Their sketches include a prenatal beauty pageant, NASA blowing up the moon, an East Coast-West Coast rivalry among ventriloquists, an ad campaign titled "NAMBLA: We're not killers," a team of self-pitying moguls who successfully sue the American public for not attending Coupon: The Movie... ¬ Spread over a scant 30 episodes and aired at this-Sominex-isn't-working hours on HBO, these and other bits from the late Mr. Show with Bob and David have passed into the semi-popular consciousness of America as surely as Monty Python did three decades ago. Like those forebears, Bob Odenkirk and David Cross just barely trump their social radicalism with rampant absurdism. (The second episode alone pilloried anti-NEA grandstanders, hemp partisans, ex-gay ministries, ex-gays, motivational hucksters--all while making light of abortion, the Middle Passage, and the art of puppetry.) Their meta-humor is so reflexive that they spend several minutes of our conference call (with Bob in L.A. and David in New York) laughing about putting one over on a previous interviewer.
A new DVD has collected the first two seasons of Mr. Show, and their current tour hits the State Theatre on Sunday, September 29. All this may or may not spur the release of Mr. Show's major motion picture, Run Ronnie Run, which was a hit at Sundance last winter but remains shelved by New Line Cinema. It features a scene in which a nude Mandy Patinkin croons the lyric, "Can't a man not control his bitch with violence?/Y'all are brutalizin' me."
And now for something completely different...
City Pages: So when's Run Ronnie Run coming out?
David Cross: Dude, are you serious? It came out over the summer.
Bob Odenkirk: It was huge. It was bigger than Spider-Man. Did you go to Europe or something?
Cross: Were you remembering September 11 too long?
No, you want to know the truth? What I tell people is that I don't know the answers to any of that. New Line has it. They don't talk to us. I swear to God. You'll go and publish this article, they'll tell you something, and then when this article comes out, I'll leaf through it, and go, "Oh, that's what's going on right now."
[Editor's note: "Right now I know it's not on the slate," says Mary Donovan, executive vice president of corporate affairs at New Line Cinema.]
Odenkirk: We don't really like the cut that's finished. It has some funny moments and some great scenes, but overall, it's kind of sluggish and maudlin.
But we have no power. We got kicked out by the director [Troy Miller] on the second day of editing. If it never comes out, that's probably best, 'cause then we don't have to justify or explain why it's not better.
CP: Did you ever have any ideas you thought were too extreme for the show?
Odenkirk: Not that I can remember. If we thought it was funny, we'd figure out a way to do it. I mean, we thought having retarded parents would be hilarious. Then we thought, "Well, how can this not just be about a bunch of comedy writers going, 'Look how funny retarded parents would be'?"
It took awhile, but we did a scene about how the last six of seven Oscars had gone to portrayals of characters who had mental or physical disabilities, how that kind of portrayal in a movie gets you a reaction that's kind of cheap.
Cross: The phrase What a brave choice--that's what really got us. How is that a brave choice for an actor? You're a fucking actor!
CP: Do you guys store up annoyances and outrages for possible sketches?
Odenkirk: Yeah. That's where comedy comes from--just hating stupidity and hypocrisy.
CP: You keep notebooks?
Odenkirk: David keeps a notebook...of myideas.
Cross: It's called "Remembrances," and it's got two unicorns with wings, which I call zephyrs, which is a Greek word for "wind"...
Odenkirk: And then I have one of those voice recorders for his ideas, and he calls me. It's a real drag.
Cross: It costs me a dollar a minute. It's part of a service he set up. He makes a ton of money off it.
Odenkirk: Half the time I accidentally erase his brilliant notion. But you know, until somebody comes up with a better system...
Cross: What are you gonna do?
CP: You guys are so annoyed by hypocrisy that a lot of people wonder how you can function in show business.
Cross: Wait, wait. Did you say "hypocrisy"? Because I thought you said "hip-hop aristocracy"--which, really, I have a problem with.
Odenkirk: They're not real kings and queens! Trace the bloodline!
Cross: You just have to have a thick skin. And look, we're the one-millionth artist to complain about this exact same thing.
Odenkirk: That's why we got that award! Did you get your award thing, David? It's a gold plaque: "One-Millionth Artist to Complain About the Industry."
Cross: We got a hundred-dollar shopping spree at Staples.
CP: Have you gotten any reaction from R&B artists about [your group] Three Times One Minus One?
Odenkirk: Yes! We were led to believe that Dr. Dre is a big fan, and that he showed it to a bunch of people.
Cross: Method Man and Redman are fans. Biz Markie actually said these words to me: "Man, Mr. Show and Benny Hill, the two funniest shows on TV." But you know about his Beanie Baby thing, right? This is as of a couple years ago, but he has spent over $100,000 on Beanie Babies. I'm not kidding.
Odenkirk: That is fucked up.
CP: Did you guys recognize each other as future creative partners when you were writing The Ben Stiller Show together?
Odenkirk: No, I was a Korean comfort wife and David sent for me. I got mailed Federal Express over to L.A.
Cross: Yeah, I didn't put you together correctly at first. I don't know if you've ever gotten something from Ikea, but you can't really understand the instructions. So I put Bob together in the exact wrong way.
Odenkirk: Listen to this: My ass was inside my penis. Think about it.
Cross: Which I left, actually, 'cause I thought that was kind of interesting.
CP: And this became the basis for a relationship...that is currently long-distance?
Odenkirk: And getting longer! We're each walking in opposite directions! We'll see whoever gets to the ocean first.
And when we do the shows, David will be on the east side of the stage and I'll be on the west side of the stage.
Cross: Yeah. It suits our personalities, because Bob's a kind of laid-back surfer guy and he's totally about hangin' and chillin'...
Odenkirk: Dude, I'm totally about big-wave surfing. It's about "eat the wave."
Cross: Mmmmm. Nice.
Odenkirk: David's all about the New York literary world.
Cross: Yeah, I have a lot of Andover Prep Academy friends.
Odenkirk: Are you calling from the Harvard Club right now?
Cross: I'm calling from the Ye Olde Harvard Club, which is above the Harvard Club. And it's very strict. You have to wear two suits.
Odenkirk: Dude, I'm totally gonna hit the beaners. I'm gonna flip some schwanks today. But first I'm gonna start my day, my diddley day, with a little fishy-egg burreeetooooh. So you guys hang ten, or whatever it is you do.
Cross: I'm gonna go talk about Proust.