David Cross and Bob Odenkirk discuss the new Mr. Show book and tour

David Cross and Bob Odenkirk discuss the new Mr. Show book and tour

For almost as long as there’s been an A.V. Club, there have been A.V. Club interviews with Bob Odenkirk and David Cross. We’ve spoken to the actor-comedians more than a dozen times since the late ’90s—separately and together—about their many and varied projects. It started with Mr. Show, the groundbreaking HBO sketch-comedy show that didn’t get much respect when it aired from 1995-1998, but has grown a well-deserved audience in the years since. The legacy of Mr. Show ended on a bit of a bum note, with the feature film Run Ronnie Run. Odenkirk and Cross battled to make the movie they wanted to, but the studio system didn’t mesh with their sensibilities, and the movie—which ended up going straight to DVD two years after it was made—didn’t turn out the way they had intended. But the show itself reverberated. The names in the Mr. Show credits would appear a lot in subsequent years: Sarah Silverman, Paul F. Tompkins, Jack Black, Brian Posehn, Scott Aukerman, Tom Kenny. Cross and Odenkirk went on to other projects, too, and each has hit another peak recently, with Arrested Development and Breaking Bad, respectively. (Cross plays Tobias Fünke on the former; Odenkirk is Saul Goodman on the latter.) 

The occasion for this conversation, though, is a look back at the Mr. Show years, spurred by the release of a book called Hollywood Said No!: Orphaned Film Scripts, Bastard Scenes, And Abandoned Darlings From The Creators Of Mr. Show. The bulk of the book—which should really be experienced in audiobook format by diehards—is composed of two movie scripts, Bob And David Make A Movie and Hooray For America! One is a sketch set filled with goofy jokes about Hollywood, the other is a more direct satire about politics and the quixotic American dream. (Also: Pauly Shore jokes.) The duo led a book tour, which led to a handful of theater shows billed as “An Evening With Bob And David (And Posehn),” the first of which takes place September 12 in New York. (Complete dates can be found here.) It’s hopefully just the first salvo of Mr. Show-related activity: Cross and Odenkirk want to mount a full-scale reunion tour in 2015. They spoke to The A.V. Club (for the zillionth time) about Breaking Bad, the book and tour, and dicking around. Cross joined the conference call a few minutes late, so Odenkirk chatted a bit about his kids—12 and 14—and Saul Goodman. 

Bob Odenkirk: Where’s that David Cross? He doesn’t have any fucking kids! He’s just got dogs.

David Cross: Sorry I’m late.

The A.V. Club: We were just talking about Breaking Bad.

DC: God damn it! I have feelings for that show that are not normal. They’re feelings you would have toward a person. It’s like you’re at the death bed of one of the coolest people in the world, and you’re sitting beside them as they’re slowly expiring, and you know they only have a little bit of time left, and you’re just hanging on every word. You want to tell them how appreciative you are, but then you remember it’s a TV show, and that’s foolish. I swear to God, I think of Breaking Bad when I go to bed. I have dreams about it. I wake up just having this deep appreciation for that show, and how much work they do. There’s not a wasted moment. God damn it!

BO: And then when you find out it’s all improvised, that just blows your mind.

DC: [Laughs.] I thought you were going to say, “Then when you find out at the end that it’s all a dream…” 

AVC: Is that weird for you, David, to see your old friend and creative partner doing something that’s affected you that much?

BO: He doesn’t know I’m on it! He doesn’t know that’s me!

DC: Spoiler alert, Josh! Not all of us have read the cast list! But in the very beginning, yes. But I don’t think that went past a few episodes. Because first of all, Bob’s fucking great in it and perfect in that world, and you get past that very quickly, like with anybody. We both know tons of people in this business and watch their TV shows and movies, but when you have something that good, you don’t even think about it. It’s just the character; it’s just Saul Goodman.

BO: That’s how I feel about it! I don’t feel like I’m watching myself, I really don’t. I just watch the show. The writing is so good, and the directing… And working with Bryan [Cranston] and Aaron [Paul] is amazing, and Anna [Gunn] is astounding. And Betsy [Brandt] is so good, and Dean [Norris] this year!

DC: It’s kind of a bummer to see the ad for the Michael J. Fox show that’s on whatever network, and to see Betsy in it. It’s really wrong. It bums me out. I’m in the middle of this fucking story that’s not done yet—don’t remind me that there’s this other world that exists beyond this one, where actors can go on and be on multi-camera sitcoms. It’s just a shitty feeling. And fucking Aaron, holy shit. My wife and I, so much of our Saturday, Sunday, and Monday centers around that show. It really does!

BO: I know what you mean. When I go out on Mondays and Tuesdays, everyone around me is talking about the fucking show. It’s so cool.

DC: It’s spoiled to say this, but I really don’t like to watch it on AMC with commercials. I’ll sit there and grumpily hit mute and fast-forward, because I just want to watch it back-to-back-to-back. But I can’t, because most of the English-speaking world is talking about it the next day, and I just don’t want to take the chance that somebody’s going to spoil something. So we’re forced to watch in the traditional way.

BO: I love that you like it! I think you know, Josh, how much of it has to do with the writing and directing. When people compliment me about being in the show, you’re literally complimenting me on getting a job. Beyond that, how well it’s done is not me.

DC: I feel that to a similar degree about Arrested Development. I’m well aware of how lucky I was. There are literally thousands of very competent comic actors, and I got really lucky that I got that incredible opportunity. Bob, when you first got the script, you didn’t know that it was going to turn into one of the greatest dramas—if not the greatest drama—in television history.

BO: It’s just luck, in a way.

AVC: Was that the first time you guys had really talked about that with each other?

BO: David called when he first watched the show; he hadn’t seen it until… a few months ago?

DC: It must’ve been right after I got back from London. I had seen like two episodes and liked it, but I didn’t really pay that much attention. Then I got back from London and my wife and her friends were all into it, and they insisted: “You are going to love this show.” That was during season four, so a little over a year ago. And I remember calling you…

BO: I remember! That’s how most people have watched it. I don’t know how Arrested Development felt to you, like when it really hit its stride with the audience. This was very slow, and Netflix made it. The audience just quadrupled or more.

AVC: So, let’s talk about the book and tour.

DC: Yeah, the tour! Bob’s going to come out and talk about Breaking Bad for half an hour, then I’ll come out and talk about Arrested Development for half an hour… [Laughs.] No, what do you want, the book or the tour?

AVC: Let’s start with the book. Why now? These scripts have been around for a decade.

DC: The same publishing company that put out [Cross’ sorta-memoir] I Drink For A Reason asked if I wanted to do another book, and Bob and I had talked about these scripts before. They were going to sit on bookshelves if we didn’t do something with them. We’re never going to get them made. And we didn’t want to just throw them out there as scripts, so we thought we’d try to justify their existence by putting a couple of them together, put some other sketches in there, put the story boards, put some annotations…

BO: We read them, obviously, and they still seemed funny. Hooray For America! seemed timely, especially with the Citizens United decision of a few years ago. The sketch movie is just a bunch of crazy pieces. My favorite part of that movie is the linkage pieces, where we’re walking down Hollywood Boulevard talking about how to get a movie made. But Hooray For America! seems like it’s particularly relevant, and certainly for an audience that’s liked our voice and hasn’t seen it in 14 years in anything new, it’s a chance for them to reconnect with that voice. I don’t know how funny these will be for people who don’t know us.

DC: And also, more than the sketch movie, it’s more Mr. Show: It’s got Globo-Chem and Hartnut and Pit Pat, and Bob and I are basic extensions of our onstage personalities. It definitely feels Mr. Show-ish.

BO: I highly recommend that you get the audio book. We got the cast together from Mr. Show and recorded these scripts. 

DC: And had a great time doing it. The lightness is in there, and we kept the fuck-ups in, and us cracking each other up. It’ll definitely be a different experience than just having the book, I think.

AVC: You’ve definitely closed the door on making these movies, right?

DC: We wrote in the preface, these are scripts that were written for younger guys. Not that we feel old, but we are physically older. There are certain things that just don’t feel right—watching 50-year-old men playing twentysomethings. It’s a different type of comedy sketch when you do that.

BO: Honestly, the only way these would ever have been made, or would ever get made, would be the same way Monty Python got to make The Holy Grail. It’s because Eric Clapton and George Harrison were fans. They’re not going to get made in any type of traditional way—even an independent movie avenue. Even independent movies—and I’m trying to make one right now, and David just made one—they’re still crunching the numbers and looking at the subject matter versus what it’s going to make and what stars are in it. They’re doing all the math that a studio would have done, they’re just looking at a smaller return. The only way these would get made is a Monty Python thing, which never happened for us. We never had a fan in The Beatles that went, “I don’t give a shit!” “But you’re gonna lose all your money!” “So what? And I’m not gonna lose it all, trust me.”

DC: Our fans were in Minor Threat and Yo La Tengo.

BO: But whatever, it’s fine. If you’re a fan, you’re gonna get laughs out of it. We keep our voice alive; we worked together again. We did re-write them. We cleaned them up and punched them up a little bit.

DC: We consciously kept the references dated, but we definitely made it more readable.

BO: The scripts were really in shorthand and kind of Frankensteined together after a lot of re-writes, so we tried to smooth them out a little bit. Mike Mitchell did the illustrations, and he’s a great illustrator. I think the storyboards help, especially with the sketch movie. You have to envision them to really get how funny they could be. They’re filmic. As far as your question goes, though, we’ve written them off completely.

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AVC: Not to beat it totally into the ground, but if Mumford & Sons or whoever came along with $10 million and wanted to make one of them…

BO: What I would do is make the sketch movie, but write all new sketches except for “One-Eyed Aliens From Planet Mars.” Did you read that?

AVC: Yes, the one with the aliens with penises for heads? I guess the reason I’m beating that question to death is that it’s a little disappointing that these won’t get made.

BO: Satire is hard to sell to people, especially to the industry, and they feel like it’s hard to sell to everyone else.

DC: And don’t forget, when we were trying to get these going… You’re talking back at the—I don’t think I’ve ever used this phrase realistically before—turn of the century. We didn’t have the stats for how people watched things, and we didn’t have the venues that we have now to watch the literally millions of things that get produced. Digital cameras were still in their infancy. It was a different world, you know? You didn’t have Netflix. Cable was pretty much HBO and Showtime, and that was all. There were less chances willing to be taken, because there was less ability to see the stuff and eventually for people to make money on it. It’s not like we’re bitter about it. We get what happened. Now would be a different story, I would hope.

AVC: Though the book is called Hollywood Said No!, there’s not much in there about the ways in which Hollywood said no.

DC: It’s a boring story. We went out and people said no! [Laughs.] There’s nothing to really talk about. We didn’t want the book to be, “Boo-hoo, so sad for us, what a terrible thing that happened.”

BO: Hollywood doesn’t make over 200 movies a year. [Laughs.] There’s a lot of movies that Hollywood doesn’t make, and probably a lot of good ones. You can’t really tell. We both know that we’re not in some special group of disadvantaged people.

DC: Which goes back to the spirit of this thing. We read the scripts, we talked about them, we all felt strongly about them. So we said, “Fuck it, why not put them out?” Otherwise they’re just going to sit on our shelves. You don’t have to buy it or read it, but now it’s out there. But again, it’s not a pity party.

AVC: So what about the tour?

BO: That is a pity party! Nothing but a pity party from the word go. David and I have been talking about doing a tour for years. Mostly he’s wanted to do one and I’ve been like, “I’ve got kids!” So this just seemed like a good opportunity. My kids are older; they want me to leave the house now. They would love it if I’d leave for weeks at a time. It was a good reason to get out; we were going to do book signings and stuff. It’s not a Mr. Show reunion; we’re going to reference Mr. Show, but it’s kind of based on a show I did—if I can take a little credit for it—last year.

DC: Absolutely. Bob has taken the mantle on this one. The timing on this has been really unfortunate for me. I’ve been trying for years to get us to do a much more extensive thing. And we actually had a much more extensive tour planned, and then the timing on the movie I just did was the worst that could happen. So we really had to scale it back, and Bob has bore the brunt of getting it together. 

BO: It’s going to be fun. We both wanted to do a tour. It’s going to have stand-up and sketch, mixed. Each one of us, Brian and myself and David, will take 15 minutes and do stand-up.

DC: It’s very much the title, “An Evening With Bob And David (And Posehn).” We don’t want people to think we’re just going to do a whole bunch of sketches. We’re in slightly smaller theaters than we might normally do. We’ll do some sketches, do some stand-up, and do some Q&A. I don’t want to mislead you when I say the word “loose,” but it’ll certainly be looser than a put-together stage show that has a bunch of tech and stuff like that. It’s in between that and dicking around. It’ll be fun. We’re both hypersensitive to the idea that people are not misled and not disappointed. We want people to feel like they’re getting their money and time’s worth. I don’t want to make excuses before we even start the show. You’re talking about three funny people who people would go see individually, so now that we’re together it should be triple the fun. [Laughs.] Also, Bob, the heads came in this morning. They got delivered.

AVC: I won’t ask what that means. I want to be surprised. You’ve also talked about doing something on a bigger scale in 2015. How likely is that to happen?

DC: We’re going to try. I’ve already put the bug in my manager’s and my agent’s ears, and Bob and I have talked about it informally. But I will tell you right now and hope this affects something: We both really would love to go out in 2015, because it gives us enough time and because it’s the 20th anniversary of Mr. Show. We just want to do a really special, cool reunion that’s not just—or hardly any, even—best-of stuff. To actually put a show together and tour with it. That’s my desire.

BO: We’re going to reference Mr. Show and have fun with it. I can’t go into too much detail, but we’re going to have fun with the notion that we’re not going to be re-doing Mr. Show scenes. What I’d like to do in two years is a real Mr. Show treatment of the modern world. Like Tracey Takes On… I want do Tracey Takes On… [Both laugh.] I want to sit down with David, and hopefully we can find the time—maybe there’s some reason he’ll have to be in L.A. in the next two years—and really write…

DC: Dude, I don’t know if you know what Amber’s doing… [Cross is married to actress Amber Tamblyn, and presumably he’s talking about her joining the cast of Two And A Half Men.]

BO: I do know, yes.

DC: We’ll know shortly whether that’s happening, and if that’s the case, then once I’m done with the post on this movie, then I’ve got to move out there, pretty much.

BO: I’d like to write a real show that could be an off-Broadway version of a Mr. Show show.

DC: Fuck it, on Broadway!

BO: I don’t want to get too near Broadway—I’m gay-phobic, don’t you know?

DC: I was talking about Broadway in Chicago. That’s actually where the gay parade goes down, isn’t it?

BO: Right! I don’t want to get too near the gay parade, because I might get swept up into the gay parade and I might have too much pride!

DC: All right, then fuck it. We’ll move it to Broadway in New York. You win again. But that’s both of our desires, and I know I speak for many of the other Mr. Show cast and writers. They would love to get together and create this thing. It’d be a dream come true.

AVC: Not to get psychoanalytical, but are you guys looking for closure on Mr. Show in some way?

DC: I think we had closure. People still, on a weekly basis, will come up to me and say, “Hey man, love Mr. Show.” I don’t feel like it needs closure.

BO: I’ll be honest with you, because this still happens sometimes. The only time that I feel bad about the experience of the show overall—and this happened only a few weeks ago… You’ll see an article on alternative comedy, and they’ll literally list everything but Mr. Show. They’ll have The Whitest Kids U’Know [Laughs.] and Dave Chappelle, and then before that, it’s SCTV. Really? And usually they’re written by somebody in show business, so it’s like, “You literally went out of your way not to mention Mr. Show.” We were the only sketch show besides SNL for five years. It was Kids In The Hall then us. I read everything about alternative comedy because I care about it and always want to see my name somewhere. [Laughs.] But that can really get to me.

DC: I did have a similar experience, and I think I called you, too. I don’t remember where I saw this, but I read that someone was doing a celebration of the 15th anniversary of In Living Color. And it didn’t make me angry, but it made me sad, I guess. Mixed with incredulity. And I also get it, because a lot of those guys are famous—more famous than Bob and I, or Paul or John [Ennis] or Jay [Johnston] or Mary Lynn [Rajskub] or any of those people. So I guess it’s, “Maybe we can get Jim Carrey if we do this, and maybe he’ll sit on our stage.” Our 15th anniversary came and went and nobody said boo. Outside of that… Certainly you guys have been tremendous to us over many, many, many years. There’s folks who see it and know it, and quite often that’s good enough.

BO: That’s the other thing—the audience has gotten so much bigger because of DVDs, but I do wish it was streaming on Netflix. That would be great. But it’s grown a lot since we were on the air. I’m rewarded.

DC: And our stuff holds up. It’s not as dated as other stuff. Somebody made us aware of this thing that’s like “Mr. Show predicts the future,” and I think there are like 16 examples of things that we talked about or subjects we broached that basically came true, and that’s very satisfying—that somebody’s keeping tabs on how brilliant we were. [Laughs.]

AVC: The closure question more came from the stuff in the book about Run Ronnie Run, which obviously you had some regrets about. It was the last representation of Mr. Show in a way.

DC: We’re so over that.

BO: I don’t know if this reflects your experience, David, but I still think that thing played out in a horrible way, but after being close to more features over the years, it’s such a difficult arena to work in. I’ve seen the stresses and strains on working in feature films, especially with a studio, are so hard.

DC: Those don’t cause a person to be duplicitous and underhanded, though.

BO: I know, but I’m just saying that movies go through such hell, that it’s not that special.

DC: But we’re really over it, and we have been for a long, long time. It really doesn’t concern us or affect us. There’s no residual shit that goes on. It was a long time ago, and we’ve moved on. We have careers. Back then there was a bit of rawness to it because, as we mentioned in the book, that was going to be our moment. And when that didn’t happen, there was a sense as guys in our early 30s like, “Oh shit, what if we never work again?” And that was clearly not the case. So we come at it from a much different place with hindsight. But believe me, it’s not an issue for us at all. Josh, are you crying?

AVC: Just a little choked up; I’ll be okay. Did HBO ever come back and suggest doing a fifth season, à la Arrested Development?

BO: No, no, no, no, no.

DC: Nope.

AVC: Do you guys want to talk about the other stuff you have coming up? Bob, you’re working on The Birthday Boys show, and David you just finished directing a movie…

DC: It’s a documentary about a sketch group coming together on IFC, which should premiere this fall. They were not aware that I was filming at all. It’s hit or miss, and it was run by this incredibly autocratic megalomaniac out in L.A., and it just documents the behind the scenes… I bugged their houses. I bugged their cars. Bob, what’s your thing about?

BO: I’m doing a sketch show with The Birthday Boys, a Los Angeles-based sketch-comedy group, and it’s coming on IFC in October, and I’ve been having the greatest time doing it. It’s really funny, silly shit. I can’t wait for you guys to see it. A lot of things have been called sketch in the last five years, and they’re fun to watch, but they’re people in character goofing around, and they don’t really have a sketch joke at the core of it that they play out. These guys are actually doing real sketches and executing them really well, with good production values.

AVC: And David, do you want say anything more serious about your directorial debut, Hits?

DC: We just started cutting and it’s taking shape. I had a fucking fantastic time shooting it, and I have an amazing cast. We’ll definitely talk more about it when there’s something more tangible to talk about. Certainly The A.V. Club will be first and foremost on the list. You guys have been really generous and nice to us over the years, on all of our stuff.

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