David Cross on making comedy in the Trump era: 'It's less about him as a person'
It’s May 2019, meaning we are almost two and a half years into the Donald Trump presidency — though perhaps the “Trump era” could be said to have started in 2015, when the former host of The Apprentice first entered the race and began to dominate headlines. For those who don’t share the president’s politics, the singular potential upside of his dominance seemed to be that it would at least allow for lots of good comedy. That has… not quite been the case. Now that Saturday Night Live and the late-night talk shows can just take the latest wacky thing he said, crack a joke, and move on, their writing has become a little lazy (and some writers on those shows have even started saying as much).
In his new stand-up special Oh, Come On, David Cross tries a different approach.
“It’s foolish to make fun of a thing he said or a thing he did, because it’s replaced immediately by something even more outrageous within hours,” Cross tells EW. “So my approach is less about him as a person and more about his fans, and the climate in America. That’s more interesting and I think has more permanence to it.”
Lots of breathless commentary about Trump portrays him as a unique aberration from the norms of American politics. Joe Biden, for one, is currently running for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination by saying just that. But Cross has been making comedy for years now. He remembers the era when President George W. Bush’s administration invaded a foreign nation on shaky grounds, imprisoned people without just cause, and generally laid the groundwork for some of Trump’s most-maligned policies.
After all, one of Cross’ most famous roles is Tobias Fünke in Arrested Development, which in its original run was one of the premiere comedic critiques of the Bush era.
“I remember distinctly and vividly those feelings of ‘these guys are evil.’ There’s a direct line from Bush and [Karl] Rove and [Dick] Cheney to Trump and [Mitch] McConnell,” Cross says. “With Bush, I was in New York for 9/11 and I remember immediately having discussions that would better be described as arguments with people who were like ‘let’s go bomb ‘em.’ Bomb who? What are you talking about? Watching them manipulate that feeling was new for me. Now it’s not new anymore. I see the new Republican regime doing roughly the same thing, albeit in different ways and different circumstances, but the Bush thing was new then and I remember watching the Florida recount, where the Supreme Court was suddenly not interested in states’ rights all of a sudden. As that was unfolding it was new, but now it’s just not new anymore. So there’s a bit of a difference.”
Aside from his own specials, Cross has also made guest appearances on political comedy podcasts like Chapo Trap House. Like SNL, Chapo Trap House and similar podcasts often riff on the latest bits of Trump news, but they also examine lesser-known administration figures like Elliott Abrams. Podcasts like Chapo aren’t afraid to explicitly state their own political beliefs and let that fuel their comedy.
“I’m fans of theirs,” Cross says. “Whether I agree with the Chapo Trap House guys or not, I like to hang out with them as it were, and listen to them. It reminds me of conversations I had with friends when I was their age. We weren’t broadcasting them, but we’d be at a bar and we’d all be sitting around and philosophizing about the stuff they talk about. They’re smart and funny. So I’m happy to do it.”
On a less politically fraught note, Will Smith’s Genie in the upcoming live-action Aladdin movie bears a striking resemblance to the scenes in Arrested Development where Cross’ Tobias paints himself blue to audition for the Blue Man Group. Cross hasn’t seen the Aladdin trailer, but he has seen the memes — enough to notice the similarities.
“That was a big meme that was floating around there for a while. I never saw the trailer but I saw the stills and all that stuff,” Cross says. “I think that it’s just a guy painted blue, when you get down to it. I don’t know why they chose the Genie to look like that, but they did.”
Oh, Come On can currently be purchased anywhere you can buy or rent movies. The special will also be screening in select theaters for one week starting May 10; find tickets here.