As high-wire openings to a standup show go, this will take some beating. David Cross begins I’m from the Future with the narrative of a woman’s journey to, and experience in, Auschwitz. The anticipation in the room ebbs into anxiety: what’s he up to? Distressing details pile up, and you feel queasy that he’s using this material, presumably, just to tee up a punchline. Can he pull it off?
He does: the tension is released, and it’s not Cross who is left looking crass for abusing the memory of the Holocaust. Neat trick, that – although you’re soon reminded that Cross can do crass too. Much of the show addresses Covid, and the schism between law-abiders and libertarians. There’s some fine, heavily sarcastic material here, as the Brooklynite turns vaccine phobia on its head (who wouldn’t want to have magnet powers?) and, ranting in character as an anti-vaxxer, flags the paranoia of those who bang on about their refusal to live in fear.
Points duly scored, with some cathartic laughs for liberals along the way. But sometimes Cross’s contempt for his ideological opponents is a little off-putting. It’s about fine margins. The direction in which Cross takes a routine about vaccine-sceptic blowhards who then die of Covid (“It’s OK to wish them dead”) feels legit, just about, as a riff on liberal schadenfreude and the confrontational tenor of the times. But when a substantial section of the show is delivered in the same sneering register, the fun starts to wane.
I felt similarly when Cross (born Jewish, now atheist) gratuitously mocks Orthodox Jewish men for being ugly, which – even if he wants to expose religious fundamentalism to ridicule – feels beside the point. There are more weak jokes about excrement, too, than you’d expect from a Grammy nominee – or from a grownup. I prefer the title routine, when Cross travels back in time to tell rightwingers’ childhood selves what they’ll grow up to be. Its qualities of human sympathy and self-mockery – as Cross sends up his suitability as a life coach – give it a basic likability not always conspicuous in this smart but cynical show.