When I was a junior in high school, the group of comedy-loving weirdos I hung around with would pile into my 1986 Chrysler New Yorker and we’d drive around the suburbs listening to David Cross. We’d spend our weekends watching DVDs of Mr. Show with Bob and David, the mid to late ‘90s sketch show with Bob Odenkirk from Better Call Saul. A year later, we would meet up every Sunday to watch Cross blue himself as Tobias Fünke on Arrested Development. We quoted him verbatim through the halls between classes and at our spot behind the stairs outside the cafeteria. We were more than a little obsessed.
Shut Up, You Fucking Baby!, Cross’ Sub Pop debut, was the soundtrack to the school year after we all watched the Twin Towers collapse in the middle of second-period English class. We were frustrated, frightened, and fairly privileged white kids that didn’t know what to do with this newfound fear that our world could end at any moment. All we could do was laugh at how stupid the world seemed. The internet was young, so our options were to turn to Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine and a live double-CD by David Cross.
On the record, Cross waxed poetic about growing up with rednecks in Georgia, living in New York during the tragedy of 9/11 and our idiot then-president George W. Bush getting us into the so-called “War on Terror” (“You cannot win a war on terrorism. It’s like having a war on jealousy.”). He was angry, but knew the best ways to channel that into something spectacularly hilarious. Going back through the album, there are plenty of jokes that don’t hold up so well in 2022, but the energy he brought on stage at that time was what America needed. David Cross was our Bill Hicks.
A lot has happened to this country in the 20 years since Shut Up, You Fucking Baby! was released, and Cross has covered most of it over the course of his stand-up career. The problem with Cross’s new special, I’m From the Future, is that America has only gotten stupider since 9/11, and far more than we thought possible back then.
Cross has never been one to shy away from controversy, and in his stand-up, he’s the master of going to the extreme then ending a bit with an intelligent quip or well-thought-out point. In classic Cross fashion, he opens I’m From the Future by recounting the story of a woman about to die in Auschwitz to demonstrate how absolutely disrespectful and downright ignorant it is for anti-vaxxers to compare themselves to what the Jewish people experienced during the Holocaust. The audience can’t help but nervously chuckle at the serious bits because most comedians don’t kick off the show with a punchline that takes a few minutes to sink in. It’s a bold move, but one that pays off. Unfortunately, the rest of the special is mostly downhill from there.
Comedy is difficult in 2022, not because of so-called “cancel culture,” but because so much of what we’d like to laugh about isn’t funny nearly three years into a pandemic. Every day of the Trump presidency, we had to listen to batshit story after batshit story on the news about what foolish thing the president was tweeting. Some days, all you could do was laugh at the absurdity while feeling completely helpless to stop any of it. On his 2019 album Oh, Come On, which includes a bit about Trump that landed him a visit from the Secret Service, Cross’ humor still felt worth listening to as he ripped conservatives a new asshole.
Then the pandemic hit, and we all spent time quarantining and getting to know our housemates far too well. Life only got more exhausting watching anti-vaxxers parade through retail stores to get other folks to rip off their masks. These events that once seemed so bizarre suddenly became far too commonplace. Cross weighs in on all of this absurdity with his usual brand of in-your-face jokes and long diatribes, but the severe problems plaguing Americans’ lives don’t conjure up hilarity when we’ve become numb to stupidity.
In what may be the most laugh-inducing moment, Cross gives the audience permission to quietly, privately find joy in the death of those who refuse to vaccinate. Quite topically, he spends a bit of time talking about podcast hosts disseminating misinformation and how their listeners follow along with whatever the man Cross refers to as “Dr. Joseph Rogan” says. However, the mention of horse deworming pills feels like another thing we’d all rather forget.
It’s evident that Cross is as mentally tired as the rest of us trying to prevent societal collapse. America needed to laugh after 9/11, but it’s difficult to make light of what we are collectively dealing with across the world as we enter year three of the pandemic. He’s confronting real problems head-on, but unfortunately, there isn’t much he has to say that we haven’t seen every single second on Twitter in our 24-hour news cycle.
However, Cross’ most significant bits always arise when he plays storyteller, recounting real moments from his personal life offstage. Towards the end of the special, he relays the decision to euthanize his dog, wondering if he was only keeping her alive so he could keep doing this bit about her getting miserably old. This is the sweet spot of Cross’ humor in 2022, where he opens up about his personal life with potent stories featuring his family.
This isn’t the same David Cross from 20 years ago. He still has an edge; it’s the energy that isn’t the same. It isn’t easy to keep that up when so little in life has gotten better since 2002. Cross points out so much of what we already know because we are unfortunately experiencing it, too. I’m From the Future is a rare stumble in his strange and exciting career. While it won’t be a comedy special I’ll probably ever return to, I’ll forever be a fan of one of the funniest comedians ever to step out onto the stage.
Jack Probst is a writer and record collector from St. Louis. He appreciates the works of James Murphy, Wes Anderson, and Super Mario. Send any and all complaints to @jackdprobst on Twitter. He enjoys writing paragraphs about himself in his spare time.