David Cross has built his career on the cutting edge of a comedy zeitgeist that is only now beginning to catch up to him. Though the anarchic Mr. Show with Bob and David never developed more than a cult following during its brief run on HBO, its influence on sketch comedy remains unquestionable. On standup albums like Shut Up You Fucking Baby! and the tour documentary Let America Laugh, Cross eschewed the traditional rhythms and spaces of standup, creating a hilarious hour of jokes brimming with righteous outrage during a maddening cultural era. He's most famous for the role of Dr. Tobias Fünke on Arrested Development, which ushered in a new era of joke density and filmic sophistication for network sitcoms, but his filmography is packed with groundbreaking comedic and even a few dramatic roles.
The past two years have been particularly busy for Cross. In addition to co-producing four episodes of sketches for the Netflix revival of W/ Bob and David , he also starred in the third season of The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret and announced his return to standup after a years-long hiatus. Our country may be as shambling as ever, but new jokes from Cross have a better claim at “Making America Great Again” than anyone campaigning for president.
Westword caught up with Cross ahead of his upcoming Denver area showcases to discuss the surprise third season of Todd Margaret, returning to standup after six years and the legacy of Mr. Show.
Westword: It didn't seem like there was anywhere for The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret to go after season two's apocalyptic finale, and you had commented that the show was over — but season three just aired up last month. What inspired the change of heart?
David Cross: IFC approached me about doing a third season which I immediately said "no" to. I mean, how could there be one? Everyone dies at the end. But then one of the other writers came up with what I thought was a pretty genius idea, so we headed back to London and cranked it out.
Can you rule out doing a fourth season?
I know I’ve said that before, and I was adamant about it that there was no way that I could see it coming back. It wasn’t my idea. That third season, which was so radically different — one of the other writers came up with the idea and the concept was just so good — I said, “All right, let’s just do it.” But I just can’t see how to do a fourth. I think that we already pushed it a bit, overstaying our welcome. But I’m really happy with the whole thing, how it turned out.
What differences have you observed from producing a show in the U.K. versus working stateside? Do you have a preference?
Yes, much prefer England (although it should be noted that IFC was on board for the English “model” immediately). You do a six-episode series, there’s no pilot season per se, and no television season like we have in the states. No 18 or 22 episode orders or “back nine” to deal with. So every episode is written before you start shooting, and then everything is shot before you start posting. Nice way to work. Although with new models like Netflix and Hulu, etc., you can do ten-episode runs, which is also nice. Maybe even preferable. One downside to shooting in England: You can’t really shut down and control the street like you can here. So sometimes you get people who could care less that you’re trying to get a shot and will just walk through.
How about the Netflix revival of W/Bob and David? Are there any plans for a second season?
Absolutely. We would have done another round this year, but Bob shot a movie he’s been trying to make for ten years at least [Girlfriend’s Day for Netflix], and he has a very limited amount of time between Better Call Saul, so it’s kind of around his schedule. Hopefully we’ll do some next year. We both want to do it.
What did it feel like to be working with so many people from the original Mr. Show cast and crew again after so many years?
Fantastic! They’re all so fun and funny and that’s probably the most I’ve laughed over a four-month period in decades.
You took a long hiatus from performing standup. What caused the break, and what drove you to return to it?
Well, there are a couple of answers. Mainly, I hadn’t done it in six years, and I do love doing this, and this is the most extensive tour I’ve ever put together. But the impetus for it was, I guess, is that I found out in September I had to get major shoulder surgery with a really intense recovery period and physical therapy. So that automatically disqualified me for a lot of work, and I was going to be in one place, so I thought what better time to put together a set, to get ready, once I’m out of a sling. And that’s what I did. I started putting together all the little tiny bits and pieces of scrap paper, and stuff I had been doing over the years at different shows, festivals, benefits and what not. And I put together what I thought would make a good hour, and I started working on it and I did a couple of warm-up shows, and then I hit the road.
Do you have plans to turn the hour you're touring with into an album or live special?
Yes; shooting a special in Austin on April 22.
Where do you go to work out your material?
Mostly drop-in spots on friend’s shows, benefits, the occasional festival.
You've witnessed demand for live comedy ebb and flow in popularity throughout your career. What are your thoughts on the current comedy boom?
Is there a boom? Never really noticed an ebb. Seems pretty much what it was the last ten, twenty years or so. But maybe I’m just thinking in terms of what people consider, “alt comedy.”
Do you think you've shaped the tastes of the current generation of comedy fans?
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Mmmm, maybe. But not simply me on my own. I think it’s more of the whole group of us who came up together and eschewed the structure and façade of the kind of stand-up that was happening. Hence the whole, “alternative” scene, spearheaded by Janeane Garofalo.
Is there anything else you want to mention before we wrap up?
I love you very much.
David Cross is headlining at the Paramount Theatre on Tuesday, March 8, and a completely sold-out Boulder Theater show on March 9. The 8 p.m. Paramount show is already sold out, but tickets remain for the just-added 10:30 p.m. show. Admission prices start at $34.50, and are available from AltitudeTickets.