David Cross interview: 'I could see that our behaviour was not appropriate at all'

The 'Arrested Development' star talks about his current standup tour, 'Oh Come On', becoming a new father, and apologising

Elisa Bray
Friday 28 September 2018 12:46
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Mr Show: in between raging at Trump, the Atlanta-born standup deals in dumb jokes and personal anecdotes
Mr Show: in between raging at Trump, the Atlanta-born standup deals in dumb jokes and personal anecdotes

David Cross began his comedy career as a standup back home in America, but it’s his role as the terminally awkward Tobias Fünke in sitcom Arrested Development which made him a star on these shores. While his UK-based black comedy series The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret was a cult hit, his latest UK show, the bigamy-themed Bliss, didn’t get a second run on Sky One. Now Cross has returned once again to his standup roots, following his popular Making America Great Again show with new tour Oh Come On.

He and the Arrested Development cast members made headlines in May after a group interview for the New York Times in which a tearful Jessica Walter recounted being verbally harassed by Jeffrey Tambor on set, only for her co-stars to defend Tambor’s behaviour. Cross talked to The Independent about his current tour, becoming a new father, and apologising to Walter.

Anglophile: Cross has produced sitcoms for UK TV (Getty for The New Yorker)

How would you describe your standup show Oh Come On?

Roughly a third of it is dumb jokes that anybody can enjoy, roughly a third is anecdotal stories that happened to me, then roughly a third is topical political-type stuff.

You became a father recently. How did you adjust?

I’m sure that I got a good 20 minutes of material out of it that’s always a plus. I thought I was going to have a tougher time adjusting to the sleep changes but I actually like getting up earlier and going to bed earlier than I have the most of my life. It’s great and it’s fun; obviously it’s got its difficulties, and I’m thrilled that I get to raise a kid in Brooklyn.

Was it hard to know how many dad jokes to put into your set?

Well, yes it was at first. I got this set together when I had no material, by putting together tons of shows in Brooklyn in small rooms of 99 to 300 people; I would do a Q&A at the end of the set and take notes. I asked: ‘When did it feel like it was time to move on? Did you like this joke? Should I drop this?’ So I got all the necessary feedback from the audience, straight from their mouths.

Sounds like a great idea for gauging people’s reactions. What gave you that idea?

It just made sense. In the beginning it was just me and a bunch of notes and scraps of paper. I taped every set, and seven or eight shows were really rough it was just me shooting s*** at people. And then as the set started presenting itself, and I was working on the sequencing of it, that’s when I started asking questions. It just seemed to make sense, and my standup is somewhat conversational. It’s not like a guy standing there where you’re hearing my inner monologue, I engage with the audience and they engage with me.

Is there a friend or family member on whom you test out your standup?

My wife [the actress Amber Tamblyn] is very helpful and always has been. There are a couple of bits that I like that I dropped because she pointed out why something might not be that great. My wife’s really good at that, and she takes her hits in this set too... raising a kid with a feminist wife. She’s very affable about it.

‘Feminist wife’: actress and Time’s Up co-founder Amber Tamblyn, left, in ‘Two and a Half Men’

Can you tell me how your show evolves from the beginning of a tour to the end?

It evolves in two ways, one is I will ad-lib a line or riff something and that will become part of the set. And then there’s the stuff that’s ever changing with Trump and any kind of newsworthy item that will makes its way into the set. I have something very specific about Trump that is always changing.

Was there anything that you wanted to do differently compared to Making America Great Again?

Not really. I still have the same kind of recipe, and I still don’t drink the day of the show or during the show, which is new as of last tour. I decided to sober up a bit. I drink after the show. But I’ve never ever in my whole career sat down with no material, and said: ‘I’m going to get a new one hour and 15 minute set together.’ That was a new approach and I really enjoyed it. I was able to stay home and see my kid. I would just ride my bike or walk to various gigs.

Was drinking getting in the way of your previous tours?

I wouldn’t say it was getting in the way, but it made the set different, and I like the set now it’s tighter. I think I get looser than I should be when I’m drinking, which is fun for me, and kinda fun for the audience, but I think the set is better this way. That kind of thing is good if you’re playing to 500 people tops, those are fun to be that loose, but once you move into theatres, it’s just different. Look, I prefer drinking, I would drink if I could, but, as I moved into theatres, it’s a different feeling, it’s a different show, and I’ve got different responsibilities as an entertainer.

You’ve acted, directed and written for film and TV. What is it you love about standup?

Nothing will compare to it. There’s no studio head giving me notes; I don’t have to cut the set down, I don’t have to wait for anybody else to raise funding to get it done it’s just me and a microphone. The immediacy and the give and take is something I really love.

Why do you think your TV show Bliss didn’t take off in the UK, and how did you feel about that?

I was bummed out that it didn’t get picked up. We had the whole story, we knew exactly where it was going, and me and the other writers were excited about it, and just to finish the story much like the first series it starts off one way and gets really dark by the end. But if I was doing Bliss, I wouldn’t be doing this tour, I wouldn’t have got this set together, so you know, one door closes, the other opens. As to why it didn’t take off, I don’t know. There were a handful of positive reviews, but it got some pretty bad reviews in the British press. I liked it.

Family man: Cross is still close with his’ Arrested Development’ co-stars (AP)

How did you feel about the comments that were directed at yourself and Jason Bateman following the New York Times interview?

Well, the ones that were not just yelling ‘f*** these guys and all the cast’, the ones that were a little more thoughtful, I couldn’t disagree with them. It’s one thing when you’re in the room and then you actually see a transcript or listen to the tape. I understood it. Once I read it, I was like ‘Oh’. I could see that our behaviour was not appropriate at all, and I talked to Jessica and I apologised. We go way back we’ve been together all of us 15 years. But I couldn’t say that those folks were incorrect. I got it. Just the general observation they made, I agreed with; my wife and I talked about it quite a bit.

Your wife tweeted her support of Walter. Did she forgive you?

Yes, she forgave me (laughing). Erm, we’re getting a divorce because I interrupted Jessica, and we’re fighting for custody of our child.

That leads me to #MeToo and the Time’s Up movement. What are your thoughts on that coming into general conversation now?

They are ultimately good things. My wife is a co-founder of Time’s Up, and I’m much more versed up on that stuff, I see the mechanics of that everyday, and I think it’s about time they’re good movements. I bristle at the kind of tone and sweeping generalisations that are made by various people and when it gets away from an actual dialogue that’s when things get rough.

Do you miss filming Arrested Development?

I do, but we’re all (for the most part) still friendly and we all hang out with each other and stay in touch, pretty much everybody, so it’s not like we wrap and then we never talk to each other again until we’re on set. And we work on each others’ projects I’ve worked with Michael Cera five times, something like that, and I’ve worked with Will Arnett on a number of shows.

David Cross’s Oh Come On is at Leicester Square Theatre, London, 9.30pm today and tomorrow, and at Glasgow Oran Mor on Monday www.myticket.co.uk/artists/david-cross

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