Before he became the innuendo-loving Never-Nude Tobias Funke on “Arrested Development,” or one-half of the brilliant “Mr. Show,” David Cross was cutting his teeth in the comedy world during stand-up open-mic nights at Lounge Ax, the once dominant hub of music and entertainment on Lincoln Avenue.
“It was right around the mid-‘80s, and I only lived in Chicago for six months but it was a hellish summer,” says Cross, who was broke and making do during the days with a job at a warehouse that supplied the old Gately’s Peoples Store in Roseland. It took three buses to get there from his apartment at Racine and Wellington during one of the city’s epic heat waves. “It forced me to drink way way way too much,” he jokes.
DAVID CROSS AT THE ONION COMEDY & ARTS FESTIVAL When: 8 p.m., June 1 Where: Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State St. Tickets: $31.50 Information: (312) 462-6300; ticketmaster.com
Cross returns on better terms June 1 to kick off what is being called his “Oh Come On Tour” at the Chicago Theatre, a jaunt that will make its way across the country over the summer before wrapping in Omaha, Nebraska, on Aug. 26 and hitting almost every major market. Almost.
“I won’t be going to Florida this tour. Fool me once, fool me twice, you know how that goes,” he chides, providing a veiled reference to his last jaunt, 2016’s “Making America Great Again Tour,” that didn’t exactly win over conservative audiences with Cross’ takes on then presidential hopeful Donald Trump, religion and gun control, among other topical elements, which can still be seen in an archived Netflix special.
“I have learned a lot from the last tour I did two years ago and please trust me that none of the valuable lessons I learned will be applied,” he chides in promo materials for his upcoming dates where anything and everything goes.
The gig in Chicago will also fittingly be part of The Onion Comedy & Arts Festival Weekend on the eve of the satirical publication’s 30th anniversary. “I’m so thankful The Onion exists,” says Cross. “They have consistently over decades been able to eloquently get to the essence of a joke in really brilliant ways. I’m so impressed by their writing staff and what they have been able to put out is very impressive and important,” he adds. “In the last five to six years it’s become a part of regular conversation where someone goes, ‘This isn’t an Onion headline’ when talking about real news.”
Of course, Cross, who even once got into a public feud with Larry the Cable Guy over each other’s dogmas, knows not everyone will appreciate his shtick.
“I have people walk out almost every night,” he says. “But as far as my material, I’m not changing anything or my approach to what I do.” Which, he says, is all about “distributing the jokes evenly” and also imbuing “dumb, silly” material and anecdotal experiences.
“I know people have this perception that I’m a political comic but that’s just not the case. I don’t come out on the stage and go ‘You’re f—ing idiots for voting for Trump.’ That doesn’t come into the set for at least 45 minutes.”
Cross, now a father to daughter Marlow with actress and activist wife Amber Tamblyn, says he never tries to tank a show on purpose, in his mind always playing to some imaginary kid sitting in the upper balcony who scraped some money together and got a ride to his or her first comedy show. “Just like when I was 15 in Atlanta growing up,” he says.
After graduating high school, Cross relocated to New York City where, in the early ‘90s, he got caught up in a melee of rising talent like Janeane Garofalo and Adam Sandler at the club known as Catch a Rising Star before being poached as a writer for “The Ben Stiller Show.” Eventually he’d find his way to L.A., entering the film and TV circuit by playing character roles in movies including “Men In Black” and “Strangers With Candy” while still keeping his sketch roots on the acclaimed HBO series “Mr. Show” with Naperville North alum Bob Odenkirk.
Odenkirk also just so happens to be headlining the Onion festival the night after Cross does. “Will he be appearing in my set? I don’t know, wink, wink,” Cross suggests. In 2015, Netflix ordered four episodes of the “W/ Bob & David” show that reignites the flame of the original series.
The streaming media platform also famously resurrected “Arrested Development” in 2013 after a seven-year absence, where Cross’ arguably best character, Tobias Funke, lives and reigns. Netflix just released the first half of the brand-new Season 5 on May 29 with more episodes coming later this year.
“The scripts and structure of the show are much closer to the first seasons [on Fox], which everyone was very vocal about missing, so I think fans will be happy with it,” Cross hints, saying the cast was “thrilled” when Netflix brought the show back. “I think everybody feels the same way, that this is just an exceptional cast. We really bonded during those first three seasons and have remained close. It’s a pleasure to get to work with them and hopefully it will continue.”