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Mr. Show: What Happened?!

Naomi Odenkirk - (2002)


Before he graduated, Bob [Odenkirk] set out to explore his options. Under the guise of a radio-show interview, he went to Chicago to ask Joyce Sloan, producer at The Second City, what it actually took to get on their stage. "It was depressing," he laments with self-pity. "All of her stories were success stories, very magical tales. When I asked her how John Belushi got started, she told me something like, 'Well, John walked in here and said, 'I want to be on the Main Stage!' He was delightful. We put him right up there!' Joe Flaherty's story was, 'Joe took a bus from Cleveland to Chicago, knocked on the door, and said, 'I'm gonna be on the Main Stage!' We thought he was hilarious, and a week later, he was on the Main Stage!' Well, I knew that wasn't me, that magic." Bob left the interview depressed. (When asked, Ms. Sloan says she does not recall this early meeting with Bob, but adds: "I'm always in love with all the actors, and you know how they get there: by working very, very hard.") (23)

Bob remembers, "I was working as a food-runner at Ed Debevics in Chicago. I wasn't even a waiter. I was bringing hamburgers out to a table when Dennis Miller read my joke on the air for the first time. ('The statute of limitations on respecting Bob Hope for his earlier work ran out this week. . . ')" (24)

Conan O'Brien: "Going way back to 1988, Smigel, Bob and I were all interested in the same thing—none of us needed to be the biggest star in America. We just wanted to go someplace and do our thing and have people who like it get a chance to see it. And the nice thing, is we all get to do that now." (25)

All summer he wrote scenes with and for Jill Talley. Tim Meadows. Dave Pasquesi, Holly Wortell, Tim O'Malley and Chris Farley, including Farley's 'motivational speaker,' which became an instant favorite when Farley did it on Saturday Night Live. "I wrote that all out in one sitting. Just the way it went. That doesn't happen very often, where it flows out of you. I came in to rehearsal, and I just handed it to Farley: 'Here. Try this.' I knew he could make it infinitely funnier than I could. And he made it great. The first time he read it, that character just poured out of him. He was such a great performer." (26)

"David [Cross] always lived by the seat of his pants," says Mark Rivers, struggling musician turned comedy writer and David's friend since age 16. "He couldn't earn what he needed, was always borrowing, then trying hard to pay it back—and still he was uncompromising [about his art and his lifestyle]. I always thought, 'Why does he get to live like that? I have to compromise. I work this shitty job.' But David wouldn't bend. It's funny to think—you would never have guessed it about David that he would go far." (31)

Throughout his youth, his father continually moved the family around, and David had to cope with constantly being the new kid, the strange kid. "You have about four seconds to make that impression if you don't want to get beat up." He dealt with things by not taking much seriously, and that's where the tone of his sense of humor developed. (31)

[David Cross:] "My dad got fired a lot. He did everything and anything—although I question most of the stories I grew up with. But he got fired a lot, or quit, knowing he was going to get fired. My Dad doesn't take to authority figures at all. He doesn't like anybody telling him what to do. The family would pay the cost for his ego and pride ... and he had nothing to back it up. He sold women's clothing; he worked in the restaurant industry; the hotel industry; he was a sales rep. A lot of easy money schemes. I don't know what's true and what are bullshit stories. But I know we were the bane of his life. We held about as much fascination to him as a ViewMaster. I don't think we meant anything to him in real terms. He faked being a Dad." (31)

Dino [Stamatopaulos] felt that, although there were strong performers at Stiller, the show's perimeter was too tight. "Stiller was all parody, where you needed to know the reference. Also, I felt that at Stiller they were too precious about material. I felt like the stuff would be performed really well, but it was very narrow on what you could write. Bob's stuff was the best, why we won the Emmy." (The award-winning episode of The Ben Stiller Show featured three pieces written by Bob Odenkirk.)
Very quickly, Dino became disillusioned by TV. He shared a great example which illustrates how he doesn't easily fit in: "Ben Stiller one time looked at me, shook his head, and said, 'You scare the hell out of me.' And I didn't say anything, but I felt, 'Yeah. I'm scared of him, too.' So we were scared of each other. We were just so different as human beings." (50)

"I'm sure Dino had a great time," [Robert] Smigel adds. "We gave him a lot of rope. His strength was going off and coming up with ideas on his own. And he wrote and produced really interesting visual bits—Tomorry the Ostrich, Slim Organ-Body Guy, and Skull Juice. And he came up with this thing, 'Crunk'—a cuss word you can say on TV, an all-purpose cuss word. It would cover anything." (51)

Mary Lynn [Rajskub] and David split after more than two years, just before the third season of Mr. Show. A difficult break-up, the two couldn't work together any longer. "I tried working with Mary Lynn," David asserts. "She came to the first read-through, we had written sketches with her in them. I fully intended to say, 'Too bad it didn't work out and everything. We're still friends.' But that took a lot longer than I expected; it was too hard to see her there. I truly regret not being able to get my shit together." "It was sad;' says Mary Lynn. "I couldn't even watch it after that. I went to a couple tapings, but then I had to stop." (52)

[Sarah Silverman:] And right before they used me on Mr. Show, I remember one time we were at Fellini's, and Bob—I was a huge Bob fan, but he didn't really give me the time of day—he came over to me and said, 'I just gotta tell you I just think you're really funny. I never thought you were funny before, but now I totally think you're funny.' I was happy, but I was also like, 'Hey!'" (53)

David: "It's really annoying—the idea that we just sit around high, writing the show." (67)

Eric Hoffman: "My first writers' meeting, we were discussing Bugged Drug Deal, an old sketch I had from Chicago. And everybody's arguing and yelling—and I can't even talk because I had, of course, over-romantiized the whole thing: 'I can't believe I'm here, it's just like working for Sid Caesar in the golden age of comedy. Bob and David are Sid, Jay's Carl Reiner, Paul is another Carl Reiner, I'm Larry Gelbart, or, no, maybe I'm Joe Simon, Dino is Woody Allen, is it possible I could be a THIRD Carl Reiner? Etc., etc.' Insane. So everyone's trying to punch up the scene and getting nowhere and finally Bob looks at me and says, 'Well what do you think, Eric? This is your sketch. How do we fix it?' With the utmost respect and reverence I said, 'Whatever you guys think is great' He looked at me like I'd asked him for an autograph. It was horrible. I would have almost preferred a Caesar-style reaction—with Bob first dangling me outside the window of an 18-story building, and then ripping the sink out of the wall with his bare hands." (70)

Bob: "You have rules, and then you break them when you want to, and you do it for a good reason. Recurring characters would have made us more popular, and would have made the network happier, and sometimes I wish we'd done them. When I see recurring characters, sometimes I get a little thrill, but when you start belaboring it, when you're using time, and it doesn't fit and you're forcing this character in there, that really feels very self-conscious to me, and I question why that's happening. It feels like it's a self-indulgent, egomaniacal thing to do. 'Oh, I want to do this guy again!'
"It's just fucking boring that people repeat their crap, and just because it will get a laugh. And then you start getting laughs because people know stuff, not cause it's funny. People like to see things repeated; it's like how babies like things repeated. They like you to read the baby story over and over to them. Why? They're not getting anything new. Why do they like it more the second and third time than they liked it the first time? It's comforting. People watch TV for comfort. They watch TV to watch the same people do the same things, say the same things, react the same way to the same situations. But as an artist, it's incredibly boring and easy, and we just didn't want to do it. Plus, we had so many ideas." (72)

Bob: "People always say, 'You didn't have to have endings to your scenes, that was great.' You're right. I guess we don't have to have endings, but we have them. Just look. There's a button line or moment to almost every sketch, and a good one. The only sketch I can think of where we don't have an ending is Gay Son (#204), where it is interrupted by Grass Valley Greg. It's not really a sketch at all: it's a premise that goes on for about two minutes, and then it's interrupted. Other than that, we made ourselves have endings." (75)

Troy [Miller]: "I think for the most part, most producers in town are too lazy to figure out a way to do it. That's why we had a clandestine approach of stealing locations, no permits, shooting wherever we wanted to shoot, and just being smart about it. People are not as daring as we were—and they also have money. We got caught once in four years. We were shooting in Glendale—The Devastator (#310)—a testimonial in this guy's front yard, and the Glendale permit police came and shut us down. They said. 'If you keep shooting you'll go to jail!' Normally you need cops, permits, and pay for it. All that is, is to show the state that you have insurance, and we always had insurance. But you'll spend up to $2-3,000 on permits and locations fees for a shot of a sidewalk. It's because we're an entertainment show, but if you're a news show or a magazine show, you don't have to pay any of those things." (80)

Bob: "I was always nervous around the extras. I wanted them to be done and go home. I just felt like we're never paying anyone enough to do this. They show up at the set at 6 A.M. to shoot at 2 P.M., and they're there all day. And then there's a few Nutter Butter bars, and some coffee, and three doughnuts. And nothing to do except stand around. I wish they were out of there. I wish there was a holding area that was really nice for them, and they can come do the scene and get the fuck out of my face. Because I just felt guilty, and I didn't want to meet all these strangers who want to act. I don't want to meet people who want to act."
Jay: "My favorite extra ever was one of the 'Hitlers' (Cloning Hitler, #401)—the guy with the perm. He was a doctor, on his head shot it says, 'A funny guy.''' (82)

Paula: "When David and Bob find themselves complaining, they catch themselves: 'Listen to me complaining. I have my own TV show, that's fully my own vision, and here I am complaining about the clothes and the schedule.'" (82)

Bob: "Python did lots of very funny 'TV Warnings' and 'Apologies for Content.' Since entertainment ethics is still an issue, perhaps more these days, we felt it was valid to do. But we made a real effort to avoid these kinds of ideas as the show went on. After all, we were on HBO and nobody complains about the content of their shows. At least they better not, if they don't want a boot up their ass. From me. My boot." (109)

David: "The dumbest thing about that show—and there were more of these things to come—when Bob and I wrote the credits up, which was part of the end, all the jokes were in the credits about Bob not helping. The only credit we weren't allowed to alter was the Writers Guild credit, because of the WGA's strict rules. We called them, and said, 'We're the writers. It's okay; we're talking about ourselves.' We were able to do it with every other credit, production credit, and cast credit, but they wouldn't let us do it." (109)

It took a big nudge from Garry Shandling, then starring in HBO's prestigious, The Larry Sanders Show (in which Bob had a recurring role as Stevie Grant, Larry Sanders's fast-talking agent) to persuade HBO to renew the series.
Brian Posehn recalls hearing the long-awaited news: "It was spring of '96 when Bob called and told me they had finally convinced HBO to let them do Season Two. I'll never understand how HBO could have even questioned picking up the show when they seemed to pick up dreck like Arli$$ without a second thought." (115)

Athough the whole writing staff contributed on all six shows, writing credit only went to Bob and David for #201 and #202. Bob explains: "We all wrote everything, and the other writers only got paid for four shows. That's all we had a budget for, and that's why their names are only on four of the shows. It was a Writers Guild thing. The guys came aboard and agreed to give us the credit. It is fucked up, and I thank them for it." (116)

Bob: "Shampoo is a scene David and I wrote for the live stage shows which helped us to get the TV show. It's a great scene, with a solid punch line, John's "Balloon up my ass." It reminds me of Monty Python sketches, like Marriage License. It has a classic feel to it, but, of course, it's about drugs, so that makes it practically futuristic on American TV." (121)

Bob: "Using my grandfather's photograph for the old man at the end was a terrible mistake. We were pressed for time, and I didn't think anyone in my family would ever see it. Anyway, the FBI are the buffoons of the piece. But it actually upset people a lot. Of course, I never asked my grandfather if I could use his picture, he'd recently passed away. But he was a sweet, generous. lovely person, and what I did was wrong. And if you ever see his ghost, don't for a second think that he was ever in a house that was surrounded by jumpy FBI agents. It never happened." (121)

Bob: "Mom and Pop Porn Shop was really fun to do. Acting all quaint and homey about those porn items is a riot. Jill and I had to improvise while David was offstage changing from Ty to the kid, Jimmy. We knew it would be cut out, so we got real crude. She picked up a latex vagina with gross fake hair on it, squeezed it like air was coming out of it, and said, 'Look, Father, a pussy fart.' l tried not to laugh but failed, and added, 'That's called a "queef," Mother.' The Maker himself surely cracked a smile." (125)

Bob: "We actually had goats walking around in this person's house that we rented for shooting. People are so dumb to let us shoot in their houses. I also love the 'all these goats are retarded' notion because it just adds insult to injury to the poor dead souls trapped in such ignorant beasts." (133)

Bob: 'The thing I like least about Mr. Show sketches are things like Subway. It's such a tortured logic puzzle. There's a simple scene at the core of it, with the corny characters telling this guy what to do, but then it becomes all these over-worked explanations for itself (with the psychologists). It's no fun. But, if it's any consolation, these types of scenes were a lot more work in the writing than simple, well-told, good ones." (140-1)

Paul: "I'm very proud of the stuff I wrote for the character David plays in the Donut Shop scene, and was thrilled that he ended up looking just how I pictured him, thanks to David and Tonyia Verna [hair/make-up]. The idea for the character came to me when I saw a guy give a little talk before a screening of Lawrence of Arabia, in which he said how great it was to see this movie on the big screen, as it was meant to be seen. Then a guy in the audience yelled out, "Death to video!" Idiot. VCR's are great. There was a wonderfully stupid mini-argument inspired by these two characters. I called them 'The Two Best Friends,' but Bob insisted that they weren't best friends they just knew each other. There's nothing like arguing over fake things." (141)

Bob: "Megaphone Crooners was one of our fans' favorites of the season. Troy Miller did a great job getting the look. It was shot on Super-8 film. We shot it at a high school theatre, and the movie theatre is the Vista in Hollywood/Silverlake. I think one of the reasons people like it so much is that there is a sweetness to the story and, especially, in Tom Kenny's performance. He is really gentle and wistful in his narration. What can I say, there wasn't a dry eye in the house. People are saps." (141)

Bob: "I believe this is the last heavily themed show we did. By the time we got to the point of rehearsing the live part, I felt like we'd made a big mistake with too many pieces about religion. But now that I look at it, it's not so bad, in that all of he pieces are funny, and our point (that all religions are equally silly) is a good one that doesn't ever come across as harsh, just true." (149)

Paul: "Bill wrote Watch Us Have Sex, a great scene. (Originally titled, Oh Say. Will You See? but Bob hated 'funny' titles for sketches and wouldn't let us use them anymore. Tyrant.) (149)

Bob: "Hail Satan is a great laugh. It's such a performance piece, not like most Mr. Show pieces which are too think-y. A simple idea, and all about execution. David is so damn funny as the slothful child, and there's nothing more fun than being a fat, lying Southern preacher. Now I know why those dicks do it!" (149)

David: "The extras—the Cracker Barrel guys—they did not like the show. They didn't get the show, they didn't like sitting there having to listen as we sang these songs. Especially the black guy. He didn't like me at all. I had to make eye contact with him quite a bit. He didn't seem to get it, or know what he was doing there; he didn't know why people were laughing at him, didn't know why he was sitting on a bail [sic] of hay while this white guy is singing a song about black people—'You're welcome for your freedom." He just didn't get it, and it was quite uncomfortable." (153)

Bob: Many fans believe the third season is our strongest. I love the third season, but for me the fourth is the strongest. Somehow, despite having mostly the same writing staff going into their third year, the fourth season had simpler, clearer comic premises and it's far more relatable. I wish the New York HBO bigwigs had recognized that. But they never paid that close attention to us, and of course that was also what allowed Mr. Show to happen in the first place." (153)

Bob: "Cock Ring Warehouse is Bill's. Three miles of cock rings. That's a lot, depending on how they are stacked." (158)

Bob: "It's hard to write a comic piece about mentally handicapped adults, but I think we did it. We made it very clear that it was about a genuine phenomenon. I believe something like the last seven of nine Oscars for best actor went to people who portrayed mentally slow, handicapped or sickly characters. It's a good point—the easy way to garner respect is to choose subject matter which doesn't have to earn sympathy/value, it's just endowed with it." (159)

[Cp. Cintra Wilson (From A Massive Swelling): When it comes to sentimental porn, the Academy has made it perfectly clear that Retards are the order of the day. Whenever an actor takes on the jibbers and tics of a palsied or otherwise "challenged" character, the Academy has fallen all over itself to shower the actor with praise. This has been true ever since The Miracle Worker. Anybody portraying somebody with the boot print of a clumsy god pressed into his or her forehead—any dramatic role with waggling palsied wrist action or a dragging clubfoot and a tongue like a tennis ball—will take home a naked gold man on Oscar Night. These unsubtle gimmicks have beaten out more delicate emotional characterizations so systematically over history that every fall we are now besieged by more Triumphs of the Lame.
The Academy has never figured out that these spasms and tics are way easier than simply delivering an emotionally complicated line. (189-90)]

Tracey Krasno (production manager): "There was a big question as to whether or not to do the Time Caplet scene. HBO was afraid that Sid and Marty Krofft might sue. But we decided it was worth the chance, it was so funny. Sid and Marty called after the show—they loved it. They wanted copies."
Bob: "In fact, what we should have been warned is that they're nuts. And that they would waste our time with phone calls. He called me again in the fourth season, and he wanted me to do a Sigmund the Sea Monster movie, or something. And then I told him: "I gotta be honest with you, I don't really know your stuff very well.' I watched H. R. Pufnstuf, but Land of the Lost (Inside the Actor, # 409)—I didn't even help with that, because I never saw that show. I just told him I couldn't make that movie, because I don't know that stuff or care about it. I think he was hurt." (165)

David: "My only major contribution to the Evil Genius Telethon—I was lobbying that there's a voice, when he detonates the laser beam. Because all those movies, whenever a bomb is going to go off and they have a thirty seconds, it's always a very polite English woman's voice. There's no reason for it in the sketch, at all. It's just something I wanted to do. I made up the word 'explosionation' and said [in a refined English woman's voice]: 'Ten seconds to explosionation.' It's not that funny, but I like it. It's a nice little touch. It allows people to realize that I've seen movies." (175)

Bob: "The whole elderly takeover is something that will be happening in the next fifteen years. Mark my words. It'll be worse than what we predicted, old people wanting to see Lawrence Welk shit. It'll be old people wanting to watch Madonna videos and Friends reruns." (178)

Bob: "We had trouble with the elderly extras—their vocal cadence sometimes would be weird and their emphasis. And it was also a lot of time difficult to correct them. Many of them are not really actors; the ones we got were extras who were willing to act. And they're old, on top of it. 'What? What did you say? You can't tell what he's saying, he runs the whole sentence together.'" (179)

David: "For Monk Academy, we needed to get a legitimate rapper. So Flava Flav came up as an option. And we thought, 'Oh, great. He'd be perfect for this.' But part of the joke is that he loses to Bob (as Dalai Lama). And he realizes he is going to lose and thinks Bob's great, even though he's really bad—it was written in the script that Bob's rapping was really goofy, and it makes no sense, he's just rhyming stuff just to rhyme. A very white-boy version of rapping. We send Flava Flav the script, and it came back that he's very interested, but didn't like the script. And that made me laugh, because you either like the script and you get it, or you don't. And the next day, we heard back from his agent that Flava Flav wants to be shown in a positive light. I asked, 'What does that mean?' He wants to win the rap contest. It was just such a great example of someone not getting it." (205)

Scott: "I was one of the principle writers on the fat kids scene, which is my Waterloo. First of all, none of the kids' parents knew that there would be so much cursing in the rap. So he's out there, just practicing his rap on the mic—'If the nigger gets paid he gets all the riches, he never gets enough motherfucking bitches." The moms are horrified. The kids are waving their hands, they love it. And when we were filming the movie part of it, I was just getting into the groove—'Hey, I'm pretty good at actually helping out on the set.' So all the fat kids are there. And I swear that it said 'Fat Kids' in the breakdown [which lists the roles up for audition for actors], that they must have been hired knowing this sketch was about fat kids. So I was giving direction to everybody, telling them where to stand, 'Monks, you do this, and all you fat kids, I want you to . . . ' and I said it about three times. And everyone was looking at me. I was thinking only as a writer, I wasn't trying to insult them. So kids started crying, and parents got upset. It's just one of those mistakes you make." (205)

Bob: "I pledge that every show I write on will have a 'Benny Hill Running' segment on it at some point. (Previous to this, there was one in a Get A Life episode that I was on staff for, though it wasn't necessarily my contribution.) Because I watched a lot of Benny Hill. What can I say, I like to be made angry." (210)

David: "The Bloopertron 3000—the thing we pulled. My idea was, I want to be recognized as the first example of how we've switched because of the new millennium. How we've switched from the 'something-something 2000' to the 'something-something 3000.''' (215)

"Weird Al" Yankovic: "Daffy 'Mal' Yinkleyankle, it was flattering to be yet another pop culture reference In Mr. Show. It was pretty scathing, I have to say. But that's just part of their brilliance. I think Bob encapsulated everything that was irritating about me. Particularly in the early part of my career, way too broad and nasal and just grossly irritating. It was kind of painful to watch because he was too dead on." (215)

Bob: "Everest is a magical, mystical marvel. It really turns some people off. But this kind of indefatigably dumb, persistent joke is rare and done well by Jay here. I think it's really funny. I feel it's one of those things, the more you do it the funnier it gets. It passes the baton between annoying and funny. Some people probably just find it annoying. But the most fun is when people find it mixed between the two." (221)

Scott: "The part I played in 'Taint was originally written for Bob. He acted like he was doing me a big favor when he said I was going to get to play it, but I've always suspected he just didn't want to be flashing his balls around, yet again. Still, it's the one thing Mr. Show fans always shout at me, so let me take this opportunity to tell them to go screw." (225)

Bob: Casting children, you mostly encounter kids from families where the only inherited talent is self-delusion. Few, very few, are genuinely gifted. (238)

Paul: "I was very, very excited to be playing Evel Knievel for this sketch. It was hard not to laugh when I was doing the bad acting. I love myself and how talented and funny I am." (239)

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