David Cross and Bob Odenkirk can’t call their Netflix miniseries, available to stream today, a Mr. Show reunion, but that doesn’t mean we can’t.
But With Bob and David isn’t just an occasion to celebrate the return of Cross and Odenkirk’s surreal brand of comedy, and to a much larger and more prestigious platform than mid-’90s HBO (this was before The Sopranos, or even Sex and the City, gave the network either prestige or the wider subscriber base that came with it). It’s also a chance to take stock of how enormously influential the oddball sketch series has proven in the two decades — almost to the date; Mr. Show premiered on November 3, 1995 — since it debuted.
Mr. Show‘s cast and writers’ room is now almost notorious for its sheer density of future stars; one of the great joys of re-watching old clips is catching a young Jack Black or Sarah Silverman, or listening for the voice of a pre-Comedy Bang! Bang! Scott Aukerman. Mr. Show wasn’t just significant in its own right — it’s also where a bunch of comedians and eventual collaborators refined their sensibility.
Here, we’ve tracked Mr. Show’s comic DNA through the wide cross-section of American comedy that now operates in its shadow, from hit web series to cult Adult Swim shows. It’s by no means comprehensive (for brevity’s sake, the list is mostly limited to projects with which alumni were directly involved rather than those they indirectly influenced), but it is a testament to how Mr. Show gave rise to an entire generation of comedy that was weirder, wilder, and more unpredictable than the one that came before it.
Co-created by Odenkirk and Cross along with co-stars (and titular band members) Jack Black and Kyle Gass, Tenacious D actually began airing before Mr. Show was even cancelled. Given that the series was an early leading role for then-relative unknown Black, a cast regular on Mr. Show‘s first two seasons, Tenacious D arguably represents the very first Mr. Show descendant, in turn giving rise to three albums and a film — and putting a music-comedy act on the map several year before The Lonely Island.
Tobias Fünke is Cross’ most iconic on-screen role, of course, but he wasn’t the only Mr. Show alum involved; frequent director Troy Miller would go on to executive produce the sitcom’s controversial fourth season (a forerunner to With Bob and David in the Netflix-sponsored revival department). In fact, Mr. Show‘s directing roster boasted nearly as many soon-to-be stars as its writers’ room; Little Miss Sunshine‘s Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton directed several episodes, as did Ant Man‘s Peyton Reed.
Comedy Bang! Bang!
Both Comedy Bang! Bang!‘s host, Scott Aukerman, and one of its most frequent and beloved guests, Paul F. Tompkins, are veterans of the Mr. Show writers’ room. They’re also two prime examples of the phenomenon that the podcast turned pseudo-talk show’s success represents: the ascendancy of alternative comedy from a ’90s fringe movement embodied by sleeper/cult hits like Mr. Show to a mainstream force — the kind whose writing staff takes over a major awards show…
Between Two Ferns
… and whose fans include Justin Bieber, Brad Pitt, and the freakin’ President of the United States. The Funny or Die web series, and forerunner to other surreal takes on the late-night interview (think Eric Andre), is mainly identified with host Zach Galifianakis, another alternative comedian who found mainstream, even blockbuster, success. But it’s also the brainchild of Aukerman and fellow Mr. Show alum B.J. Porter. Aukerman and Porter were longtime creative partners, at one point even contributing to rewrites of Shark Tale, though Between Two Ferns’ masterfully awkward, combative interview style may prove to be their most enduring legacy.
The Sarah Silverman Program
No subsequent project may be as jam-packed with Mr. Show alumni as Silverman’s Comedy Central show, which translated the comedian’s bratty stage persona into a mildly surreal, occasionally musical comedy that lasted from 2007 to 2010. The regular cast included Mr. Show writers Jay Johnston, as a police officer who dates Silverman’s sister, and Brian Posehn, one half of the surprisingly bro-y gay couple next door; Posehn also wrote an episode. And then there’s Silverman herself, who’d appeared on Mr. Show before she was a household name.
The Sarah Silverman Program also boasted another big-name collaborator, though he hadn’t yet made headlines for his… uneven history of working with others. Co-creator Dan Harmon’s next project, after he was infamously fired by Silverman (a fact she’s admirably candid about in the 2014 documentary Harmontown), also happens to be longtime friend and former Mr. Show writer Dino Stamatopoulos’ most prominent on-screen role yet: Starburns, the Greendale student known as much for his facial hair as for faking his own death.
Stamatopoulos’ resumé is mostly populated, however, with an impressive roster of behind-the-scenes credits — writing for several late-night shows, for example, and creating Adult Swim’s cult favorite stop-motion show Moral Orel (though “cult favorite Adult Swim show” is sorta redundant). It’s one of several AS series directly descended from Mr. Show, co-starring and co-produced by fellow Mr. Show writers Scott Adsit, later of 30 Rock, and Johnston. All three would also collaborate on Mary Shelley’s Frankenhole, a more recent Stamatopoulos stop-motion series, this one centered on mad scientist horror rather than Christian fundamentalism.
Tom Goes to the Mayor
A “semi-animated” show with a linear plot and a tame color palette, Tom Goes to the Mayor doesn’t look like the utterly bananas visual universe the world would soon come to recognize as Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim’s. But as the first Adult Swim series from Tim and Eric, executive produced by longtime supporter Odenkirk — who’s still a regular contributor to their projects — and populated by a cast that included Brian Posehn, the story of a small town’s mayor and resident entrepreneur was a significant milestone in the history of Mr. Show‘s cultural impact.
Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!
After Tom Goes to the Mayor, of course, came the series that definitively established Heidecker and Wareheim’s lo-fi, lower-budget, demented, and absurdist aesthetic. Shot like a public access cable show from an alternate universe, Awesome Show, Great Job! felt like the full realization of the comedy duo’s vision, as unique as it is disturbing. We wouldn’t have unlikely masterpieces like Too Many Cooks without Tim and Eric, and we wouldn’t have Awesome Show, Great Job! without Mr. Show. (Both Odenkirk and Cross made appearances throughout the series’ three-year run.)
The Birthday Boys
Almost every sketch show currently or recently on the air, whether Key & Peele or Inside Amy Schumer, has at least a whiff of Mr. Show’s influence. But only one could claim a bona fide Bob Odenkirk production credit: IFC’s short-lived The Birthday Boys. (Ben Stiller was also an EP.) Staffed by the titular Los Angeles-based sketch crew, The Birthday Boys fit perfectly into IFC’s oeuvre of quirky, increasingly niche comedies — and Odenkirk’s track record of finding and fostering younger talent.