He introduced the world to its first Analrapist, delivered the most infuriating audition of all time on his ’90s sketch show “Mr. Show” and has made increasingly poor decisions under the guise of Todd Margaret. With a filmography ranging from “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” to “It’s A Disaster” to “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” actor and comedian David Cross has made his mark not only on the world of comedy, but also on the world of film, television and art.
And now, he wants to make America great again.
“I am extremely excited to get back out on the road after six long years away. I was very busy writing for The View, but now that the kids are off to college, my wife’s regiment has been transferred to McMurdo Station in the South Pole, and I’m near completion on Fallout 4, it’s time to start up the bus and bring my patented, fart-inducing laugh winces to a town near you,” Cross wrote on his Facebook page upon first announcing the “Making America Great Again!” tour.
Although this is the explanation most fans would prefer to believe, Cross’s sudden return to stand-up was a much more calculated decision, he explained in an e-mail interview with The Michigan Daily.
“We knew we weren’t going to be able to do more Bob and David’s this year because of Bob’s schedule, and simultaneously I found out that I had to have major shoulder surgery which has a long and intense recovery period where I can’t travel so I figured it was the perfect time to get the set together and hit the road,” Cross wrote.
The Bob referred to is Bob Odenkirk, a comedian, writer and actor who has accompanied Cross in projects over the years from HBO’s “Mr. Show” in the ’90s to Netflix’s revival series “W/ Bob & David” that premiered this past November.
After a six year hiatus from stand-up, Cross is returning to his roots on the stage for a 53-stop tour. Gracing Ann Arbor with his presence at the Michigan Theater this Saturday, Feb. 13, Cross will be presenting his signature form of alternative comedy.
Known for never writing punchlines in favor of freeform stand-up, Cross has been taking his routine city by city, making improvements and changes as each performance passes. No performance is the same, and with each stop the comedic rants become slightly more finessed and calculated in their criticisms.
“I don’t really sit down and write my material,” Cross wrote. “For the most part it’s developed on stage … Experience tells me that the last few shows of the tour will be significantly different than the first few shows of the tour.”
This alternative form of comedy that involves the use of scribbled notes and improvisation began to develop in the ’90s. Alongside comedians like Louis C.K. and Janeane Garofalo, Cross participated in typical stand-up until venturing off into the freeform stylings of “Un-Cabaret,” an alternative comedy troupe in Boston.
Since then, freeform stand-up has developed a larger following, going as far as to have its own festival on the West Coast.
“It’s not seen as ‘weird’ or ‘amateur’ now. The fact that there is a HUGE Alternative Comedy Festival in LA (RIOT Festival) that’s in its fourth year is crazy to think about from the perspective of when the whole ‘alternative’ comedy scene started,” Cross wrote.
As an established comedian and actor, Cross has been a part of numerous projects, ranging from comedies with cult followings like “Arrested Development” to commercial successes in the form of “Kung Fu Panda.” Cross has, as a result, seen firsthand the reaction diehard fans have to fairly removed actors and actresses entering the mainstream, but he regardlessly defines “selling out” differently from what one might imagine.
“It’s changed dramatically,” he wrote. “Back in my day if you even wore a ‘Budweiser’ t-shirt on stage because they paid for your back line you’d be considered a sell out. Nowadays you can do a commercial for a fucking bank and no-one blinks an eye.”
There is a generational stigma around artists who enter into projects solely for commercial rather than artistic reasons, and often artists, musicians and actors will suffer because of this. The second a song or show becomes critically acclaimed, or an artist participates in a critically acclaimed endeavor, their lifespans are drastically shortened.
It is difficult to explain this paradoxical phenomenon in today’s culture, because it appears to discourage success. But as Cross aptly observed, “Maybe it’s a generational thing.” And maybe Cross doesn’t notice the modern day transgression of the term “selling out” because which projects he chooses to participate in isn’t affected by his fan’s reactions or unprovoked opinions from critics.
Cross described his participation in commercially successful projects by saying “the choice is not to be miserable” in an interview with The Believer in 2008. Despite what criticisms may be thrown his way, an individual’s choice to make a living from their passion should in no way be viewed as selling out.
But what can the dedicated followers of Cross’s television and film career expect from his stand-up? They should prepare for discomfort and shock, but in the best way possible. His style is offbeat and challenging, but undeniably funny.
And so, Cross makes his return to stand-up in a stunning fashion. As he makes his way across the United States, we can only hope that his tour will live up to the lofty precedent of its title. But in the end the final question remains: does Cross truly believe that we need to make America better?
“I don’t,” he wrote bluntly. “I was being ironic.”