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In a TV sketch-comedy world littered with canceled corpses (Saturday Night Special, The Edge, the widely praised Ben Stiller Show) and successful-but-spotty veterans (Saturday Night Live, Mad TV), HBO's Mr. Show has won richly deserved praise from both critics and cable-ready fans. The show's creators and stars, Bob Odenkirk and David Cross, recently spoke to The Onion about how difficult it is to make the best sketch-comedy program on television.
The Onion: So, what's going on in your lives?
Bob Odenkirk: Well, all that's happening in our lives is we're writing and working on Mr. Show. It's a fucking hellish bitch that won't get off our backs.
David Cross: A tempestuous shrew.
BO: And we will do anything, anything at this point, to finish it up, get a laugh as we're leaving, and run. Run, run from the studio.
DC: Not look back.
BO: We're working our asses off to do justice to the last few episodes we're working on, as much as we did the first few. That's the hard thing.
DC: It's really caught up with us, our lack of proper preparation time. It's sort of catching up to us now in the final stretch.
BO: As of now, we've done seven shows out of the 10 we have to do, and they're good. They're all super-solid; every one of them is great, and I don't feel like we've dropped the ball yet. Now, we have three left to go, and I know the next two are really strong. With the last one, we're still struggling at this late date. We have to do it in the next week and a half. We have some good ideas to fix it up; it's just more last-minute than we would want.
O: Exhaustion is setting in at this point?
BO: We're very tired.
DC: It is in, my friend. It's in, it's set up camp, and it's not going anywhere.
O: So, you're out of ideas.
DC: No, no. But to be totally honest, there is a marked difference in our energy level. It's different when you're in your seventh month as opposed to your third month.
BO: Not to be egotistical, but it asks a lot of you to be brilliant day in and day out, and to be as ground-breaking as we are. Have you ever tried to break the ground in a brilliant way? That is hard to do. We want to keep things up to the same level that we always have. We don't want any show to be... You know, I worked at another big-name sketch show for a long time—I'm not going to say the name—but there was a real attitude of, "Yeah, we got our laughs. We got our three laughs; it's done. We filled an hour and a half." And really, that was the attitude from the word go, and we never, ever want to feel that way. We never want to look at a show and go, "Eh, we filled a half-hour."
DC: The Edge was an hour and a half long?
BO: [Laughs.] We want to look at each show as if it were the only show we were doing.
DC: It's tough. It was a fear we had when we started; we knew the schedule was going to be very, very tight for us. For obvious reasons... Those fears were substantiated. You just have to make the last one as good as the first nine, and it's hard, because we're still dealing with rehearsing, and we still have stuff to shoot. We have one week to do... Oh, it's fucking nuts. It's crazy. I can't fucking wait until it's over. I'm just going to cry a deep, weird cry—the kind of cry that's not happy or sad.
O: What made the process different this time around?
DC: Well, [HBO] expected more shows this time around, in the same amount of time, so you're not gaining any time.
BO: But we still wrote these 10 shows the way we wrote the first batch of four and the second batch of six; we sat down and wrote a bunch of scenes that made us laugh—all different kinds of scenes. Then we started putting them in order, and finding connections between them. So as far as the actual process of writing the show goes, we did the exact same thing we've done every time. And we have seven shows right now that are awesome. I just think we've found a limit of how many shows we can do in this length of time. Fans of the show should look forward to a great season, and ideas that are going to come just as fast and be just as cool and interesting as any other.
O: How long are you guys going to do this?
DC: Honestly, Bob and I have talked about this with numerous people involved with the show. It just depends on the time we get to do the next 10, if we do 10. This is not enough time to do it properly.
BO: It doesn't help that they make us sleep upright. We eat G.I. rations. Worms are eating away at the skin of David's feet. It's called Wormfoot. Chunks fall off.