'I'm going to make a new show with Bob Odenkirk – whether anyone funds it or not' | David Cross on Netflix, loving the UK.. and his future plans

'I'm going to make a new show with Bob Odenkirk – whether anyone funds it or not'

David Cross on Netflix, loving the UK.. and his future plans

David Cross has just released his latest stand-up special, Worst Daddy In The World, on YouTube. In this exclusive interview with Chortle's Jay Richardson, the Arrested Development star talks about his difficult relationship with Netflix, his enduring friendship with his Mr Show co-creator Bob Odenkirk, their latest project together and his intention to move to London if Donald Trump is re-elected President.

I first saw Worst Daddy In The World in Glasgow, where the volunteer who came up to read your scripted playlet went rogue, improvising her own lines …

You know, I did that more than 80 times and had to kick someone off maybe 12 times. I remember that one because my opener, Sean Patton, and I were talking about which were the top five and worst five people we had? She was from Liverpool, she was drunk and she just decided to punch it up a little. Nobody, except her, tried to make up their own jokes! I was like, 'what are you doing?! I've written this, it works!'

Did that random element keep the tour interesting?

Very, very much. It was a roll of the dice. Sometimes it went great, they just nailed it, which was wonderful considering it was a cold reading in a theatre. But some were just terrible. And they volunteered! I do remember that Glasgow show and that woman, it was a fun one. I always enjoy everywhere in the UK. Except for Birmingham.

In the special, you keep in the bit where you trip over a cable. And it's openly stitched together from two performances in the same Chicago venue. Did you want to foreground the artifice, to not have it too polished?

Yes, there's only one cut to the audience, the cable trip. Sometimes you have to, if you walk out of frame or its out of focus. But I try to avoid it. I told [production label] 800 Pound Gorilla beforehand that I wanted it to feel like you're there. I don't want too many close-ups, like you see on those slick Netflix and HBO specials. I find it distracting, it takes me out of it.

There's often wariness when a comic starts talking about their children. And you play with that sentimentality in your routine about negligence. But do you think having a daughter has made you less nihilistic on stage?

Absolutely. The biggest change is that for her sake, I can't afford to be too pessimistic. Or nihilistic as you say. But perhaps the inverse is more applicable, in that I try to notice, observe and take in more reasons to be optimistic. And it's tough because this is an extremely fraught time for this country [America] and all over the world. I mean, when isn't it?

But in my almost 60 years, what's prevented us falling into the abyss now seems paper thin. We'll know in November [who the next US president is] and if things go a certain way, we'll uproot the family and move to London. We'll see. Not that you guys are a tremendous lot better off.

But the blatant white nationalism, Christian theocracy is very troubling to me. It hasn't really entered my [seven-year-old] daughter's life yet. As I say in the special, I live in a [New York] bubble, a diverse, progressive part of the country. I'll be fine, my wife will be fine but a lot of people won't. And I don't want that to interfere with her life.

So I try to be optimistic and hang out with kids all the time. I've chaperoned a couple of times on school field trips, I've volunteered to read to the class. When you see a video of parent berating a McDonald's server or a gas station attendant in front of their children it makes my heart sink about what shitty people and parents are out there.

I'm not saying that it's your primary motivation. But do you feel obliged to speak out in your stand-up against the political situation?

Yes and no. No more than ever but I guess I always have. It's not like I feel an obligation or a sense of duty. It's just ingrained in me, since I was a teen. It's just my nature. And for better or worse, often worse, I've never shied away from stating my opinions.

How serious are you about moving to London? I note The Increasingly Poor Decisions Of Todd Margaret poster behind you in your office. Do you have fond memories of working in the UK?

Oh, very much. My wife and I really miss it. Every time I go back she gets very jealous. So we carved out a week off during the tour. Stayed in Islington, saw all our friends, went to three or four pubs we like to hang out in and went to the Tate twice, just good London days you know? 

It would be our first choice. The only reticence is that it's so far away from our families who are very invested in our daughter. It could be London or Toronto. I also love Toronto.

And fuck, yeah, working on Todd Margaret was really fun, with what's now [Sharon Horgan's] production company Merman. Just the best people. I mean, it was hard. 

We had long, long days and certainly not an American budget. But it was fun to write, fun to act in, fun to do the pre-production, fun to do the post-production. I worked with the same team on multiple series. We made Bliss for Sky and I would work with them for the rest of my life. It was a great experience and I hope to have more.

What prompted you to launch your podcast, Senses Working Overtime, when so many comedians now have interview podcasts?

I was asked to do one but initially, I had no real interest in it. But press has gotten a lot different to how it used to be. A big part of it is podcasts and they're a lot more enjoyable than doing a junket. It's even better than radio or late-night [television] because you're having a real conversation and they tend to be more interesting and satisfying. So now I'm doing one and I'm surprised by how much I enjoy it.

Worst Daddy is credited as having been written by Chatbot 3000. How worried are you about AI, especially with regards to plagiarism?

I wouldn't say it seriously worries me. But it is worrying because I don't trust business or the government to do the right thing. Maybe this is naïve and 10 years from now I'm going to look back and feel silly. But I just don't think a computer can write and deliver my stand-up.

You refer to 'January 6 funtime hour' in the special. How did you feel when you saw Jay Johnston from Mr Show in images of the attacks on the Capitol Building?

Johnson at the Captol on Janaury 6

For all of us, there was a lot of back and forth, like: 'What?! No way! That can't be him. No, it is!' I started thinking about how could a guy who's never been interested in the news or politics at all, I never saw him read a newspaper, didn't care, how did he get so enmeshed in this thing? Where he's willing to possibly put his life on the line for this completely bogus nonsense?

But I can see how he got pulled into the world of white, male grievance. I'm not going to go into details but his life had gone a certain way. 

The strength of a lot of these movements is based upon white guys being told that they're the victims, that everything is rigged against them. Which is absurd of course. But they find a scapegoat for their problems and issues. And there's strength in numbers, the emotional bonding. Sprinkle a little righteous patriotism in there and you've got a recipe for someone who's willing to try to overthrow the government. And, you know, beat people into submission in order to do it. 

That's simplistic but I can see how it works.

Did you ever think that Mr Show would be as influential as it's become?

Maybe not at the time. But stepped back from now, it makes sense. It does feel like part of the evolution of what we now consider sketch comedy from its origins in vaudeville. And then you think of Python, we were clearly influenced by Python. Also, there were things that David Letterman did, where a person would walk from the stage live and go to a pre-taped bit. What we were doing seems like a natural progression from them, playing around with formats.

Speaking of Monty Python, it's got pretty acrimonious between the surviving members recently. I'm presuming you're on better terms with Bob? Do you think the two of you will ever work on something comedic again?

I do, yeah. I was just in LA. We were pitching a thing, a project that we want to do together. So we'll see how that goes and whether we're doing it.  Well, we're going to do it anyway, it's whether someone will fund it. We're good friends. And we're close. That stuff between [Eric] Idle and [John] Cleese is pretty gross.

Can you divulge anything about this new project? Is it sketch-based or a sitcom?

It's reality-based! Probably three or four episodes. And we'll shoot it.

Intriguing. Will you be bringing your next stand-up tour to the UK and Ireland?

Yeah, oh man, I look forward to that. There are certain spots I can't wait to get back to. I love doing the South in the US and the Midwest. And the UK is always a big part of the tour, always will be. The Union Chapel in Islington was so much fun. And last time was the first time I'd played Belfast, that was a great show.

You're appearing in the fourth season of Umbrella Academy. Are you OK with Netflix, given how they treated Arrested Development, threatening to pull it off the platform?

Yeah, I don't think it's a threat to take it off, I don't know how that shit works. Maybe it costs a lot of money in the cloud? But I don't have anything negative to say about Netflix regarding Arrested Development. 

I wish they hadn't recut season four. But they did and that's fine. I wish both versions were available but that was their choice. I was happy to get to play that character and work with those amazing folks again.

Netflix has passed on the last what, six things I've brought to them? Some of them with Bob. The last thing Bob and I had they didn't want it. They said don't even come in, we don't want your pitch!

Was that Guru Nation [an idea in which they would play rival cult gurus manipulating the minds of their deluded followers]? Or something else?

They passed on Guru Nation. This is something else, the thing we're currently pitching. But you know, I've offered them my last three specials and they weren't interested in airing them, so you know my relationship with them is pretty much non-existent.

Irrespective of what happens with films and television, do you anticipate that you'll keep doing stand-up for the foreseeable future?

Absolutely, yeah! I love it.

• Here’s Cross’s new special, Worst Daddy In The World:

Published: 6 Mar 2024

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