David Cross – the renegade comic genius known for (among many, many other things) playing Dr. Tobias Fünke on Arrested Development – brings his new stand-up show ‘Oh Come On’ to the UK this week.
NME caught up with the 54-year-old to talk Julian Casablancas’ kissing technique and how a joke that got the Mormon Church’s knickers in a twist spiralled out of control.
Your 2016 ‘Making America Great Again’ show came after a five-year break from touring. It’s taken less time for ‘Oh Come On’. What was the inspiration behind it?
“The only reason there were such lags between the prior three or four tours was I was very busy and wasn’t able to get a set together. This time, I had a show I was doing in the UK for Sky called Bliss. I was getting the potential series two together and my gut told me it wasn’t going to get picked up. Anticipating the reality that in six months I may end up having no work, instead of just waiting around, I figured I’ll just get material together for a stand-up tour. As expected, they didn’t pick up the show and I just said: ‘Okay, we’re good to go, starting in June’.”
Both this and your previous stand-up tour take aim at Trump and his supporters. Have you been targeted by any of his more rabid enthusiasts?
“Yeah, but it was more an anti-Mormon thing I did and the Mormons sent people to my Salt Lake City show. They wrote negative things about it and it got picked up by right-wing sites like Breitbart. They got the secret service involved, so last week I had a long interview with the secret service. Which is intimidating of course, but they could have not been cooler.”
That’s insane. What was the pretext for it?
“I did a show in Salt Lake City which is the home of The Church of Latter-day Saints. It’s great fun to play there and I make fun of Mormons. Prior to that, I’d tweeted a reminder – an Arrested Development meme of Tobias putting swim trucks over his shorts to effectively hide my thunder. We photoshopped these ‘sacred undergarments’ onto it – which are just fucking long-johns. – and wrote ‘Hey Salt City, wanna learn the real truth? Come down to the show!’. People were outraged. When I did the show, I doubled-down because I truly don’t care about offending anyone by showing a picture of underwear. The Mormons sent people to transcribe the show and I did an entire nine-minute bit talking about it on stage. I posted the video on my website which made everything worse – not that I give a shit. When the negative stuff got printed, enough people called for the secret service to get involved that they had an obligation to check it out and assess the ‘threat level’. It stems from there, but it was nothing to do with Mormonism, it was about the anti-Trump stuff in my set.”
What kind of questions did that ask you? Surely you’re protected under the First Amendment…
“I am. And I asked them this and they were very forthcoming and cool every step of the way. Are you guys familiar with ‘Permit Patty’? A few months ago, somebody videoed a woman calling the cops about a black family picnicking in the park. Then once every five or six days, there would be more new awful, stupid shit – a video of a woman calling the cops on a girl selling lemonade outside her apartment because she didn’t have the correct permit, etc. Each time, the cops have to check it out and there is a monumental waste of money and resources. It was like that. The secret service were like the cops in those videos, half-apologising: ‘We have to do this’. It’s about assessing whether I am truly of the mind to attack the President – which of course is absurd. There’s tonnes of questions – some of which you can pretty much figure out – just assessing the threat.”
Will you reference any of it in your comedy?
“I don’t know. My first show since the secret service meeting will be in Manchester on Tuesday. Maybe it will come up organically – I haven’t planned a ten-minute riff. My set is solid with a beginning, middle and end with a thread running through it. I don’t want to put any speed bumps in there that might derail its flow.”
Has becoming a father affected your comedy?
“It definitely has. I talk about it. I see things through a different lens. My actions have more responsibility and there’s more of a sense of urgency to political events I might previously dismiss because ‘Fuck it, I’m rich and these people are actually voting to make me richer!’. But now I have a kid and I travel a lot and see outside my liberal, progressive bubble how many people are being adversely affected by these selfish actions of a clear minority. It informs everything and so it seeps into my comedy. I wouldn’t say it’s changed it wholesale, but I have a different awareness now.”
What would you say to Trump if he was in front of you now?
“With his psychological make-up, there’s no pithy comment I could say to give him an epiphany of: ‘Oh you’re right! I should be empathetic!’. I would do that handshake he does where you shake the hand and then you pull them in really close and very quickly jerk them in and I’d be like: ‘Dude, dude, you know Bernie would have won, right? You know Bernie would have won? He would have kicked your asssssssssssss. Oh my God, could you imagine?!’. And then I’d just smile and pat him on the back.”
The latest Trump scandal is that Stormy Daniels compared his penis to Toad from Mario Kart. Which video games character does your cock most resemble?
“[Princess] Peach. It’s just really cute, and strong yet feminine, independently wealthy, it comes from Royal lineage, and also with a really nice head of hair.”
You were in the UK during the EU Referendum. Have you been following the unfolding Brexit chaos?
“I am. Until recently, I had a subscription to Private Eye. I was in Manchester the day before the vote and London the day of it. The dismay and disbelief and slow resignation of ‘Oh God, this is really happening. Now what do we do?’ felt like when Trump was elected. What’s happening in Britain is similar to what’s happening in America – it’s the ability for people to blatantly lie and get away with making shit up. They’ve learned well from Goebbels. That’s why I feel strongly that based on the new information, you should have another referendum. And I feel the same way about things in the States. We know we were lied to and manipulated and the people should get another chance to present our own thoughts on that.”
You’ve been embroiled in a number of controversies this year [including actor/comedian Charlyne Yi accusing you of making racist comments towards her when you met a decade earlier and the fallout from the Arrested Development cast interview with the New York Times] which blew up on social media. What was it like being in the centre of that Twitterstorm and did anybody reach out to support you?
“With the stuff on Twitter and, I’ve had a number of people go: ‘Hey man, I’m sorry this is happening to you. I know it’s not you. Keep your spirits up.’ Which has been nice to have. The people who say those things like ‘You’re a racist piece of shit, asshole’ don’t know me, they’ve never met me, and they’re going off of a stranger’s tweet about a single incident over ten years ago.”
There’s been a lot of debate over whether disgraced comedians like [his one-time roommate] Louis CK and Roseanne should be ‘allowed’ comebacks. What is your take on it?
“Of course they should be allowed if that’s the word people are going to choose. Every case is different, and based on the timing and what they say and do. But someone doing a set somewhere does not immediately mean someone is making a ‘comeback’, which connotes a calculated effort, like ‘Hey everybody, I’ve got my shit together and here, enjoy my comedy stylings’. To cite Louis as a specific example, I think he made a terrible mistake and miscalculation in not addressing the situation. I know for a fact he has completely shut himself out of social media. He doesn’t even have a smartphone or use a computer. He is shut off and that’s hurt him because I don’t know if he understands the ramifications of doing a set and not addressing it – and I don’t think he did. I truly don’t think he’s obstinately going ‘Fuck it, I don’t care’. But I think he made an obvious disservice to himself and everybody by not addressing it. But I don’t know what his end-goal is. I don’t know if he just wanted to do a set or if he is planning some sort of slow roll-out – which I seriously doubt. You have to look at these things individually.”
Do you think they’ll ever be any more Arrested Development?
“I mean, I’ve learned to say ‘Never say never’ but I truly doubt there’ll be more. But who knows what’ll happen with time. Three/four years from now, who knows? I just don’t see it happening.”
You’ve appeared on a lot of shows with hardened followings. What’s been your strangest fan encounter?
“A number of times, somebody goes: ‘Check out my tattoo’ and it’s of my face on some part of their body. Sometimes it’s just my face – not even a clear Tobias thing – which makes me uncomfortable.”
It would have been great if one of the secret service agents piped up with ‘I loved you in Just Shoot Me!’
“(Laughs) I should have asked whether they were fans or not. I dealt with a number of them. It wasn’t just two guys. It was people on the phone and then I had to deal with different folks who showed up, and they were all totally cool.”
What do you have coming up?
“I’m on tour until November 8, then I’m either working on a pilot that there’s not enough to talk about yet, or I’ll be writing. There’s a movie I’m shooting in May which isn’t a comedy – it’s unlike anything I’ve ever done before. It’s a true story based on a series of books about a guy on a quest through the woods in a Cascade Mountain Range back in the ‘90s. He goes in one kind of person and comes out another. It’s just focused on one character and the ordeal he goes through.”
You’ve also been in a number of indie videos such as The Strokes’ ‘Juicebox’. What’s been your most rock’n’roll moment?
“I think it was when Julian Casablancas started making out with me.”
Is he a good kisser?
“He’s a very good kisser, yes. Soft, supple lips. Attentive. Just the right amount of firmness and bite.”
‘Oh Come On’ kicks off at The Dancehouse in Manchester on Tuesday 25 September before a three-night run at London’s Leicester Square Theatre (Wednesday 26-Friday 28 September) and a show at Oran Mor Glasgow on Monday 1 October.