Intense contrast alert! At the time of David Cross’ last stand-up special, released back in bygone August 2016, Trump wasn’t President and Cross wasn’t a father. The enormity of these changes, profound on political and personal levels — one tragic, one joyous, both totally challenging — is central to Oh, Come On. Parenting, his “Trump fantasy,” and the joys of colonic therapy are among the special’s themes.
Released by Comedy Dynamics, Oh, Come On will appear across multiple platforms and in theaters. As fans should expect, Cross’s viciously-barbed wit is deployed with rapid-fire virtuosity. The comedian is clearly out for blood. Yet there’s a vulnerable, highly approachable side to the set, and the material connects all the better for it.
On a call with PopMatters, David talks about the the Grateful Dead, New Age therapies, time travel, and the hard work of raising a daughter in a terrifying and imperfect world. Inspired by his assessment of dad jokes (“I happily accept their place”) and some of the special’s punishing working titles (“David Cross: Kidding Around”).
It looks like you started developing the material in January of last year and went on an extensive tour for the second half of 2018, and the special is out in May. Is it strange to revisit and analyze something you’ve put behind you?
It is. But outside of the press for this, I haven’t really been a part of it. I helped cut it together because the shows I do end up being closer to an hour and 45 minutes, so I had to cut some stuff out of there. And we even did that a while ago. I’m trying to think the last time I saw it …yeah, I don’t even know. But doing press for it, I certainly remember what the bits were for the most part, but it felt like it was years ago, you know?
Well, speaking of some bits, one of my favorites is one about a gentle health procedure, we’ll say. Do you think there are any New Age or alternative medicine therapies that are actually legit?
Well, maybe. I know that they pretty much debunked [ear] candling, where you take a beeswax cone, and you lay on your side. That doesn’t work. And I think a lot of it is psychosomatic. In theory, I guess it’s good to flush your system out but you could easily do it too much and have a very negative effect, but I imagine once or twice is probably okay. I know that most vitamins have been debunked, and that’s not New Age or holistic or anything. I don’t know. I assume there are some effective treatments out there, but probably less than people would have you think.
I saw that your title, Oh, Come On came out of audience feedback while you were developing your set. Can you share any of your alternate, and perhaps terrible, working titles?
Well, it wasn’t necessarily feedback. It was I had these other titles that were just terrible. I think one was …it was a pun, oh what was it? It was some variation on something like “Kidding Around”, using kid as a double meaning, like kidding and also a child. Something like, “Seriously Kidding”. Something just terrible. And so I had like two or three of them. This happens every time, literally every time I come up with a special or a CD. The first three or four ideas I have are just awful. I mean beyond bad.
I remember where I was, I was at the Bell House and I was like, “What do you think of this title?” and they just booed it immediately, in a good-natured way, like “That’s terrible.” “All right, what about this one?” And they booed that one equally. And I was like, “All right, shit.” And then two people, like at the same time in two different parts of the room, shouted out, “Oh, Come On.” So I was like, “Oh, great. You’re right. Done.” And that was that.
“Kidding Around.” That’s not a super bad thought.
It’s too cute, you know?
Well, it falls into dad joke territory, and I’d like to know, what is your estimation of the dad joke as a comedic form, and has the opinion changed at all after you became a dad?
Dad jokes have their place, just like puns and the less-cerebral stuff. There’s nothing wrong with a dad joke at all. I mean, I don’t want to indulge too many of those during a set, but yeah, if I’m with my family and I make some dumb jokes, that’s fine. No problem with that. I am happy to accept their place. In society.
Do you feel like becoming a father has moved your standup in a more personal direction? Because Oh, Come On has some personal moments, which I truly loved. Has that fed into the work?
Yeah. I mean, that’s for you to say. I think it has because the fragility of an infant or a toddler is a whole new thing to deal with, 24 hours a day. It’s not like she came out and then all of a sudden I was a different person, but definitely, over time and fairly quickly, my consciousness is different. What’s important and what’s not important has shifted.
When I started developing that material, she was one. I think she was one and a half when I taped that special, and now that I’m talking to you at this point today she’s two and change, and she’s starting to really communicate and ask questions. She’s not really asking questions, but you can see they’re coming, they’re just around the corner, and so, like I address in the special, what do I shield her from, knowing how awful people can be? Do you want them to trust people, or how much do you want them to not trust people?
That’s the tricky thing that I’m aware of in a way that I never really was before, except in my own personal experience. How much truth do you give them so they can carry themselves through in this world and how much do you shield them from? Because you don’t want them to be so cynical and jaded. That’s sort of addressed in there, that’s the biggest difference.
Something that was in your special, and I’ve picked up on in your comedy overall, is some riffing on the Grateful Dead. Why does that band suck for you and have you ever had a confrontation with a Deadhead?
I’ll answer the second part first. I’ve never had a confrontation. I’ve had people good-naturedly be, “Hey, come on man, they’re not all that bad.” It’s just a funny band to me, the whole genre and culture around it is funny. It’s not harmful. And I’ve been to a bunch of Dead shows. There was like a year, year and a half period back in the ’80s where it was just a great place to go and drop acid and just have like a two-day acid party you know? And people, 99% of them, are all cool and nice and it’s a very safe atmosphere. I really didn’t give a shit about the music but it was a fun way to spend a couple of days, especially when I had nothing to do. I didn’t have a job. You go there, you meet new people and maybe you hook up with somebody, maybe you don’t, whatever. But you just have fun and experience a bunch of drugs, and it was enjoyable.
But the music, and the devotion to the music, that’s what was funny. They’re not very good musicians. It’s one thing when you go into the studio when you have all that time, but to listen to them on stage plinking and plonking around and things are out of tune, not that anybody gives a shit … The lyrics are pretty insipid, and it just was the opposite of what I was into musically, which was way more kind of punk-y, jagged, edgy shit with angry lyrics and political lyrics. But it’s pretty harmless.
I’ve seen another theme in your comedy, a theme of time travel, typically used to get a premise off the ground. If you had a time machine where would you go?
Well, first of all, I want to say that’s really interesting. I don’t think anybody else has observed that. I never thought about that. Can this time machine take me to other places? Or is it just wherever I get into that time machine and I get out of it, I’m going to be in the same place and it’ll just be in the future or the past? Or does it also take you to other places?
Let’s just say the same location.
Okay, okay. And I’m still the same age, right?
I think I would spend one hour in a time machine that took me ten years into the future. And then I could decide whether I wanted to stay in America. Whether I’d come back and go, “It’s all going to be okay,” or do I come back and go, “Okay, we’re selling the house. Pack up we’re moving.” I think that’s what I’d do.