In his new McSweeney’s book A Load of Hooey, comedy genius Bob Odenkirk gives you the giggles with a series of bite-sized poems, essays, and stories that are gleefully absurd and very, very funny. There are one-star Internet reviews (on the Bible: “the only magic power the Jesus character had for me was the power to conquer insomnia!!”), silly poetry (“I Found a Jackson Pollock!”), and famous quotes and important advice (“So You Want to Get a Tattoo!”: Step 3: Do Not Be Drunk and in a Hurry).
While Odenkirk is a man of myriad talents — to barely scratch the surface, as a comedy writer, he’s worked for Saturday Night Live and The Ben Stiller Show, produced sketch shows like The Birthday Boys on IFC, and he will bring back his Breaking Bad character Saul Goodman for AMC’s Better Call Saul spin-off, premiering in February 2015 — A Load of Hooey will probably hit you in the “I miss his classic, hilarious HBO sketch series Mr. Show with Bob and David” spot. We had the chance to talk to him about the science of comedy writing, death, and a little bit of Better Call Saul in a recent email interview.
Flavorwire: Is there a difference between how you approach writing humor for the page versus for performance?
Bob Odenkirk: I did not approach it differently. But, I can do some literary riffing here that you would never do in writing for a performance. Being cute with words and how they are laid out… but as far as approach, I just thought of things that made me laugh.
There sure are some highfalutin references in here, from Jackson Pollock to Hitler! How do you wrench comedy out of them?
Highfalutin things are ripe for comedy! They have some dignity and you can poke at that and find some funny. We need more highfalutin things, because we don’t have much anymore… everything is ironic or comically outsized from the get-go already.
Who are your comedic influences? You can certainly hear some Bob Newhart stammer in your work.
Yeah, but please don’t blame Mr. Newhart for my comedy. He is wonderful, and I suppose there is some shared Midwestern stammering in our presentation. I probably am more influenced by Monty Python mixed with Anger.
How do you wield the exclamation point when writing comedy?
Too freely. I wasn’t too hard on myself in editing, and I’m sure a more driven editor would have asked me to chill out on the exclamation points and the dashes, I love to use dashes, to insert those stammers, to try to force some performance into the reader’s brain. I am a puppet master.
Is Paul McCartney the funniest Beatle? I was surprised how much I thought he was in your piece “The Origin of ‘Blackbird'” (which features the line: “John, save the day and yowl us all one of your patented free-form political diatribes to obliterate the memory of my gummy treacle!”).
I think Lennon was funny, but maybe Ringo was the funniest. He certainly took himself the least seriously of the Beatles, but George Harrison helped Monty Python make their movies, so he had a great sense of humor. They were all pretty darn funny.
What piece in this collection speaks to your soul? Which one would you show to a passerby as an example of genius?
Not much speaks to my soul. That’s for another book, another day. I would show a passerby the poem about ice cream [“Meaningful Poem”].
Megan Amram wrote the delightful introduction, and her upcoming comedy book, Science… For Her! is insane. There is a joke, and ten pages later she is still messing with the joke. A Load of Hooey is very different, more like a variety of delicious comic bonbons. Why did you choose this in/out joke approach?
This book is a compilation, as such it I thought it could handle different voices. These pieces were collected over a few years, some I wrote for magazines and some just for laughs.
Megan is fantastic! So damn funny. I also had Tony Millionaire do the excellent drawings of the kid looking for his Gameboy… and I’m a fan of his work, too.
As this book is from “The Odenkirk Memorial Library,” which seems to be your own McSweeney’s imprint, it had me thinking about a memorial to Bob Odenkirk. What would you like written in a tribute to yourself and all the comedy you’ve brought into the world? You’ve done quite a bit.
He probably should have done less.
Will there be future books from The Odenkirk Memorial Library? How is it “memorial” when you are alive?
A good question. My death will make it official! Don’t worry, that will happen… I’m fairly sure. Yes, I hope there will be other books. We’ll see.
Will Better Call Saul be as David Lynch-y as that Junior Brown video? What can you tell us about it?
I don’t know what the show will look like, or what its vibe will be. I’ve been shooting it for a few months now and I tend to be in it, so I’m not able to “watch” what is being shot. Whatever it is, however it works, will be a surprise to me as well as you.
I can tell you we’ve got amazing writers pushing themselves deep into a character, and fantastic actors who are responding to the excellence of the writing and bringing it big time. I think it will be a unique show, not really comparable to much else, and I think it will take a little time for critics and audiences to put it into perspective.