Even given the interesting — not to mention downright weird and occasionally terrifying — times in which we live, most professional comedians do not focus solely on political material. But comedians do often seem to be leading the opposition to President Donald Trump and his supporters.
Thus, it’s not surprising that there’s now an organization called the Comedy Resistance. On April 20, as part of the Moontower Comedy Festival, comedian/actor David Cross will headline an evening under its banner at the Paramount Theatre alongside Maria Bamford, Ted Leo and others. The group’s website says Comedy Resistance was “founded by comedians and political professionals” and wants to “help us laugh our way to the voting booth” and energize audiences, particularly millennials, to participate in politics. There’s an unapologetic left-leaning/progressive bent to the Comedy Resistance, and it’s unsurprising that, aside from Cross, it’s attracted performers like Bob Odenkirk, Mike Birbiglia, Judah Friedlander and Patton Oswalt.
We caught up with Cross — who, aside from his long stand-up career, you might know from the sitcom “Arrested Development” or, before that, the ’90s HBO sketch comedy series “Mr. Show” — to ask him about the Resistance and his own experience commenting on the political scene, which dates to well before his 2016 tour and Netflix special, which he titled “Making America Great Again!”
Was there any particular moment when you decided to make the leap toward delivering more political material?
Maybe a third of (my) act is political or topical. It kind of has always been this way. The political or religious stuff seems to stand out; it might feel like I’m doing that more, but I don’t think so. I try to balance the set. I never really made any conscious effort to, quote, “try to be more political.” That’s what was happening, that’s what I was observing; there’s always plenty more silly stuff in there as well.
As for working with the Comedy Resistance, was this something you had to give a lot of thought to, or did it seem like more of a natural fit?
I know the guys who are spearheading it, and they reached out to me several months ago and said we want to do this stuff that kind of combines activism and voter registration, along with doing some shows, and I said, yeah, I’m always happy to go back to Austin. I’ll take the flimsiest of excuses to get a trip to Austin; I love it here. That’s where I taped my last special. I don’t think these shows are necessarily political; I hope people aren’t expecting that it’s going to be like an hour of Trump talk. It’ll be combined with the effort to engage people and try to be proactive with voter registration and things like that.
How would you rate the audiences in Austin? Are they as liberal as places like San Francisco or Boston, or is it just because it’s in the middle of Texas that it stands out?
I think it definitely stands out more, but it’s the ethos of a city, as soon as you get to Austin and start walking around. It’s different from Houston or Dallas or El Paso or San Antonio or Abilene. It just feels different. You get a sense of the pride that people have in being progressive, in being a little island of blue in a red state. I had one of the more difficult sets on the last tour in Northampton, Mass., which is very liberal. Not that I make a concerted effort to, it just turns out that way, but I piss off a lot of people on the left as well as conservatives. I have had plenty of difficulty in Boston and in San Francisco because my stuff is not very politically correct. There are plenty of people on the left who will just hear a word and will not listen to the context that that word is being said in, and then they shut down.
Sometimes you have more problems with the far left than the far right?
Going off the last tour, I definitely pissed off more conservative people than I did progressive people, but I pissed off plenty of progressive people.
How different and weird has it gotten, with Trump going from first being a candidate, then a candidate with a real chance, then the Republican nominee, then actually being elected president?
It’s still a little – it’s so upsetting it’s not that funny. Also, it’s really less about Trump, it’s really more about his base, at least what I’m talking about. Because he never fooled me, there was no surprise, there was no, like, “Oh, wow, he said this one thing and then he turned out to be this completely different thing.” I find that a lot of the stuff I’m doing is more about the person who likes Trump, is proud of him and thinks he’s good for America. It’s kind of more about that, America and those folks, than it is about Trump. I think all those points have been made ad nauseam.
How effective do you think comedy really is in terms of changing people’s minds? How much of the audience for the Comedy Resistance, do you think, is just preaching to the choir?
I don’t disagree, but I’ve never, ever thought that my shows are going to change anybody or anything. I hope they do, that’s a nice little bonus. I’m not banking on it. Maybe there’s 17-, 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds who see things in a different way, much like myself, and I would imagine almost every comedian, whatever their political bent is, saw something out there that made them want to be a comic, and maybe that comic touched on cultural or political or religious things that challenged what they believed in. That certainly could happen.
The two things, as I understand it, are separate. There’s the Comedy Resistance show, in which we are trying to get people interested and active … it’s about voter registration and getting people out there. (But) I’m not, and I don’t think any of the other comics on the show are being asked to simply do political material. The show is the show; you can call it whatever you want, and of course I’ll do some stuff about Trump, but I’d be surprised if more than 30 percent of the act is about politics. That’s just how it goes, for me at least.
‘AN EVENING FOR THE COMEDY RESISTANCE’
When: 9:30 p.m. April 20
Where: Paramount Theatre, 713 Congress Ave.
Cost: $35-$45 individual tickets still available for those without Moontower badge.