Now, to tens of thousands of people, I'm an unrepentant racist, I'm a piece of shit, I'm an asshole," Cross says. "Then there was the Arrested Development interview, so I'm just bad news. I'm a guy who believes the white race is superior to other races, which is absurd if you know me.
"It sucks man," Cross adds, ahead of declaring that he's quitting Twitter after the Oh Come On tour wraps up. "I'm not saying I don't have lessons to learn. I surely do. But I'm telling you now, I'm having this conversation with you and I know for a fact that, for people who already don't like me or are predisposed not to like me, whatever I'm saying will just make it worse. I get that.
"That's part of the cynicism — there is no discussion or context. It's only the initial thing and if you don't react in a very narrow, strict way, then you're an asshole for life. And I've seen my wife get shit for it and she's much more judicious on Twitter and quick to equivocate. She gets slammed."
"Here's a reason to be cynical: my daughter, who doesn't know this but knows me, I'm dad. She will now go on any social media or google my name and see that her dad is an unrepentant, racist asshole. It will conflict with the person she knows, the work that I've done, the charities I donate to, and all that stuff. It won't make any sense. but there will be enough people going, 'That guy, who happens to be your dad, is a racist piece of shit.' And that's there forever and that's part of my cynicism."
See David Cross on his Oh Come On tour in Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto in July.
Listen to this interview with David Cross on Kreative Kontrol via Apple Podcasts or below: