comics talks to comics

David Cross Talks With John Hodgman About Drinking on Tour, Idyllic Maine, and Donald Trump’s Delusions

David Cross and John Hodgman. Photo-Illustration: Kelly Chiello and Photos by Getty Images

Though David Cross is known for playing fumbling dopes (Todd Margaret) and self-deluded boobs (Tobias Fünke), anyone who knows his stand-up knows that Cross is sharp, feisty, and pulls no punches while addressing hypocrisy in world politics and religion. Following a long-awaited Netflix reunion with his Mr. Show partner Bob Odenkirk titled W/Bob & David, and the third season of IFC’s The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, Cross collected recent stage bits and hit the road. Over the course of the past seven months, he visited 86 cities, juxtaposing sillier, observational material with rants about gun control and, of course, Donald Trump. For this chat, he went deep with wry writer, performer, and intellect-in-arms John Hodgman about the new Netflix special spawned by Cross’s tour that drops on August 5, why the entirety of Maine is a Stephen King novel, and how thinking like Trump is the best way to make fun of him.

John Hodgman: Please be quiet while I ask my first question …
David Cross: Okay, just let me go down to the vault. And uh, this will take just a second. Here we go. Getting into the vault. The pneumatic door closing now, the airlock good, the oxygen good. Okay. Go ahead. 

Wow, you have your own conversation vault?

Must be nice, I’m just sitting out here on this porch with a sleeping bag over my head.
As we all know, that’s the poor man’s conversation vault. Are you in Maine?

I am. Where are you?
Upstate New York, in the Catskills. 

David, in your new special, which was filmed before Donald Trump clinched the nomination, you said, “I don’t know who’s going to be the nominee … Please, Trump.” And now that your wish has come true, how do you feel about that?
Pretty bad, because I forgot — and this is my own irresponsibility — the power that my wishes have. Scientists in Palo Alto have studied it that when I wish for something, my wishes have four-and-a-half times the power.

Than any other human?
I’m in the top 2 percentile, or something like that. It was a little irresponsible and I guess ultimately selfish that I said that, thus causing it to happen.

When you made your power wish for Donald Trump, was that because you thought it was a joke or were you thinking that would be comedically a more fertile place to be than with Ted Cruz?
Um, both. Ted Cruz would be worse. He’s more devious, he knows how to manipulate the system better. If Donald Trump were to get into office, I think the lines of communication would be a clusterfuck. He’s as empirical a guy as has ever tried to run for office, and thankfully, it doesn’t work that way.

I agree with you that Cruz would be more effective, and therefore, dangerous. But as ridiculously as Trump presents himself, I don’t know where to begin to make jokes about him. He’s an act of surreal long-form improv.
Well, then perhaps you shift your focus to the people that allow that to happen, that part of America, maybe that becomes your focus. Not to a huge degree, but I think we’re better people than that. I mean, I hope so.

I’m sure we could keep talking about politics, but I want to ask you more about the special …
I’d like to know a little bit of your day to day, even the minutia, of being in Maine, and what that’s like. I attach a very romantic ideal to it and I want to know if it’s correct.

Well, here is what happens. I wake up 5 in the morning and get my lobstering out of the way. I go down to the dock and start up the Bluebird, which is of course my lobster boat. I start shooting lobster with my bow and arrow and I pull up about 1,400, 1,500 pounds of lobster. I go in, I sell it for cash. I probably make about $50,000 a morning. I bury it.
Really, two days of lobstering should give you a good year. Sounds like it’s tax-free — it’s cash.

And it’s just the mornings. Well, you’re welcome to visit Maine anytime you want, whether or not I am here.
Is this a year-round thing or are you up there just during the summer?

It’s mostly just summer because winter is perpetual night. It’s exactly as clichéd a place as you might imagine: Just harsh and bleak and weird, and everything is like a Stephen King book. I got my arm hooked on an old barn-door hinge and had to go to the hospital for stitches. I was the only patient in the hospital. I’m wandering these empty halls, and then a nurse comes in, and says, “I’m going to have to ask you a few questions.” Do you have any allergies? Do you take any medications? Yes, No, Yes, whatever. She goes, “Do you drink?” And I said, “Yes.” And she goes, “Every day?” and I think, Fuck it, I’m in Maine, why am I going to lie about it? “Yes, every day.” And then she goes, “Yippee! Me, too!” And goes on stitching me up.
[Laughs.] I hope you guys became fast friends and started some adventures together.

I haven’t seen her since, but we made out a little bit, for sure.
Nice, nice. Well, you were both hammered.

We were in the hospital. Here’s the question I wanted to ask you: When you were filming your special, “Making America Great Again,” in Austin, Texas, did you go to Franklin Barbeque?
I did not. I didn’t drink for three days leading to the taping of it. I was in the middle of the tour and I was drinking a lot. That’s just the nature of it, when you’re on show number 50-whatever and you don’t remember what city you’re in or what time zone, and there’s not a lot to do and you end up drinking a little more than you might normally drink.

Would you say you had a drink every day?
Yippee! Me, too!

You stole my line!
After this thing is over, do let that nurse get in touch with me. But, yeah, I really tried to eat lightly and not drink before the taping, and, unfortunately, that meant I couldn’t go to Franklin’s, which is, without exaggeration, the best barbeque I’ve ever had in my life, and I’ve had really great barbeque.

I appreciate your diligence. From my point of view, the whole point of touring is …
Getting drunk?

I was going to say the chance to go and eat as much garbage food as you can in every place you go.
Oh, I did pack on the pounds, and for the most part, fuck, it was fantastic. I don’t mean to say there’s delicious food everywhere you go, because you end up in a region like Bismarck, Fargo, or Sioux Falls, wherever, it’s the opposite. You’re trying desperately not to eat fast food or TGI Friday’s.

Can we talk about Mike Pence? He sent out that tweet [with the picture of Pence and his family eating] and everybody’s talking about, “You can’t see his daughter in the reflection of the mirror.” But nobody is talking about the fact that he was in New York City and he was eating at a Chili’s! It’s heartbreaking in a small way. You’re from Indiana, for fuck’s sake. Get a slice, get a hot dog, or get some Indian food!

Did you watch the 60 Minutes interview with Trump and him?
I watched the highlights. It was excruciating. It’s an example, and there are hundreds at this point, that Trump is every ist possible: A narcissist, an egoist, clearly classist — I talk a little bit about that in the special. The act has evolved since I taped and, to be totally honest, I don’t think it’s my best work. It comes off a little rambling and I’m riffing a bit. I have improved quite a bit on the material since then, especially the idea that I truly don’t believe he cares for people. He cares for people the way Mussolini cared for people.

What do you think of the idea that he never wanted to be president in the first place? He wanted to run for president, but he never really thought it would get this far, nor did he want it to.

That’s my gut feeling, absolutely. It was a piece of self-aggrandizing performance art that got out of hand.
Part of it explains why he didn’t care about known racists or white supremacists or anti-Semitic groups holding him up as a great guy. I don’t think he thought it would get to the point where he needed to care. I don’t know if this was in the special, but the thing about the grand wizard of the KKK in Virginia? He had a press conference saying, and I quote, “Trump believes in what we believe in.” Well, thanks for underscoring my point.

And now, there is also any number of people like Mike Pence who will cognitive dissonantly filter out certain things that Trump says.
Oh yeah, it’s like religion. That book that you love so much, that you keep citing to me, has a great number of awful, inhumane, vindictive, vicious, amoral things in there. You don’t seem to want to discuss that, it doesn’t seem to have any relevancy, you don’t even thing about it. Whenever there’s an argument between an atheist and a Christian or Jew or Muslim or whoever it is. It’s a similar thing.

You’re right, that I do love the Bible.
Well, but you love the good-time Bible. The one written for “urban” kids who get into the Bible to teach them stuff.

I’m sending you a Bible every month now; surely you’ve read one of them.
I’m one of those guys who starts at the end of the book and reads backwards. So I know how everything ends, and I’m excited to get to the beginning and see how it started. I’ve got your combo New Testament–Old Testament one, so I am at Revelations right now.

Oh, so you know that it ends with Donald Trump riding the whore of Babylon into Jerusalem.
[Sighs.] No, I didn’t. Maybe I got a different Bible?

Spoiler alert.
Thanks for nothing. Why didn’t you lead off with that?

Let me put it to you this way: It’s going to be a really interesting November.
This happens really quickly. He doesn’t even serve.

November 9th. It’s in Revelations.
I wonder if Trump even realizes that you don’t start serving until January. He’ll win the election and he’ll show up at the White House with his family. And there’s going to be all kinds of trouble, “They won’t let me in. They won’t let me in! That’s how corrupt these people are. They’re locking me out! They want to lock out our ideas!”

[Laughs.] Of course, you just cracked how to make a Donald Trump joke for me, David Cross. You just focus on his delusion is about how it works?
Start from the premise that he truly doesn’t understand how things work.

That makes me happy up here in Maine. You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to have some kind of drink and then have some kind of accident in my barn so I can go back and see my girlfriend again.
Just make sure you’ve got a flask with you. Get that ready before you head to the barn.

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

David Cross and John Hodgman Talk Donald Trump