david cross

Photo by Gary Miller/Netflix

'America’s id is out of the bottle.'

If we magically revived our founding fathers, what would they think of cotton candy? That's just one of the questions David Cross poses in his new Netflix comedy special.

Filmed in April during the Moontower Comedy Festival in Austin, Texas, Making America Great Again—the name of a larger tour that started in January—was then only musing about a Trump candidacy. Now it’s a reality, but Cross takes a while to get to the tanned meat of his special. 

The first half is observational musings: A joke about a family argument lands a punch, and he asks the big question about vape stores: “What do you think they’re going to be when they go out of business next year?” There’s also an amusing windup about someone who thinks Nazis weren’t saying “Heil Hitler” but “Hi, Hitler.”

There are misfires. He pivots into a segment about how patriotism is now “more like patriot-jism,” and adds in sarcastic reminders that “I love America.” Then, the slouch towards the political part of the show:

“I was thinking about the poem on the base of the State of Liberty, which reads, ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse from your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.’ What a beautiful, optimistic, humane ideal to have. And one that’s quite literally the opposite of what Republicans believe.”  
When he gets into more specific Trump material, he says the candidate's rise is no surprise: “At least 25 percent of this country has always been ignorant, racist xenophobes who are easily appealed to on an emotional level.” 

“America’s id is out of the bottle,” he adds.

He cites Trump’s disdain for his own supporters with the best bit from the segment: “Donald Trump, if you listen to his words, sounds like a character in a war movie who is comforting his buddy who doesn’t understand that the bottom half of him has been exploded off.”

“America’s id is out of the bottle.”

It’s funny, but we’re in an election in which political satire and comedy has to be approached differently, because an actual candidate is providing endless loops of material and comedians and late-night hosts are just trying to keep up. When Cross took on president George W. Bush in 2002 special Shut Up You Fucking Baby, it felt more urgent and raw. Now, people have a deeper sense of how bleak shit is on an hourly basis. 

Cross taped in Austin, and the majority of attendees are at least familiar with him and his leanings. So, perhaps, Cross is asking whether we should be laughing at Trump. Comedy is being employed in a more intimate way this year, to the point where appearances at the DNC and RNC felt like standup sets. 

That this is being released in the wake of those conventions might just be a coincidence; Cross doesn’t talk about Clinton or Sanders. He does spend a good amount of time on gun violence, and our government’s thoughts-and-prayers-couched refusal to stop it. However, a bit about why God has allowed so many kids to get senselessly shot in America ends with a punchline that feels shoehorned in for shock. 

Though Cross is perhaps now known more for TV work like Arrested Development, he’s been shaping his standup for more than two decades, building a set around pacing and timing—long lead-ups laced with whiffy observations. He flexes that muscle with one bit on what would happen if an NRA crony congressman's daughter was shot during Take Your Daughter to Work Day, which stretches on for an uncomfortable amount of time: You can see where he’s going with it, but it’s still a white-knuckler, and it reportedly urged some people to walk out of the taping. Perhaps wrenching up the fear, especially in Texas, was his intention.

After leaving the stage, he returns to do a final bit about Restoration Hardware’s catalog, which touts the “perfect plate." It’s a palate-cleansing end to an uneven show, floating us back down to an absurd reality where an urbanite catalog is offensive. 

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