‘Better Call Saul’ Stars Veteran Comedian

Better Call Saul

The star of the anticipated series Better Call Saul may be familiar to audiences from his recurring role on the acclaimed series Breaking Bad, but Bob Odenkirk is a veteran comedian, and his reputation precedes him for more mature audiences. Bob spent nearly a decade writing and refining his writing skills and performance clout before tackling a refreshing sketch comedy show in the late 90’s. From that point on, Bob Odenkirk’s career has only become more well-rounded and his resume more decorated.

Success seems likely for the actor’s forthcoming series, a spin-off of a well-received primetime crime drama for which Odenkirk’s character provided a little comic levity. In 2012, Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan teased at the idea of a spin-off series that would highlight the adventures of back-page New Mexico strip mall lawyer, Saul Goodman, played by Odenkirk. Now, with the help of Netflix and AMC, the production of Better Call Saul is reportedly in full swing. The show got picked up for a second season (despite the fact that season one will not air until early 2015), began filming in New Mexico June 2. Better Call Saul is billed as a prequel to the hit series Breaking Bad, which chronicled the misadventures of a cancer patient and high school chemist turned meth chef.

Odenkirk has strong roots in theatre, and got his start in stand up and improv comedy while attending Southern Illinois University Carbondale for three years. He formally began his career in 1987 with the renowned weekly sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live, where he contributed for four years. Working closely with the likes of David Spade, Chris Farley and Adam Sandler, among other successful humorists such as Conan O’Brien and Robert Smigel (of TV Funhouse animated productions), Odenkirk left SNL richer in sketch writing experience. The connections and friendships made in these formative roles would shape Odenkirk’s body of work tremendously.

Long before Better Call Saul, the comedian was contributing to other stars and veteran actors, such as Chris Farley. (Audiences may remember the character “Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker,” which was adapted from an Odenkirk character developed for Flag Burning Permitted in Lobby Only). The years during his work at SNL were fruitful for Odenkirk; he worked with SNL writers O’Brien and Smigel on stage performances (including Happy Happy Good Show), and also a one-man presentation (Show Acting Guy).

From here, Odenkirk went on to write for a number of television programs. He worked with the well-known entertainer Chris Elliot on his program Get a Life (1991), on the Dennis Miller Show (1992), the Ben Stiller Show (also in 1992, and which won an Emmy thanks in part to Odenkirk’s writing), and also with his friend Conan O’Brien on Late Night with Conan O’Brien. In 1993, the entertainer also began a recurring role on the Larry Sanders Show as Sanders’ agent, a performance which he would revisit intermittently through 1998.

It was in 1992, at the Ben Stiller Show, that Odenkirk would meet David Cross. Together, the pair created Mr. Show, a cult classic program which ran on HBO for 33 episodes (or four seasons) between 1995 and 1998. The show, while never quite achieving the notoriety that many fans believed it was due, was a success nonetheless. The writing team at Mr. Show was nominated for several Emmy awards, Cross and Odenkirk included.

Mr. Show was an avant-garde sketch comedy show that blended stage performance with pre-taped segments before a live audience. The program was so acclaimed, in part, because of the wide variety of emerging and established comedians who performed on the show, including Jack Black, Sarah Silverman, and Brian Posehn, to name just a handful. Fans of the presentation recall how the minor characters of one sketch would exit the stage only to become the lead actor in the following segment. These sketches were imaginatively linked, making for “smart” comedy that was well-received by critics and audiences alike. Each episode was comprised of random, often absurd, bold sketches, all linked by one common theme in each installment. Few topics seemed off-limits to the demurely in-your-face vignettes, from marital aids to race issues. However, as is evidenced by the show’s Emmy nominations, these sketches were confident, artful, and unlike almost any other show on the air at that time.

Since his comedic performances on Mr. Show, the Better Call Saul star has worked with several programs and veteran talent, a substantial number of these engagements being lauded as successful. The popular Adult Swim comedy The Tim and Eric Show was made possible thanks to the guidance of Bob Odenkirk, who helped the show’s creators Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim develop both the inaugural and second seasons of the program.

Another brief word about Bob Odenkirk and his work with David Cross: the pair reunited briefly in 2008 to film a pilot for a show similar to the esteemed Mr. Show. The dynamic duo, however, never had the opportunity to complete the project. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Cross reports that the network alotted $400,000 for the pair to work with. When the comedy team approached the network with ideas for changes after taping, the project came to a standstill. It seems that the project had exhausted its budget, and was, unfortunately, never revisited.

Bob Odenkirk has also had a number of cameo roles since his earliest days at SNL, including parts in Seinfeld, Just Shoot Me!, Arrested Development, and How I Met Your Mother. Odenkirk helped to direct the film Movie 43, and has accepted parts in several acclaimed roles since his appearance in AMC’s Breaking Bad. Accomplished entertainer and director Bob Odenkirk’s most recognized role is certainly Saul Goodman, lawyer to Walter White and Jesse Pinkman in New Mexico’s gritty underworld. The crime drama, while a far cry from Odenkirk’s roots, is complemented by recurring roles from “comedian’s comedian” Bill Burr, who was selected to play one of Saul Goodman’s henchmen-at-arms.

Breaking Bad was entered into the 2014 Guinness Book of World Records as the highest rated show of all time, and won a host of awards over its five seasons, among them two Primetime Emmy’s and two Golden Globe awards. With the acclaim received by the parent series Breaking Bad, it is speculated that Better Call Saul will draw large audiences and, as AMC president Charlie Collier put it, be a “true television event.” If the veteran comedian were looking to revive a comedy tour within the next few years, his starring role as Saul Goodman in the upcoming Better Call Saul would provide excellent fodder for some of the adversarial comedy for which Odenkirk is, at his best, known for.

Opinion by Mariah Beckman

Sources:
Rolling Stone
USA Today
Variety
Vanity Fair, Cross Pleads Mercy
Vanity Fair, Mr. Pilot
Better Call Saul (promotional website)
Funny or Die
TCM
NPR
Rolling Stone
Consequence of Sound

Your Thoughts?