Politicians aren’t the only ones striving to make America great again.
David Cross, the aggressively hilarious star of the big screen, small screen and whatever Netflix is considered, returns to his standup comedy roots for the first time this decade. The “Making America Great Again!” tour whisks him through a caucus-type run of 68 venues, including his first visit to Kansas City since 2009.
The gigs offer the 51-year-old performer a break from the on-camera grind that sprang after a trio of his best-known roles were miraculously resurrected. Audiences adore him as the Freudian slip-prone Tobias Fünke on “Arrested Development” and the clueless title character in “The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret.” But fans went absolutely batty about “W/ Bob and David,” the trippy reboot of his iconic sketch comedy series “Mr. Show,” which earned Cross and cohort Bob Odenkirk three Emmy nominations.
With more than 100 credits on IMDB that run the gamut from cult projects (“Freak Show,” anyone?) to multiplex tent poles (yep, that’s his voice as Crane in the “Kung Fu Panda” trilogy), Cross claims an affinity for turning up unannounced and often uncredited to showcase his mastery over characters both acerbic and oblivious.
Calling from Brooklyn, where he makes his home with actress-wife Amber Tamblyn (“Two and a Half Men”), Cross spoke to The Star about the increasingly good decisions he’s made to maintain such a broad and respected career.
Q: What is your personal role in helping to make America great again?
A: I’m just trying to deregulate as many businesses as possible. I think that’s what’s keeping us back. All this hyper-focus on consumer safety and fraud is what’s really making America weak.
Q: Do you have any special memories of performing in Kansas City?
A: Oh, (expletive) yeah! I had some — not so much performing there, but the subsequent story that took place — which ended up on my first CD (2002’s Grammy-nominated “Shut Up, You (Expletive) Baby”). It was very memorable. It was being with that band who was on VH1’s “Bands on the Run.” What were they called? Harlow. I got completely wasted. I overslept. You have to listen to the thing; I’m not going to do the whole bit. That occurred in Kansas City. But I also remember that airlines have only lost my luggage twice in the millions of times I’ve traveled. One was when I came to Kansas City to do a week at one of the clubs there. They lost my luggage, and I had virtually my whole act in there — not like puppets or anything. It was my notes and little stuff I’d read from. So I was winging it after 20 minutes. I didn’t get the luggage back until after I’d done three shows. And they were not great shows.
Q: Has your comedic outlook softened or become sharper as you’ve gotten older?
A: I think it’s pretty much the same. I’ll let people be the judge of that. I’ve done 30 shows so far on this tour, and it’s what people have come to expect. The breakdown is a third silly jokes that anybody could tell, a third is anecdotal things I’ve observed or that’s happened to me and a third is topical: zeitgeist, pop-culture, political, religious. It shakes out the same way it always does, and I can’t say it’s either sharpened or softened.
Q: You got to return to the “Mr. Show” format years later. Are there any comedy projects from your past you’d also like to revisit?
A: None that I can think of. I pretty much did my top three: “Todd Margaret,” “Arrested Development ” and “Mr. Show.” … All three turned out quite well. It was fun to work again on much-loved projects. Now going back to standup is the icing on the cookie.
Q: Where do you keep the Emmy Award you won for writing “The Ben Stiller Show”?
A: I gave it to my mom. I don’t have any of that stuff in my house.
Q: What role do people ask you about the most?
A: Tobias for sure. Unless you’re 15 and under, then it’s Uncle Ian from “Alvin and the Chipmunks.”
Q: What other entertainer are you most often confused with?
A: Ellen DeGeneres I get a lot. We’re both lesbians. And also that first girl from Nickelodeon’s “You Can’t Do That on Television.”
Q: I understand you were one of the first people to invest in Kickstarter. How do you feel about established celebrities trying to crowdfund their projects?
A: It depends on the project and what they’re doing. If it’s a way to simply make more money, that’s gross and shameless. If it’s a way to do something with their project that normally they wouldn’t be able to do unless they were able to crowdsource the money, then I’m all for it. It’s certainly a case-by-case basis.
Q: You have a somewhat generic name, yet the characters you play often have very colorful ones. Of these, what’s your favorite?
A: That would have to be Ronwell Q. Dobbs (from “Run Ronnie Run”).
Q: You’re occasionally credited onscreen as Sir Willups Brightslymoore. Where did that name spawn from?
A: It’s one of those things I used for the first time on “Aqua Teen Hunger Force.” If I get an opportunity to not use my name, I’ll take that opportunity. I think I’m credited in “Pitch Perfect 2” as Sir Willups Brightslymoore. There are a handful of those floating around.
Q: I loved that scene in “Pitch Perfect 2,” especially the line about singers winning a “$42,000 gift card to Dave and Buster’s.” Was that whole thing improvised?
A: I think that’s why they hired me. I’m not sure what’s in there and what isn’t — I never saw it. But I was riffing all day. Every time there’d be a different name for the assistant and reason why my hand hurt. But I have no idea what they chose.
Q: Speaking of “making America great again,” have you ever met Donald Trump?
A: I haven’t. You’d think so, though. We run in the same circles. I’m always at Mar-a-Lago the day after he leaves. Such a strange coincidence.
Q: In “Modern Family” you play the arch enemy of Claire Dunphy. Does David Cross have an arch enemy?
A: Yes I do. He doesn’t know it yet, but he owns real estate in the section of Brooklyn I live in.
Q: But this is not Trump?
A: It’s not Trump. It’s the next Trump.
Jon Niccum is a filmmaker, freelance writer and author of “The Worst Gig: From Psycho Fans to Stage Riots, Famous Musicians Tell All.”
David Cross performs at 8 p.m., Friday, March 11, at the Midland. Tickets are $34-$40 via MidlandKC.com.