Comedian set to riff at Riffe Center

Before hitting the road, some standup comedians will tighten each nut and bolt in a set, carefully refining every word in a joke and then performing it the exact same way each night of a tour.

David Cross is not that kind of comic.

“The audience is hearing the material for the first time, and I'm hearing it for the 914th time, and I'm not one of those comics who is like, ‘This is the joke and this is the wording,' and they never deviate from it,” said Cross, who will perform at the Davidson Theatre on Monday, July 30. “I'm all over the place. I know what my set is … and I always have the running order with me because sometimes I'll go off for five minutes and I have to go, ‘Wait, what was I talking about?' I do that in part to make it interesting to me. I don't know what I'd do if I couldn't riff.”

As a result, Cross' set is constantly changing and evolving, with new bits being added and others being cut for time, meaning that the show he performs in Columbus will look significantly different from the one that closes the tour. Even so, the comedian said his approach is far more disciplined now than in his earliest onstage forays.

“The first couple of tours I did were really intentionally loose and intentionally sloppy, and really that was a justification to not put in the work,” Cross said. “I was drinking a lot more and I didn't care and it was like, ‘Yeah, this is me. This is the set. This is what I do.' I don't think I could continue that kind of thing and be a good comic. It took discipline. I don't drink on the day of the show anymore; I haven't the last couple tours. I'm much more focused.”

The construction of this current tour mirrors Cross' evolution as a comic. He started off compiling material in freeform, three-times-a-week open mic sessions in Brooklyn, New York, going onstage with notebooks and scraps of paper, tossing out ideas to see what might stick. He'd record the performances and later transcribe them, seeing which jokes were connecting. Gradually, Cross stitched these various asides and vignettes into a more formal set, which he then performed for select audiences, soliciting detailed feedback during post-show Q&As (there's some of that discipline again). Once the comedian felt the material was in order, he hit the road.

Cross' set, much like its creator, doesn't follow a linear path, venturing into the political realm — he described this current administration as “transparently full of shit” — fatherhood and, potentially, recent social media flare-ups of which Cross was a part, including a much-publicized New York Times interview in which the male cast members of “Arrested Development” came across as insensitive to Jessica Walter as she tearfully discussed being verbally berated by Jeffrey Tambor. (Cross later expressed regret and said he reached out to Walter to apologize.)

And while some of the material will likely unsettle audiences, Cross said there are a plethora of jokes that aren't meant to provoke.

“I like that idea that feeling is always lurking there, both as a performer and an audience member,” he said. “But I have plenty of dumb jokes that don't rely on discomfort.”