On Friday night, comedian, writer and actor David Cross taped two shows at the Paramount Theatre for an upcoming TV special. The prolific “Arrested Development” actor and “Mr. Show” co-creator is calling the special “Making America Great Again!” and for potentially wary longtime fans of Cross, the title was a clear tip-off of what he’d spend the most time covering in a 90-minute run with no opening act.
Were Moontower Comedy Festival attendees seeing these shows going to get a playful, silly, brilliant comic performer Cross, maybe a guy who has mellowed with marriage, fatherhood and the successful Netflix reunion of the “…With Bob and David” gang? Or would it be cranky, outraged, politically ranty David Cross?
Emerging in a gray Santa beard, Cross told a great story about a dicey tattoo shop in Santa Rosa, told an elaborate family Thanksgiving story to arrive at one golden punchline and made stops at vaping and artisinal gasoline for dumb hipsters before landing on Donald Trump.
And that’s when the bitterness and the ugliness started. You get the feeling when watching the behind-the-scenes documentary of “…With Bob and David” that comedy partner Bob Odenkirk can be counted on in their collaborations to keep some of Cross’s worst instincts in check. But solo, Cross indulges his often startlingly petty lectures on obvious political and social points without the insightful twists of logic of, say, Chris Rock. He trots out the names of Ted Cruz and Rick Perry for easy boos and makes hay of unoriginal targets like cops who target blacks (“Blue Lives Murder”) and the NRA.
In front of a hostile audience that might come across like a form of brave (if obvious) truth telling, but at least at the 9:30 p.m. show, much of the audience was eating the morsels right out of his hand.
Cross moved on to a gross, graphic bit about school shootings and the Newtown massacre victims with a groan-inducing conclusion he warned the audience they weren’t going to like. Then, noticing that some audience members had bailed, he reminded “Those of you still here” that he has 8.5 hours of recorded stand-up comedy out there that’s similar, so no one should be surprised or offended. It wasn’t a great look.
He’s very funny. Even the dicey bits had moments of great performance and delivery. He did a great impression of Matthew McConaughey at a future Oscar ceremony and his encore was a short piece of whimsy about Einstein-inspired dishware.
But at the moment Cross employed the punchline “Raping children”and a man two seats over from me rocked in his chair and screamed “YES!” it was clear to Cross could say anything at all and the remaining majority of his audience would look past shocks that could have used more laughs.