At Friday’s taping of David Cross’ Netflix special, the Paramount Theatre began to take on the hue of an acid rain cloud. Some of that was because the production team had chosen a blueish-purple lighting scheme, but the comedian, in the fourth month of his “Making America Great Again!!” tour, was also in prime form, hitting new levels of acrid genius.
Cross’ books, stand-up albums, and television writing have always paired the academic and the acerbic. Yesterday’s show, his second at the Paramount for this year’s Moontower Comedy & Oddball Festival, reiterated just how skilled Cross is at lacing those styles together. By the end of a smooth hour, give or take an unsuccessful venture into crowd work – which was no one’s fault, as Cross acknowledged, because the audience member he spoke to was unprepared to go toe-to-toe with a professional – the comic came off the stage seeming like the smartest guy in a packed house.
The special was heavy on criticism of the news media and their current obsessions: police brutality, the GOP, mass shootings, the works. But the comic’s jokes, which could have been easy, lazy, and simplistic, are both structurally and emotionally complex. Rather than a few one-liners per issue, Cross leans on fully formed little essays. He takes two or three topics at a time, like the links between patriotism and class or Abrahamic religion and genocide, and runs them through a blender of argumentation and satire. Bits can sometimes go far longer than you expect them to, veering in and out of one central theme. Particularly hilarious riffs of this nature were two separate discussions of gun control, the first one beginning with, “So I was jerking off …” and the second capping a beautifully precise attack at NRA head Wayne LaPierre. Masturbation and gun ownership, as you might imagine, have quite a close relationship.
After this elegant callback, some of the audience had a field day, whooping with pleasure; others, as Cross noted, walked out in droves (according to him, this is a commonality at his shows). Suffice it to say that Cross’ performance found its perfect home in Austin, where the admixture of homegrown political values swings from person to person like a wild pendulum. In this city, merely the mention of Ted Cruz as “your guy, Texas,” causes the crowd to boo.
As for the rest of Cross’ long-form jokes, they are perhaps best left for consumption on Netflix, where the special is headed. So here is one final note: The penultimate bit, in which Cross pretends to be another Texan, is the funniest impression of the person being lampooned that I have ever seen. Bravo.
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