Long before Bob Odenkirk's magnum opus that is the portrayal of Saul Goodman / Jimmy McGill on Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, he was a comedy legend in his own right. While many might be familiar with his work on Mr. Show with Bob and David, or even his breakout starring role in the action thriller Nobody earlier this year (also one of my top 5 movies of 2021 so far), Odenkirk made himself a fixture of multiple other tv shows and films through the last four decades. Here are five favorites you might have missed:
Manson – The Ben Stiller Show
Absolutely one of my favorite sketches of all time is Bob Odenkirk as Charles Manson in this clip from the single, brilliant season of The Ben Stiller Show which aired on Fox in 1992. Co-starring Andy Dick and Janeane Garofalo, the sketch posits "What if the 1950's tv show Lassie, but instead of a border collie, it was crazy-talking Uncle Charlie?"
It's one of the tightest sketches of all time in terms of laughs per second, and Odenkirk's Manson is pitch-perfect, really channeling the essence of his particular brand of maniacal ravings. The sketch ended up winning an Emmy for writing for Odenkirk and co, but it was awarded after the show had already been canceled. Truly, genius is never appreciated in its time.
America Blows Up the Moon – Mr. Show
It's nearly impossible to find the single best sketch from Mr. Show, but somehow this one about blowing up the moon has always landed in that sweet spot. It's not only absolutely insane but also has an incredible depth by zigging and zagging every which way. Truly, it doesn't end where you expect it to end.
No, wait, it kind of does. Because America blows up the moon. But the path getting there is truly epic and showcases Odenkirk's range and versatility, including as a country-western star named C.S. Lewis, Jr. It's those jokes layered on jokes delivered by perfect performances that show off how truly great Odenkirk is. But it's also how it nails the zeitgeist of American exceptionalism, jingoism, and propensity for ridiculous violence that makes this a classic satire. Historians will look back on it as indicative of the turn of the millennium.
Porno Gil – Curb Your Enthusiasm
Warning: This clip does contain "spicy" language about porn and Odenkirk being a porn star, so maybe don't watch this in the office with the sound up? Or do and be like Larry David.
Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker – Saturday Night Live
Ah, but Odenkirk wasn't in that sketch, you say. And you are correct, but Bob was a writer on SNL alongside Conan O'Brien, Robert Smigel, and Al Franken in the late '80s and early '90s (before later reteaming with Conan and Smigel as writers on Late Night with Conan). And "Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker" was a sketch he wrote for Chris Farley as part of sketch comedy stage work they did at Second City in Chicago before bringing it wholesale over to SNL to go live in a van down by the river.
Deconstructed, the sketch is pure Odenkirk with the right blend of pathos, awkwardness, and comedy. He also knew he was writing for Farley and played to his specific strengths. It is arguably one of the greatest sketches ever aired on SNL and most certainly stands above all others from the early 90's era. Thank you, Odenkirk, you comedy genius.
Tom Goes to the Mayor / Tim and Eric, Awesome Show! Great Job!
Last but certainly not least, it's important to note that Odenkirk executive produced and nurtured Tom Goes to the Mayor and its follow-up series Tim and Eric, Awesome Show! Great Job! After meeting Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, Odenkirk used his clout to develop their show, eventually landing it at [adult swim].
Odenkirk not only acted as Executive Producer but also made a cameo in the pilot alongside his Mr. Show co-stars Jack Black and Kyle Gass aka Tenacious D, but that's another story about how Odenkirk and David Cross indirectly created the greatest rock band in the history of all time. Odenkirk's tiny cameo here as "Mike Foxx" remains one of the best Tom Goes to the Mayor moments of all time. Here's hoping they catch that mysterious child-murdering drifter who doesn't look anything like Odenkirk with a mustache.
Hey, all of Tom Goes to the Mayor and Awesome Show, Great Job! are available on HBO Max alongside other [adult swim] content, including the time Bob and David appeared on Space Ghost: Coast to Coast, as is Mr. Show. And Curb Your Enthusiasm. And the episodes of The Larry Sanders Show Odenkirk was on. And you should also, obviously, be checking out Better Call Saul on AMC. The Ben Stiller Show isn't available to stream anywhere because obviously someone is trying to suppress it because of cancel culture or some other imagined grievance. No, probably because of music rights or something. You can watch more of the Odenkirk years of Saturday Night Live on Peacock.
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