It’s been an eventful six years for David Cross since his last standup tour. He’s seen the resurrections of two of his most beloved projects, Arrested Development and Mr. Show, the latter in the form of Netflix’s W/ Bob & David and co-starring his Mr. Show partner Bob Odenkirk. He’s created his own sitcom (The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret) and directed his first film (Hits). He even got married. And now Cross has embarked on a massive 51-date standup tour entitled “Making America Great Again,” which includes two shows at the Orpheum Theater on Feb. 12.
In the break between a Portland, Ore., show and his Madison visit, Isthmus caught up with Cross to discuss Mr. Show’s lasting legacy, the production process of British TV and standup walkouts.
This is your first tour in six years. What were your reasons for wanting to go out again?
It was a convergence of two things, professionally and personally. The project I was potentially going to be working on during this time — January to May — got postponed. And at the same time I found out I had to have major shoulder surgery, and there’s a pretty intense recovery period. You have physical therapy three days a week, and I couldn’t take any roles because my arm’s going to be completely fucked up. Because of those two things happening at once, I was like, “All right, I’ll get all my material I’ve been doing for the last five years and put a set together and go on the road.”
Can I ask what the project was that you thought you were going to be working on?
Oh, yeah. More W/ Bob & David. Because of Bob’s schedule, we thought we had to do it from basically, like, January to May. That was the only time we could possibly do it.
How has it been watching virtually everyone involved with Mr. Show go on to lengthy, respected careers in the comedy scene?
Oh, it’s great! That’s a lot of talent. It was their first real job, and now they’re running shows, a couple of them, and it’s fantastic. And it really made it extra-special to go back and work with some of those people again on W/ Bob & David, because everybody’s bringing 16 years of experience to the show. We’re not all green writers and producers anymore. We know what we’re doing, and it’s great.
Does it surprise you that people still love Mr. Show as much as they do?
I don’t think it’s surprising. Not that we ever sat down and expressed this in a simple, philosophical way, but we had a rule that if you were going to make fun of a pop culture figure, it wouldn’t be about that person. It would be about the essence of that person. So we never had a Paris Hilton or a Kim Kardashian or a Justin Bieber. We had a person that personified or exemplified Justin Bieber, but it wasn’t Justin Bieber. A lot of our stuff still resonates 20 years later because I think it’s really about the zeitgeist of the time in pop culture. If you watch an SNL from 20 years ago, you’re like, “What? Who the fuck?” Like, Monica Lewinsky jokes, you just don’t give a shit [now]. So I think it helps that it still resonates and still feels relevant years later. But don’t forget, it was not popular when it was on. It was not. Our last year, we got moved from HBO’s comedy block on Friday to Monday at midnight, which is a graveyard. And it’s not out there — it’s on YouTube, or in people swapping what limited DVDs there are. I think that also kind of lends itself to the cult thing, that it’s not easily accessible.
There’s a new season of Todd Margaret completed, the first since 2012. What’s the difference in working on a comedy in England as opposed to working on one in America?
It’s really about how they structure everything about the show, whether it’s the workday to how it’s released to how you actually produce it. In the States, you have way more shows ordered. And for the point of this discussion, let’s make a distinction between networks and cable. In cable, you can do 10 shows. But networks always order 18 to 21, and there’s a whole machine to it. You get a writers’ room and crank them out, and you’re shooting episode seven while you’re writing episode 14 and you’re editing episode four. It’s all these different parts.
In Britain, your order is six [episodes], and they don’t have seasons there like we do here. They don’t have that whole pilot craziness, and you can take your time. The great thing about doing it that way — especially for something like Todd Margaret, which is very story-intensive — is that you can write everything, then you can go shoot everything and then you can post everything.
A lot of your standup stuff is pretty controversial. I’d have to imagine it would be jarring for someone who only knew you as Tobias (Fünke, Cross’ character on Arrested Development) to hear you do your material.
I’ve had people walking out of my sets since I’ve been doing standup, and it hasn’t changed. I think of the 12 shows I’ve done so far [this tour], eight of them have had people, not angrily like “You’re the devil!” and demanding their money back, but there’s a portion of the show where people will walk out. And inevitably at every show there’s going to be a handful of people who don’t know about my standup and just go, “Oh, hey, Tobias is doing standup. Let’s go hear those jokes. Maybe he’ll do some pratfalls!” And they have no idea about my particular stance on the right wing or religion or whatever, and they don’t want to hear it. But it’s to be expected. You can’t get on stage and say basically the equivalent of “Catholics are idiots” without expecting people to take offense at it.
With all these different things you’ve been in, how has your audience changed since the last time you went on tour?
Well, they’re just as white as ever. I would say there are more beards in the audience, and there’s definitely more beard on stage. But the one thing I’ve noticed, that I suppose is inevitable but really pretty cool, is that as I’ve gotten older, the audience has expanded. When I started, a lot of the crowd was college-age, mid-20s, and you didn’t see a whole lot of 45-year-olds at the show. And now, you see a bunch of 45-year-olds, and you still see a bunch of college kids in their 20s. But again, about as white as can be.