For more than three decades Bob Odenkirk has amassed an absolutely unfuckwithable comedic résumé that includes co-starring on Mr. Show, writing for SNL, penning dozens of TV and film’s most irreverent comedies, and starring in many more. Still, this legendary laughsmith was all but invisible to a massive sect of viewers until he was tacked on as comic relief in two of basic cable’s best modern dramas. Tuesday night, Pabst Theater’s lower level was crammed with people, each with their own hopes in regard to which Bob Odenkirk would take the stage.
Would cult comedy nerds be treated to the Bob “GOD DAMMIT!” Odenkirk who once derailed a train with his penis then ate it piece by piece (“It was for charity!”) on Mr. Show? Would he channel Saul Goodman or reference Fargo to skew to the older and more recently indoctrinated in attendance? Or would he simply anchor his performance on A Load Of Hooey, his new book that was the true reason for his visit?
After the guest of honor ambled out (sans opener) and stood before a mic stand situated beside a understated table setup with a glittery “Meet The Author” sign, he quickly revealed himself to be a Milwaukee “quitter,” having dropped out of Marquette after just a year of enrollment. “I can handle the Jesuits…but the cold, man!” Odenkirk bellowed. “I remember putting on a winter coat on April 1st.” Requisite regional climate material (as locally specific as it was) out of the way, the headliner eased into his set with folksy, subtle jokes to carefully welcome new fans not as adept to his absurd and occasionally offensive alter ego. There were identifiable bits about technology (“Nobody’s got that clapping app,”) his son hating him, and his awful poker tells. Around the edge of his intro, he sprinkled some breadcrumbs to lead back to his more abrasive origin, with an impersonation of Robert E. Lee signing the treaty to end the Civil War in Appomattox (“Can we keep slavery? No? I didn’t think so, but I promised the guys I’d ask.”) and calling Garrison Keillor “bullshit” in jest.
Following the all-around affable intro, he read the first of many hilarious Hooey book excerpts, then echoed it with a Broadway-esque monologue-turned-song proclaiming “Anything can happen at a book signing!” before it devolved into a BeeGee’s song. “Why not have a song at the beginning of your book-fucking-signing?!” Odenkirk sneered. Having now shown every audience member his duality, Odenkirk married his penchant for intellectual prose with his ability to reel in laughs on stage by reading unabridged versions of famous quotes and his life story with such tidbits as “I was circumcised and have remained so since.” Of course, the election day set had a handful of political bits, though most were directed at the vague shortcomings of careerist politicans on both sides of the aisle. “Some people think I’m conservative,” he started. “That’s because I stood next to David Cross for five years.”
If one qualm could be raised with the unorthodox show format, Odenkirk’s unannounced involvement of unknown performers at three points of the show (in which he left the stage for 10-minute periods) detracted from the spirit of the show. That said, the variety of the choices—acerbic youngster Brandon Wardell, bitter political vet Tom Johnson, and Chicago improviser Chris Witaske—each offered a diverse perspective in their five-minute sets, then read a short Hooey passage before welcoming Odenkirk back. Following more riffing and reading from the author, he called his supporting acts out on stage to act in a short script he’d written about the invention of Twitter as he aggressively directed. To bring the show home, Odenkirk welcomed in a Q&A session with “You can ask me about Saul. I can’t answer anything,” before talking about working with Chris Farley at Second City, working with Tim & Eric, and the real Matt Foley (a Marquette faculty member who inspired the seminal SNL character Odenkirk created) to find things coming full circle.
During his 90-plus-minute set, the versatile performer skillfully dipped into and out of each of his vastly different fan bases (and tied it all together with his book of essays) to spawn a hilarious, freewheeling, and generally entertaining book signing/stage show hybrid from which all comedians-turned-authors could learn.