CRF Blog

Breaking Bob

by Bill Hayes

In Breaking Bob, New York magazine profiles Bob Odenkirk, the star of Better Call Saul.

Odenkirk grew up in Naperville, Illinois. His parents had split by the time he was 12. His father, who had served in Korea, designed business forms and suffered from alcoholism. The kids were raised Roman Catholic, “with the kind of Catholic guilt where I won’t buy something because then I feel like somebody else doesn’t get to own it,” he said a bit later, as he thumbed through a Marvel Comics anthology at Skylight Books in L.A.’s Los Feliz neighborhood. “Isn’t that weird? Like by my having this, some big comic-book fan can’t?”

The adolescent Odenkirk and his brother Bill (currently a writer-producer for The Simpsons) wrote and performed humorous sketches around the house and took as much pleasure from listening to comedy as watching it: Steve Martin’s album Let’s Get Small, the Credibility Gap’s Floats (featuring McKean), and most anything by Monty Python. As a student at Marquette, Odenkirk hosted a college-radio show of live skits, then transferred to the less conservative Southern Illinois University. In his late 20s, after moving to L.A., he made his way through various stops on the elite comedy-writing circuit before hitting his stride with Mr. Show.

That series, which ran for four seasons beginning in 1995, has been likened to a kind of Velvet Underground of comedy: Only a few people watched it, but most of them apparently became performers. Mr. Show’s influence has been cited by the stars of Portlandia, Key & Peele, and Tenacious D. Odenkirk has described Mr. Show as an American version of Monty Python  —  with set pieces that bled into the next, and characters who encroached on each other’s sketches. Cross often played the demented cherub, daring the audience to laugh; Odenkirk was the straight man, an aspiring sharpie in an undertaker’s zoot suit, his soft-serve pompadour offset by overdetermined sideburns.

In person, the two play off one another similarly, even now. [more]