Mr. Show

The show must go on

Every year around this time, The Onion talks to Bob Odenkirk and David Cross, the stars and masterminds behind HBO's brilliant Mr. Show, a 30-minute, intricately constructed, satirical sketch-comedy series that's funnier than anything else on TV. The first new episode of the fall season premieres Oct. 26, but in the meantime, the network will air hour-long best-of shows Oct. 5, Oct. 8, Oct. 14, and Oct. 20. Even better, HBO will soon air the complete Mr. Show catalog in five-hour blocks: The first 10 episodes air Oct. 9, and the second 10 air Oct. 16. If you haven't seen it, and have access to HBO, don't miss it.

The Onion: When last we spoke, about a year ago, Bob referred to your workload as "a hellish fucking bitch." Is the same true this year?

David Cross: No. It's difficult now, and difficult in the home stretch, but it's not nearly as bad as it was last year.

Bob Odenkirk: It's a different kind of hell, in a way. We felt that last year's 10th show was not a good show. And with all the pressure coming down on us now, and all the different kinds of work we have to do at this point in our schedule... We're writing, we're rewriting, we're shooting already, we're editing... Everything piles up. We don't want that last show to be the same thing last year's show was, where it was just us barely groaning it out. You can't do that to yourself too many times, where you just beat the shit out of your body for months. I've got to be really careful, because I got really sick a few weeks ago, and it was just from being run-down. Plus, my wife is pregnant. We're going to have a baby as soon as the season's over.

O: She's holding it in until then?

BO: I told her, you know, I can't do it right now. I told her I could take care of the baby, but I couldn't love a baby right now. She could have it, but I'm just gonna barely tolerate it.

O: Last year, at the point we talked, you were going to do 13 episodes, but you ended up doing 10.

BO: Right, and this year, we knew right away that we could only do 10.

DC: That's all we want to do.

BO: The show is so labor-intensive, and there's so much production in each episode, that it really limits how much you can do while keeping the quality up. One of our best episodes last year, maybe the best, was the ninth. But then the last one had some scenes that just weren't served very well. Not that anyone noticed, but we were just really aware of how wiped out we were. We want to be steady on these 10, and focus on all of them and make them all special, and not get so wiped out by the end. But maybe we won't be able to do that. We get so backed up every year. I don't think we could work more than we do. We work steady for months. We don't do other projects. We just write this show and try to maintain our standards, and that's life. This is what we can do, I guess.

O: If it's any consolation at all, it does bring a great deal of joy...

BO: ...to a very small number of people.

DC: You know what? No consolation. I wish it was. I really wish it was. It means very little.

BO: I don't really know how David feels about this, but it has begun to really bother me how few people know about the show. It didn't used to bother me. I used to say, "Hey, I don't care, as long as we're on the air." But now, I'm starting to really go, "We work so fuckin' hard, and I think our show is really special, and it just seems to be ignored."

DC: Well, I feel a little differently in the sense that... I don't think it's just blind optimism, but the nature of this kind of thing is that awareness will continue to steadily grow. I think that even if we stop and go away for three years, it's still going to grow and grow—slowly, but it will.

O: Keep in mind that, years down the line, it could find a larger audience.

BO: Well, yeah, we keep that in mind. You know, I've never in my life proceeded with a project because I thought it would please more people than the last thing I did. I've never had that as a motivation. But at the same time, part of me feels like it understands that motivation—that there's some legitimacy to going, "You know what? I just want to please more people." I wouldn't blame somebody for saying that and meaning it. I kind of understand that now. But at the same time, I don't think it's a good impetus for choosing any project, or a good way to proceed, because I think it's kind of false. In order to follow it, you have to kind of assume that what you think [is funny] will please other people, and that's never good. It's always best to do what you think is the funniest or smartest thing you can do. We just want to create something we can watch five years from now, and that keeps us from indulging a lot of momentary impulses.

O: Yeah, you don't do a lot of topical stuff.

DC: We disguise it. We don't call people by their names. We have familiar figures, but they're couched in something that will hold up.

BO: Yeah, but we're going to do something this year about property taxes in L.A. That's something where I think 10 years from now, I'm still going to care about it.

DC: [Laughs.] That would be so funny!

BO: Because that extra .3% matters. It matters.

DC: You've got a kid now, you know?

BO: Yeah, America's got a kid now. Our audience has got a kid now, and they just bought a house in L.A. There are things that people are thinking about, and the point is, the price of bassinets has gone up, and we all want to know, "What's the deal?"

Filed Under: TV, Comedy

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