David Cross: Making America Great Again | Gig review by Steve Bennett at the O2 Forum, London

David Cross: Making America Great Again

Gig review by Steve Bennett at the O2 Forum, London

Donald Trump is so toxically ruinous to so many things – respect, reason and humanity to name but three – that to complain about his impact on comedy seems trivial.

But, counterintuitively, such an obnoxious figure is hard to make incisive, original jokes about. His ill-considered, arrogant, bigot-empowering rhetoric is more outlandish that any parodist would dare to imagine and his pronouncements so easy to mock that they’ll be ridiculed on Twitter before he’s rabid supporters have finished chanting something racist about Mexicans.

This is the problem David Cross encounters in the political section of a show that takes its very name from Trump’s rabble-rousing but meaningless slogan. There’s no mistaking that Cross is speaking passionately from conviction, but comments that the Republican nominee is crass, divisive, worse than Hitler and standing in direct contradiction to the Statue Of Liberty’s pledge to welcome ‘your tired, your poor, your huddled masses’ is old news, however much it needs to be said, and Cross struggles to make this sound fresh.

Gun control is another heartfelt topic, especially in the wake of the Orlando slaughter, and Cross goes into great detail about the NRA’s blocking of sensible safety measures or its leader Wayne LaPierre’s  twisted argument the that Sandy Hook massacre could have been prevented if the teachers were armed. Only after a lot of statements that it feels like we’ve heard before does Cross take us some place new – and dark and grim, too, as he vividly evokes a heartrending tragedy.

He certainly has a steely, brutal side, which he flashes several times, including as the climax to a routine on religion that likewise takes a lot of mundane set-up before he gets to the nub, rewarding the audience’s patience. Extreme topics take extreme jokes and Cross hits home when he plays with that frisson – eventually.

Few comics, for instance, would have the balls to kick off with a joke relating to Jo Cox’s appalling murder. But Cross does, and without disrespecting the MP, although the tension is palpable. In the end the most offensive thing was Cross’s Yorkshire accent (actually, that’s unfair: with a father from Leeds it’s more than passable)

Cross doesn’t seem in any urgency to start; chewing the breeze about this and that before declaiming: ‘Let’s get to the act.’ His slow-burn technique never seems to truly energise the audience, and even he seems shocked when he gets a rousing ovation at the end, as he was under the impression he hadn’t connected at all.

The first half, before we get to the Trump-bashing and the social issues, is more anecdotal, from ill-advised tattoo shop slogans he saw to a tense family Thanksgiving gathering. Some of it stems from observations other comics could – and indeed have – made. Why do they sell suitcases in airports?, for example, seems like a staple for much-travelled stand-ups. But his re-enactment of the scene is precious.  Often he’ll display that savage edge again, and as one half of the groundbreaking sketch series Mr Show, he hasn’t lost his eye for a surreal skit, and you can imagine routines such as the hipster petrol station or Cool Pope playing out on screen.

For his encore, Cross delivered a barrage of shorter, sharper jokes – recompense, perhaps, for the lengthier, worthier political section – that showed him as as cunning gag-writer, including one particularly impressive one-liner that needs a perfunctory knowledge of three languages.

For a man associated with so many alt-comedy classics –  collaborations with Bob Odenkirk (a second series of their Netflix show is said to be on the way), Arrested Development and, erm, Alvin and the Chipmunks, – Make America Great Again! is a more patchy offering than you might hope. But every so often he’ll blindside with a corking routine that forgives some of the flannel that precedes it.

Review date: 20 Jun 2016
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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