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Watching David Cross’s Netflix comedy special Making America Great Again! — filmed just before Donald Trump was even an official presidential nominee — can be jarring, and not just because, as Cross himself tells Yahoo TV, even some people who share his point-of-view thought he might have gone too far with some of his comedy. But, again, as Cross himself says, there’s also the matter of his M(ing)AGA comedy feeling even more relevant now than it did back when he filmed it in 2016.
Here, Cross discusses politics, comedy, comedy about politics, his upcoming comedy series Bliss, the much-awaited return of Arrested Development, his role in the all-star Steven Spielberg movie The Papers, and spending Father’s Day with his first born, daughter Marlow.
Making America Great Again! was filmed pre-election, pre-Trump even being the official Republican nominee, but a lot of it feels even more timely now. Do you look back at that time and feel a little nostalgic for it?
Well, it was simpler and perhaps more innocent in the fact that most thinking people thought, “Well, there’s no way he’ll become president, much less even get the Republican nomination.” It was easier to talk about the things I was talking about, and it’s almost cringe-worthy now when there’s a point where I go, “We don’t know who the Republican nominee is gonna be,” and then I cross my fingers and go, “Trump please.” It’s hard to watch. And even then you thought even if he was the Republican nominee, he surely couldn’t be voted into office. He’s such a blatantly reprehensible con artist. But there are a lot of suckers in America, and this country was built on suckering people. But the special is even more relevant because of the shooting [on June 14] with the congressmen. And of course, it won’t accomplish anything. The core idea in the [Making America Great Again!] bit is that there would only be change enacted when something happened to them personally. But even then, it’s probably not going to. It won’t result in any change. But yeah, there’s little bits and pieces that become more relevant every day, unfortunately.
Given the current political climate — and not just the political ideas and events themselves, but the way people react to them, especially on social media — does it make you more or less excited to go back out on tour?
Well, I’m struggling, and I know a number of other people are as well, with how to make it funny and not be obvious or trite. Because there’s nothing funny about it. It’ll be a while before I go out — I got a lot of work to do — but the angle I’m exploring is less about him because it’s so clear. He’s not pretending to be something he’s not to any of us. It’s blatant, and it was blatant from the very beginning. He’s a pathological liar, narcissistic. I mean, that was there before he ever decided to run for president. It’s really about the mindset of the people that would support him regardless of whatever information is put in front of them, and what it would take for people to go, “Hey, wait a minute.”
So that’s sort of what I’m trying to find the humor in. This idea that they don’t like him so much because of who he is and his policies. These are people, I believe, who just hate with a deep passionate hate the amorphous generic idea of “the left,” and they’re just happy that he’s pissing off people on the left. And that’s about as far as their love for him goes. You can replace him with anybody else that did that same thing, and they would love that person. That’s why they love Sarah Palin, you know? That kind of idea. Anyway, most of the new standup I’ve been doing revolves around my new baby, fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you view it.
A much happier, more positive thing to think about.
Well, yeah. I mean, it’s not all a kumbaya type of thing. I am talking about some of the horrible s**t that goes through my head. But yeah, it’s nice to get your mind off of how low this country has sunk, and with some kind of ultimately optimistic source of humor.
The album for the tour was nominated for a Grammy, and there’s buzz about an Emmy nomination for the Netflix special. Does that offer you some hope that even if people don’t necessarily agree with what you’re saying, they support you going out?
Well, I think those are two different things. It’s purely speculative, but I’m guessing that the people in the Recording Academy and the people in the Television Academy who vote for the Emmy nominees skew towards the more liberal side. I know there are some people who are uncomfortable with how far I went, but I think for the most part, we share a sensibility there. So I don’t look at a nomination as being like they saw merit in the art of it even though they disagreed with what I’m saying, because I think — I’m going to guess again, purely speculative — most side with my side of things. And again, I know some people are like, “Ooh, that’s too far, that’s a bit much,” or whatever. But I don’t see that as some sort of vindication, just because of what I presume to be the political makeup of the Academy.
You have recent firsthand experience to speak to, so do you think people who attend comedy shows, who watch standup specials, are more open to hearing about ideas that might be counter to theirs? Social media might suggest to us that people want to just yell at each other. But do you think there are pockets of more open-mindedness, and that maybe standup is one of those pockets?
I think yes, but I would say as well that at this point, most people are familiar with my [point of view]. I even address it in the special, because I had a lot of walkouts. Well, I wouldn’t say a lot of walkouts, but a lot of my shows had walkouts. Sometimes no walkouts, but I’d say — let’s just stick to America — that roughly 85 percent of the shows maybe had walkouts. Sometimes there were just a handful, and they were quiet. Sometimes there were more than a handful, and they were quite vocal. And that’s not anything I’m not used to. Especially the cops, Black Lives Matter-type stuff really got people to talk.
But, going back to being more clear in my answer, I think that most of the people there were familiar with where I’m coming from, or what to expect in a sense. That was my third or fourth special and fourth album, but there’s a lot of my stuff available. People who are coming and paying 35 bucks a ticket or 40 bucks a ticket, whatever it ends up being after Ticketmaster gets their greedy hands in it, kind of had an idea of what to expect. I don’t think there were that many people who were shocked and went, “Hey, this young man has something valuable to say.”
Tell me about your upcoming series Bliss, about a man with two wives, two families. It has a great cast, with Episodes star Stephen Mangan as the husband. You made it for Sky, but will we get to see it on American TV, too?
Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. And as you said, that cast is great. Man, what an amazing job everybody does, but especially Stephen Mangan, he just f**king kills it. And it’s a really difficult, challenging thing to ask an actor to do. I can’t say enough good things about him. I’m very happy with the way it turned out. We’re in the process of showing it, or trying to sell it to [an American outlet] — and when I say “we,” I have nothing to do with that; this is all whoever owns it, Sky in conjunction with ITV in conjunction with these people in conjunction with the subsidiary of these people. It’s the kind of show that definitely will have a home somewhere, and you’ll certainly be able to see it. When, I don’t know, but I would be shocked if it didn’t show up somewhere.
You wrote and directed the series. Why did you decide not to take an onscreen role?
Well, it’s the same thing with [The Increasingly Poor Decisions of] Todd Margaret. My accent isn’t very good. I would have to study for a while to nail it, and originally, when I had the idea, I didn’t really want to do it anyway, when it was an American idea. I wrote it for Bob Odenkirk. The pilot took place in Buffalo, and was written for Bob specifically, and I told him about it. This idea has been around for quite a while. And then, of course, Better Call Saul happened. But I just wanted to write and direct it. There are some things I think would make sense for me to do all three of those things, but I think the piece would be served better by me just directing it and having another actor do all that hard work. It’s a juicy role. It’s really great, and again, Stephen’s amazing, and I’m not sure I could do it as well as Stephen did it, even if somebody else was directing me, as much as I love to get that kind of part. But really, I never intended to do it. I’m writing a movie right now that I would direct and I would be in. But this particular idea needs a lot of focus that I wouldn’t be confident that I could do all three things at 100 percent. I can write and direct at 100 percent. I can act at 100 percent. But all three things on this particular project, I don’t think so.
Bliss is being billed as a comedy. Is that the tone?
I told Sky, and I told them this from the beginning, “Look, you guys can position it however you want it. You can call it whatever you want, but it’s not that funny.” It’s not like a slapstick comedy, because it starts off a little silly, but it gets really dark. And Stephen pulls it off.
We finally have confirmation that Season 5 of Arrested Development is happening. Any news on what Tobias will be up to?
I have some inkling, but I know enough through experience to know that it can all change by the time this conversation ends. I know some ideas that [series creator] Mitch [Hurwitz] and I were communicating back and forth informally, and he has told me some stuff. But even if I could tell you, which I couldn’t or wouldn’t, I don’t feel confident that by the time I get on set a month and a half from now, that that’s actually going to be the case anymore. And stuff changes overnight. You get a script, and then you get to set, and they’re like, “No, we decided to do this thing. Here are your new lines.” There’s a lot of that. But yeah, looking forward to that. Very excited about that. I think that starts up in about five weeks or so.
That’s a good way to spend the summer.
Yeah, like five or six weeks that I’m supposed to be there. (Talking to his newborn daughter, Marlow). Hi, hello. Hello, you.
I was just going to ask you about being a new dad. Congratulations. How will you spend your first Father’s Day?
I got the weekend off. I’m working on a film right now, but I will be going upstate for 48 hours, and I will be up there hanging out with my wife [Amber Tamblyn] and the baby. We are in the woods, and it’s just beautiful there, and so I’ll be hanging out with her. I don’t have time to do a proper barbecue, but I’ll probably get the grill out, and we’ll go swimming and have some steaks and sausages and fresh produce from the area. And go to the farmer’s market. So it’s going to be awesome. I prefer that to almost any place on earth. (Talking to Marlow) Hi. Yeah, you’re going to get to see some trees and frogs. You’re going to see some frogs. And my dog loves it up there, too.
Are you working on The Papers now, Steven Spielberg’s movie about The Pentagon Papers? Another amazing cast…
Yeah. I’m in the middle of that. Oh my God, the cast is incredible. It’s insane.
Can you say anything about who you’re playing?
Yeah, I play [former Washington Post managing editor] Howard Simons. Every person is based on a real person. Not even based on, it is that person. And I happen to be playing Howard Simons. I’m just Jewy-involved enough. That was the breakdown — Jewy-involved.
David Cross: Making America Great Again! is streaming on Netflix.
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