Bob Odenkirk’s New Memoir: 20 Key Takeaways

Bob Odenkirk’s Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama: A Memoir

Thanks to his breakthrough role as Saul Goodman a.k.a Jimmy McGill in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, Bob Odenkirk finally got his due in mainstream culture starting in 2009. Landing the part was a game-changer for the actor/writer/director/sketch-comedy icon who had spent more than a decade toiling on dozens of projects that never saw the light of day.

Consummately intelligent, especially about all things comedy, Odenkirk graduated from the underground to the mainstream not only due to his extraordinary talent but because he is widely regarded as one of the most dedicated and hard-working entertainers in the business.

Odenkirk’s just-released book, Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama: A Memoir, retraces the long slog that eventually led him to occupy the main role in Better Call Saul, the critically hailed series that will end August 16. Building up to that big break, he had written for and/or acted in Saturday Night Live, The Ben Stiller Show, The Larry Sanders Show and — most crucially of all — Mr. Show with Bob and David.

Throughout his book, Odenkirk urges artists to know their audience and for entertainment industry executives to make similarly smart choices with marketing campaigns — if they actually want their projects to succeed.

“Once we were done shooting, HBO actively tried to hide the show from an audience,” Odenkirk recalls about Mr. Show. “The show was off the air and unavailable on VHS or DVD. … This situation was confounding and made no business sense. It was like shooting yourself in the foot and then shooting yourself in the other foot, just … because you were an idiot.”

Ever one to walk a tightrope, Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama: A Memoir manages to cater to diehard fans of Odenkirk as well as those who are just getting familiar with his Titanic(ca) body of work. Members of both camps owe it to themselves to read the memoir: After all, he is a writer, so it’s a smooth, well-written and entertaining tome. Odenkirk gently guides those unfamiliar with most of his oeuvre by broadly summarizing many of the projects in detail. (For example, when he discusses Mr. Show sketches, he often provides readers with overviews.)

Odenkirk has more than his fair share of rabid fans — Mr. Show devotees in particular. Thanks to hundreds of interviews he gave until the release of his memoir, it would seem that Naperville, Illinois’ proudest son had already told his whole story. But even the most well-versed Bob-heads will read anecdotes and factoids he either hadn’t previously discussed in public or hadn’t done so repeatedly.

Here are 20 bits of information Odenkirk sprinkled throughout the memoir that may come as revelations to even his most ardent aficionados:

(Click here to check out 20 must-see, handpicked, perfectly seasoned YouTube videos featuring Odenkirk.)

1. Odenkirk had previously made it publicly known that his father was an alcoholic, but in a chapter called “My Funny, Angry Dad,” the author reveals that Wally Odenkirk died when Bob was only 22 years old. “His life was nothing but tragedy, and fairly small-potatoes tragedy, a life barely lived. Saying goodbye to him was a shrugging affair,” Odenkirk writes.

2. Odenkirk’s teachers supported his ability to make other kids laugh in class. Rather than scold him for his hijinks, some teachers allowed him to perform in front of the class or even teach a lesson. He received A grades and applause for his innate comedic sensibilities. “This was my first big break. Teachers change lives, so thank you, teachers!” he says.

3. His favorite movie of all time is Chinatown.

4. Even though he was one of the four main cast members of The Ben Stiller Show, Odenkirk says, “The fact that I met David Cross on the show was the most important thing.”

5. Odenkirk believed that, after The Ben Stiller Show was canceled, he would never perform sketch comedy again.

6. Tastefully, Odenkirk only alludes to Ben Stiller Show co-star Andy Dick’s descent into addiction, allegations of sexual misconduct and arrests. Instead, he writes highly of the controversial Dick, calling him “one of the funniest people I’ve ever met.”

7. Odenkirk briefly wrote for The Dana Carvey Show, which tanked even faster and harder than The Ben Stiller Show, at the request of longtime comedy comrade Robert Smigel (from Triumph the Insult Comic Dog fame). Unlike the rest of the show’s writers — which included Louis CK, Stephen Colbert, Dino Stamatopolous and others — Odenkirk loathed the pilot episode’s controversial cold open. Featuring Carvey impersonating President Bill Clinton and feeding milk to puppies from his many prosthetic breasts, Odenkirk said he knew right away that the sketch tolled the death knell for the show. “Besides not making me laugh, it simply didn’t sound like Dana Carvey-flavored comedy to me,” Odenkirk recalls. “It was absurdist and unsettling, two things Dana is not.”

8. Ben Stiller attended Bob and Naomi Odenkirk’s wedding in 1997 — and brought Owen Wilson as his date.

9. Odenkirk’s mother, a devout Catholic who disapproved of his comedic escapades, did not attend the wedding ceremony because her priest told her it wasn’t church-approved.

10. He is mostly uninterested in sports but enjoys minor league baseball because, inevitably, some of the players are “characters.”

11. Odenkirk, who regularly tells aspiring artists to avoid drugs if they want to succeed, only partook one time himself. After completing the first season of Mr. Show, he and Cross visited Amsterdam, where they shared a hash brownie. The trip home inspired the sketch “Shampoo.”

12. Mr. Show gave an early boost to Tenacious D thanks to Cross inviting the comedic music duo to perform at Mr. Show test shows. However, cofounder Kyle Gass got really gassed at Odenkirk when he asked to get an executive producer credit on a series of Tenacious D short films he helped create. Gass allegedly threw one of the scripts to the ground, resenting Odenkirk for rewriting it and insisting the cast use his new version.

13. Odenkirk says it was “a mistake” that the Mr. Show writing staff didn’t include any women. “The show was behind the times in this way, and it’s a shame I can do nothing about it now,” he writes. Odenkirk also claims the Birthday Boys, a seven-man comedy troupe he championed, failed due to its lack of diversity. “In the end, I agree, and I think they do, too, that seven white guys is too many white guys to have in one place, ever, for any reason.”

14. Dissatisfied with HBO’s marketing of Mr. Show, Odenkirk and Cross secretly sent VHS copies of the program to video stores in order to increase its exposure. “This was a money-losing proposition, and it was also illegal, as we did not own our own work,” Odenkirk confesses.

15. Larry David, not Odenkirk, came up with the line “the house that cum built” in the early Curb Your Enthusiasm episode “Porno Gil,” featuring Odenkirk. “Send all compliments his way on that,” Odenkirk writes.

16. Reflecting on “one of the funniest pilots ever,” an E! True Hollywood Story parody called Highway to Oblivion that featured Dave Foley, Howard Kremer and Derek Waters, Odenkirk copped to a bad decision he and other writers made. “The female lead we’d written was written horribly by the worst part of me,” he confesses. “This doomed an otherwise very funny and inventive show. I’m not a ‘bro,’ I don’t have any frat boy in me, but you’d never know it from this script, where the main character was a stripper who was being conned and didn’t seem to mind it.”

17. The best-received film Odenkirk has directed to date, Melvin Goes to Dinner, could have found greater success were it not for a technical error that marred its premiere screening at the Slamdance Film Festival. According to Odenkirk, one of the tech guys sloppily forgot to flip a switch before leaving to grab food. “The audience was NOT pleased,” Odenkirk writes.

18. Tim and Eric, the duo who Odenkirk took under his wing before becoming a cultural phenomenon, inadvertently returned the favor by helping Odenkirk connect with his son, who experienced unspecified communication issues in his teens. “In those moments, I couldn’t believe this thing I’d help midwife was saving my life in such a crucial way,” he writes.

19. The Netflix four-episode series w/Bob and David came about because Odenkirk wanted to fix a Mr. Show sketch that never sat well with him. The Mr. Show Season 4 sketch “Waiter Spill” spawned a similar sketch that takes place at a dry cleaners instead of a restaurant.

20. Odenkirk loves Los Angeles as much as David Cross despises it.

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