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David Cross can’t muster an original way to confront Trump in Oh, Come On

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Over the opening credits of David Cross’ new stand-up special, Oh, Come On, the comic can be heard saying, “You gotta do it. It really makes them—it really bothers them.” That’s David Cross the stand-up encapsulated in a bit of pre-show banter. (As he says to his audience when he first takes the stage, “Just so you know, this is not my set. I’m just dicking around.”) Cross is a provocateur, a knowingly brash and abrasive gadfly, if gadflies’ signature sound were that of meticulously and maliciously delivered rants and, in this go-around, elaborate fantasies about the gruesome death of their targets.

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Or target, since the special, filmed in Asheville, North Carolina in August of 2018, catches Cross right in the middle of Donald Trump’s first term. It’s always a question now of how a political comedian will approach the daily deluge of bad news and unseemly revelations emanating from the Trump White House, and Cross does a decent bit of nuts-and-bolts deconstruction in refuting the clichéd idea that a terrible president makes for great comedy. “There’s no reveal,” is a craftsman’s complaint, with Cross lamenting the lack of the necessary turn to the joke, since, as he puts it, Trump’s always been “an awful, reprehensible, shitty conman.” Cross also notes how he’s had to abandon some tighter and more topical Trump material during his tour simply because numbed audiences react to, say, jokes about Trump calling majority-nonwhite countries “shitholes” as if the latest outrage happened “six years ago.” And while it’s no “horse in a hospital,” Cross finds a succinct way to describe doing stand-up in the age of Trump by describing it as “making fun of a kaleidoscope, right… now.”

Photo: Comedy Dynamics

The central problem at the heart of Oh, Come On is that Cross hasn’t figured out an alternative. Or, rather, his alternative emerges in bloody and scatalogical catharsis without a lot of originality or comic insight. He takes his time getting to the Trump stuff, the first third of Oh, Come On taking the form of some more personal material. Cross apologizes for bringing along the requisite new dad jokes about his baby daughter, but they’re solid enough, with Cross applying his signature faux-shocking incitement to jokes about wanting his daughter to arrive at “that big change when you finally start to love them.” He gets one of his well-earned audience groans when explaining how he plans to keep his child in line by constantly reminding her that, unlike some other never-born siblings she didn’t get to know, “she got to live.” (“I truly believe that a kid is never too young to learn about abortion,” Cross doubles down, with the glee of the seasoned audience-poker.)

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This section of the special—including an amusing if perhaps overlong, 13-minute anecdote about getting a “couple’s colonic” with wife Amber Tamblyn—is most effective when Cross weds the personal and political. Speaking with unaccustomed earnestness about his fears for his daughter’s life in an America shaped by the likes of Donald Trump, Cross leavens his acidic takes with an affecting vulnerability. Jokes about his grown daughter at least having great stories about coming of age “in the prequel to The Handmaid’s Tale” ring with a focused anger that’s all the more biting for how its gaze veers from Cross himself to someone he obviously cares and fears for. Cross’ persona onstage is that of a professional asshole (something he apparently has trouble disengaging in real life at times), but an asshole who still manages to care deeply about all the right things in spite of that. It’s a terrifically tough balancing act that, on better nights, attains painfully funny virtuosity. Oh, Come On gets the pain right, at least.

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Cross jokes about doling out what he sees as his own harsh truths (“There is no god,” “Sometimes feminists are their own worst enemy,” “Bernie would have won”) to his sleeping daughter to the rhythm of her soothing white noise machine, a process he compares to hiring a clown to introduce the girl to pain, “so it’s fun.” For Cross—a clown who confesses to being cynical, skeptical, and “an atheist prone to depression”—parenting means finding a way to make what he sees as a cold, unjust, and downright ludicrous world as funny as it is horrible, a process he depicts as a whole lot harder when your audience is one helpless little person rather than a mostly receptive comedy club.

That’s an intriguing tack to take for someone like Cross, or would be if he didn’t segue into a pair of extended, unfruitful riffs on just what bodily and karmic harm he wishes on Trump. The first bit is the better one, as Cross’ dissection of #TrumpRegrets gives the comic the opportunity to show off the sort of tongue-tripping, rapid-fire litany of malefactors’ crimes and shortcomings he savors. Mocking the sentiment with an expertly incredulous “Now?” before running through racism, sexism, babies caged in “disused Walmarts,” alleged spousal rapes and infidelities, and rampant corruption and collusion, Cross twice refers to a ready list at hand, a fine piece of business that underlines the sheer, overwhelming volume of what he’s talking about. Concluding his impression of the belatedly remorseful Trump voter with “This last omnibus spending bill is where I draw the line!” wraps up the bit with a sharp kick in his intended targets’ asses.

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Less righteously earned are his forays into violent wish fulfillment, one in which Cross speculates happily on the various ways Trump might leave office. (In jail, dead on a golden toilet, torn apart by a team of wild horses, or an exploding lie detector machine.) Even there, however, there’s a certain momentum to Cross’ musings that carries the bit along, even as the sameness of the intended outrageousness wears thin.

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But that’s nothing compared to Cross’ closer (but for an amusingly self-deprecating encore about confronting a naked intruder in his upstate New York home), a long, graphic, and shapeless fantasy about his supposed plan to defeat Trump in 2020. A showstopper in the worst sense, the nearly 10-minute bit sees Cross engaging in the sort of diatribe that would need to be a lot more inventive to overcome its one-note cruelty. Look, plenty of people no doubt harbor fantasies about a particular famous badass Trump critic laying an age-appropriate beatdown on Donald Trump on a national debate stage, but here Cross turns the whole gory spectacle into a deadening exercise in juvenile wing-pulling. Cross himself confesses, “I know that that bit isn’t particularly clever. It’s not erudite. In fact, it’s crass and it’s disrespectful but… it makes me feel really good.” Fair enough. But, as naughtily transgressive as it is to publicly—and in anatomical detail—take pleasure in a vision of the president having the literal shit stomped out of him by a beloved movie and TV tough guy, Cross the comedian lets down his craft and his audience by acknowledging that that’s all he’s got.

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About the author

Dennis Perkins

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.