When Bob Odenkirk had a heart attack on the set of You better call Saulit was one of the few moments that united Twitter during the turbulent summer of 2021. Everyone, celebrity and normie, hit the same note of worry, hoping, praying and memorizing for the best.
The comedy sketch-turned-main-man has released new memoirs titled Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama which begins with the question “Why are you writing a book about yourself?” You’re not dying, are you? (The book was finished before his heart attack, which gives this question an uncanny foreknowledge.) The collective sigh of relief at his recovery from his many fans and admirers bodes well for book sales.
There’s another countdown that Odenkirk is aware of as he writes: the lifespan of celebrity autobiography and the end of a hit TV series. Even with the unlikely late-career pivot to action movie star in Person or appearing in 1800s period costume in Little womanit’s You better call SaulThe five-season run of (season six begins April 18) that redefined Odenkirk’s career. It’s hard to imagine the market for this book without it. Although comedy nerds will probably love the Second City and Saturday Night Live the palace intrigue, behind-the-scenes dramas of Chris Elliott buy yourself a life Where The Ben Stiller Show can be missed by all but the most hardened of us.
Odenkirk’s best-known (i.e. little-known) previewbreaking Bad To display, Mr. Show with Bob and David, the oft-used old chestnut reminds us of the Velvet Underground: he didn’t have a lot of fans, but all those fans went on to create their own art. The HBO series created with David Cross made history in the American sketch, a form which badly needed to be shaken up in the 90s.The children in the room worked out well, but they were Canadians.) Mr. ShowThe absurd DNA of carries over to later generations of comedy, including Tim and Eric (of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!), which Odenkirk helped bring to Adult Swim and the (semi) mainstream.
The high regard Odenkirk enjoys, especially online, is rare at a time when white male comedians have become a flashpoint of the culture war. The book avoids issues of white privilege and repression, although it acknowledges that the satire he wrote has been overtaken by reality. Cross and Odenkirk once counted Gavin McInnes, co-founder of Vice and the Proud Boys, as a friend and collaborator. (Cross has since distanced himself from McInnes.) In hindsight, I felt uneasy when the memoirs praised Mr. Show teammate Jay Johnston. Johnston was an integral and welcome presence in the series, which ran from 1995 to 1998, with a few reunions and reboots; he also attended the January 6 Capitol Uprising and lists the FBI suspects. A less loyal Odenkirk should recognize that his friend turning into a conspiracy theorist storming the Capitol is a pretty fruitful sketch premise.
Odenkirk’s journey from teenage comedy purist to seasoned statesman has been one of many strokes of luck as well as hard work. The book alludes to youthful romantic relationships, but these are marginal to his love affair with writing and performing. A pivotal chance encounter with improv guru Del Close creates a real Hogwarts moment. (It’s also a great story in the documentary Del Close For Madmen Only: The Del Close Stories.) Meeting Close and interviewing him for his college radio show in a Chicago apartment with a missing window showed Odenkirk that anything was possible. Close’s erratic and rambling storylines made Odenkirk realize there was a way forward for him, even if it was all chaos magic.
Refined comic instincts are found in Odenkirk’s prose, which is laden with ellipses and twists. Her love of Robert Evans memoirs, The child stays in the picture, makes me want the audio version of this book. (A Mr. Show sketch titled “The book of God on tapeis basically Odenkirk making Evans as God, a perfect homage and skewer of star self-glorification.)
Growing up in a large Catholic family steeped in the Midwestern work ethic prepared Odenkirk to become a writer for Saturday Night Live. The collaborative nature of sketch comedy calls for different skills than the solitary effort of stand-up comedy, which Odenkirk developed from his many siblings. (It’s not for nothing that Odenkirk’s brother Bill is also a comedy writer, with credits on Mr. Show, The simpsonsand Futurama.)
AT SNL, Odenkirk, like many staff members before and after him, had a contentious relationship with producer Lorne Michaels. as numerous SNL memoirs and podcast interviews with artists and writers make it clear, Michaels is a specific archetype, the boss who easily replaces a cold/aloof/all-powerful father, putting the staff in the position of their offspring hanging on everyone of his whims. All that desperate need for approval pinned to a sphinx-like man seems exhausting. Michaels, with four and a half decades mostly at the helm of SNL, has arguably reigned as the gatekeeper of American comedy too long, so it’s no wonder Odenkirk’s relationship with the workplace has been adversarial. His SNL the experience set the tone for Odenkirk’s search for comedic independence and his own very different management style when he finally got a chance at his own series.
Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama isn’t just a showbiz saga, it’s the ultimate memoir of Generation X, a cohort that has always been self-aware but is aging in shrunken introspection. Odenkirk embodies some of the best traits of this generation: unwillingness to compromise, ingenuity, self-starting, and omnivorous transmogrification of pop culture detritus into postmodern pastiche. Turning into a comedian in the shadow of the baby boomers, Odenkirk opted for cult success as mainstream recognition was always elusive. It wasn’t until well into middle age that he found himself embraced by the public and publications like the New York Times Reviewwho saw fit to put it on his blanket in February.
Fortunately, this tome has a lot of gratitude and generosity towards the entertainment world, even if its projects like Melvin is going to dinner and Derek and Simon was sidelined on Odenkirk’s path to coverboy status. Odenkirk’s creativity, restlessness and willingness to challenge himself wins out whether he transforms into an action hero, dives into his starring role or develop a limited series based on the memoir of journalist David Carr. Like any good, successful Gen Xer, sarcasm, self-mockery, and impostor syndrome are constant companions to Odenkirk, making him something truly rare in the culture: a star you can relate to. identify.•
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