In stressful times, as the current American climate could be labeled, many people seek out comedy as a means of release. David Cross might seem like he fits that bill, but only if you can handle some seriously jarring jokes. Known for his “Arrested Development” role as the bumbling Tobias Fünke, his standup routine is almost unrecognizable by comparison. The real-life Cross is searing, sharp-edged and often shocking. Just a few minutes of his humor makes you wonder, is anything off-limits? Cross spoke to C-VILLE by phone to answer this question (kind of) and several others about his tactics, politics and singular style.
C-VILLE Weekly: This is all on the record unless you say otherwise, in which case we can strike it.
I wanted to ask you about—
I refuse to answer that question. This interview is over.
I didn’t get very far, did I? Come on, just one question.
Alright, you can ask me one.
When you announced the Charlottesville show on your Facebook page, you said, ‘Despite Mayor Nikuyah Walker’s doing her best to keep me out, I’m coming!’ That confused some people here. Can you explain what you meant?
It was just a joke. I use the same thing for every city or town. I just used the mayor that was applicable for that. There are no mayors in the United States or Canada who have tried to prevent me from doing a standup show.
Not yet, anyways.
Do you have any specific Charlottesville material planned, considering our recent history?
I don’t, but I imagine I’ll touch on it. I don’t have anything specific that has occurred to me yet. As of now, no. But that’s not to say it won’t be addressed.
Your style of comedy provokes some people, to say the least. Are there any topics that remain taboo, that you are unwilling to joke about?
I won’t talk about John Deere products for personal reasons, and also the difference between whoever and whomever. Those are just two topics that are too taboo for me.
You’ve gotten walkouts for your comedy before. What are some of the most extreme reactions you’ve gotten to some of your jokes? Anything threatening?
Nothing really dangerous, I wouldn’t say. A long time ago, I had this guy stand up and do a pounding-his-fist-into-his-hand kind of motion, one that denotes he wants to fight me. But nothing on this tour. I’ve had a couple people leave, but not vocally get upset. Last time, people got really upset, but no one is getting that upset on this tour. It’s different material, and we’re in a different place.
Would you say that this material is different in tone than “Making America Great Again?”
I wouldn’t say very different. It still follows the same formula I apply to all sets when I tour. I try to mix it up. Roughly a third of the set is jokes. They’re just jokey jokes—it doesn’t matter what your politics are, anybody can like them. Roughly a third is anecdotal stuff—just stories that happened to me, whatever. And then roughly a third is political, topical, current events, religious material, stuff like that. The formula is the same, but all the material is different.
Can you talk a little about your work in Sorry to Bother You, as Cassius Green’s white voice? I’m curious to know how you landed a role like that.
Boots [Riley] and I became friendly when we did a benefit together back in 2001 or 2002. He asked me at some point if he could show me a script he’d been working on. ‘I’d like you to take a look at it, just tell me what you think.’ I said sure, not really expecting very much, because he’d never written a script before. So he sent it to me—this is like eight years ago—and it was fucking great, just really funny. His ear for dialogue is great, and his sensibilities. I was blown away by it, and told him so. He asked me if I ever wanted to do anything for it and I said sure.
Years and years and years went by. Sometimes it’ll take eight years to make a movie. And then he said, ‘Hey, I’m doing it. Do you want to be one of the white voices?’ And I said sure. …Not the most thrilling story.
Have you ever been told you have a distinctive white voice?
I don’t think so. … obviously, the voice in Sorry to Bother You isn’t the voice I’m using now. There’s a little bit of an affectation. You pitch it up a little bit, you add a little sparkly, golly-gee type stuff, y’know? And that becomes the white voice. It’s not how I speak normally.
Did you have to give any refunds to Trump supporters confused by your “Making America Great Again” tour?
[Laughs] No refunds. I had already been doing stand-up for about 45 minutes before I brought up Trump, so I would only refund them 25 percent of their money anyway.
Cross performs at The Paramount Theater on August 3.
David Cross is infamous for his no-holds-barred style of comedy, which can provoke as many gasps as it does guffaws. He performs at The Paramount Theater this Friday.