We got a ton of requests for the Mr. T PSA sketch to go online, so here it is! Happy Thanksgiving, internet!
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There are many forms of fuck at Bob Odenkirk’s disposal: the anguished, slow-motion version he emits while watching bad comedy (“It’s just a fffuckin’ mess!”), the whispered yet still damnably loud variant he uses when remembering one of his own terrible sketches (“The first draft of that Amish thing was a fuckin’ absurdity!”), and a high-pitched, roof-scratching, all-purpose edition that he applies to pretty much every other situation (“I met a 70-year-old woman who wants to take sketch-comedy classes! FOCKin-A!”). It’s a word he brandishes frequently, even in the best of moods.
On this midsummer afternoon, Odenkirk is delivering his fucks in a windowless room in Hollywood, surrounded by the members of the Birthday Boys, a seven-man Los Angeles comedy troupe whose new, Odenkirk-produced TV series debuts on IFC in October. They’re ostensibly gathered to eat lunch and discuss production logistics, but, as is so often the case when hanging around Odenkirk, the session has quickly turned into a lengthy and learned dissertation on comedy, with him riffing on everything from Saturday Night Live to Monty Python to a noisy, unwatchable ’70s oddity called The Goodies (“Just fffuckin’ cacophony!” he yells, watching a clip on his laptop).
Odenkirk is best known as the character actor who plays the efficiently sleazy strip-mall lawyer Saul Goodman on Breaking Bad—a character so well embodied, he’s getting his very own spinoff, Better Call Saul. But, as it happens, Odenkirk is also a comedy cleric of the highest order. He’s been writing sketches for more than 25 years now, and without him a certain strain of modern humor—a kind of sketch comedy that’s rigorously silly, intelligently designed, and more than a little self-aware—likely wouldn’t exist, largely due to one show. In the mid-’90s Odenkirk teamed with David Cross (who would later go on to play Arrested Development‘s never-nudist Tobias Fünke) to create Mr. Show With Bob and David, a wisely profane, daringly intricate half-hour series that ran on HBO from 1995 to 1998.
Mr. Show wasn’t a hit when it aired, but over the years the series accrued the kind of brainiac-maniac following usually reserved for gloomy-puss novelists or obscure Chapel Hill rock bands. It also predated and informed the quick-hit viral clips that are now regularly devoured on sites like Funny or Die and Channel 101. You didn’t just want to quote the best Mr. Show bits; you wanted to immediately pop in a DVD (or perhaps a VHS tape) and show them to your friends, partly so they could share in the fun and partly because you knew that if they didn’t laugh, you probably shouldn’t be friends with them in the first place.
In that way, Mr. Show managed to perfect YouTube-ready sketch comedy before YouTube was ever invented. And its approach has since been adopted by a generation of comedy writers and performers who smudge the lines between online and traditional media, who in fact may no longer recognize a difference.
Sarah Larson on HBO’s immortal “Mr. Show”: http://nyr.kr/16u5nan
“Jarring, daring, and freewheeling, ‘Mr. Show’ had sketches about shaming rapists and cloning Hitler, but also about novelty-song monster parties and a teen-age, Kiss-loving Dalai Lama. It hit a certain mark so definitively that you had to tell your friends about it and thrust it into their hands.”
Comedy Time Warp: Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist (1996)
Featuring Bob Odenkirk, Marc Maron, and Emo Philips.
20 years ago this week.
WHAT IF THERE’S BEARS?
This video is and will always be great.