It was old school week on Bill Maher’s Friday Real Time. Fresh off a week away while his Adulting special ran in his regular HBO time slot, Maher celebrated his return by bringing in an old friend from the comedy circuit.
Bob Odenkirk, the Better Call Saul actor, comedian, producer, and author of the new memoir, Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama, sat with Maher to talk about what it takes to stand on a stage and make an audience laugh.
But first, the talk turned to a Maher favorite of Odenkirk’s work: Mr. Show with Bob and David, a sketch comedy program which aired on HBO from 1995 to 1998.
“We were trying to copy (Monty) Python,” Odenkirk recalled. “We tried to keep that energy going. We packed a lot of ideas into them.” Sadly, Odenkirk didn’t say anything about a possible reprise of the beloved show.
Odenkirk allowed that he didn’t do much during his time as a writer on Saturday Night Live, where he toiled as a writer from 1987 to 1991 and again from 1992 to 1995. Odenkirk said broad comedy was not his forte. “I couldn’t pull it off,” he admitted. “I learned everything I know there, and they got nothing out of me. I took what I learned and came to L.A., and I made a career.”
One of the things Odenkirk learned was that “There should be an element of anger in comedy. It’s got a little edge,” something that the early SNL had in spades. “It’s a generational thing,” Odenkirk said of the show. “If you weren’t part of that generation, you didn’t get it. I loved that. I loved that there was a show that you had to find your way into the brain of the people who made it.”
The two comic reminisced about their methods of dealing with a standup career, particularly during the ’80s comedy boom. “It was great for a little while, then we ruined it,” Maher joked.
“I couldn’t stand the confrontational nature of standup,” Odenkirk said, terming it “a fight with the audience.”
One thing they agreed on was a sketch Odenkirk did where he played film producer Robert Evans running a booth as God. Maher saw the sketch at the Aspen Comedy Festival, and nearly died in the thin air while laughing at Odenkirk’s dead-on voice imitation of Evans.
“It’s a great way of thinking about God,” Odenkirk allowed.
Odenkirk revealed that his standup career stalled because “I couldn’t tell a joke more than twice without hating it.” He added, “A real pro has to be able to do that tight 20, that core material that you bring through the years.”
“I’m never on tour,” Maher said, noting his live set consists of two shows and then he heads home for a month.
“You do happen to have a TV show,” Odenkirk teased.
Odenkirk said his new book was mostly about “making your way and not quitting. It’s show biz, and if you keep looking for opportunities, (they come).” He revealed that his star turn in Better Call Saul basically fell in his lap. “I never read for it, never took an acting class.”
After Odenkirk’s star turn, the panel discussion featured CNN commentator, senior writer of The Federalist, and cohost of the “Getting Hammered Podcast,” Mary Katherine Ham, and staff writer at The Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan. Their discussion covered masks (they think it’s past time to get rid of them), school closings (also bad), and the polarization in the nation, particularly wth the Walt Disney Co.’s handling of its recent crisis in Florida.