Bob Odenkirk and David Cross: 'We're Like an Old Married Couple'

'Mr. Show' creators on gaining a new audience, touring and the 'Breaking Bad' spinoff

bob odenkirk david cross radio city music hall new york city
Gary Gershoff/WireImage
Bob Odenkirk and David Cross attend Amnesty International's Secret Policeman's Ball 2012 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
By |

It’s weird that David Cross and Bob Odenkirk have had their greatest commercial success apart from one another, as Tobias Fünke in Arrested Development and Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad, respectively. It’s as if Hall and Oates were better known as solo artists than as a duo.

Hardcore fans know Cross and Odenkirk as the creators of Mr. Show, an HBO comedy series that started in 1995 and ran for four seasons. In absurdist sketches, Mr. Show mocked the baboonery of pop culture through characters like Wyckyd Sceptre, a hair metal band so stupid they don’t realize that having sex with one another makes them gay. Cross proudly cites Mr. Show as a turning point in the creation of alternative comedy, and it also advanced the careers of Jack Black, Brian Posehn, Scott Adsit, Mary Lynn Rajskub, and Sarah Silverman, among others.

The 50 Funniest People Now: David Cross

Thanks to DVD, YouTube, and probably Pirate Bay, Mr. Show has a larger following now than it did in 1995, and the next best thing to new episodes is the book Hollywood Said No!, which includes two film scripts the duo wrote. Actually, the next best thing to new episodes is their six-city comedy tour, which started earlier this month and continues until mid-October. With a mixture of new sketches and stand-up comedy, Cross and Odenkirk make fun of mustaches, Mumford & Sons, racism and Rob Schneider, and they offer this somewhat bitter secret to comedy success: "All you have to do is make a good TV show and wait 20 years."

Cross and Odenkirk called from Boston, on the afternoon they performed there. Cross was outside, on a stoop; Odenkirk was in a mall.

The last tour you did together was Hooray For America in 2002. How has working together changed since then?
Cross: It hasn’t changed at all. We’re like an old married couple, at this point.

Odenkirk: Yeah, our working relationship is, in a weird way, like a marriage. We get along good, we write well together. Offstage, when we’re not working, we fight like crazy.

Cross: We fight MMA-style.

What are most of the fights about?
Cross: Bob will over-salt almost everything he makes. And my point, as it was in the beginning, as it remains, is: Just put the salt on the table. Let me decide how much salt should be in there. I don’t understand what you’re doing. You’re just ruining it for one of us. Both of us could enjoy it, if you just fucking regularly salt it.

Odenkirk: But if I could just say, you don’t use enough salt, and …

Cross: No, there’s no such thing as "enough salt!" That’s a personal issue!

Odenkirk: But your body needs salt, to live!

That’s a really good point, David.
Cross: Yes, I know, but there’s an artisanal salt company, in Portland, Maine – not Portland, Oregon – that makes salt licks. And Bob gets ‘em, through Etsy. So he has enough salt. He has it.

When you guys are on tour, do you share a hotel room?
Cross: We rent separate rooms and share a bathroom. Just to keep it real.

Odenkirk: Yeah, David helps me keep track of my toilet.

Cross: I just switched phones, so I don’t yet have the Tracking Bob’s Toilet app. It’s not available on my operating system. I’ve got an Android.

Odenkirk: I want to point out that I’m in a mall, and I walked by a guy who looks like a Ken doll, and as he’s watching me walk by, he raises his hand, points at me, and he goes, "Better call Sal!"

Sal? S-A-L?
Odenkirk: Dude, it happens all the time! I don’t understand it! It’s like, so you know me, you know Breaking Bad well enough to recognize me without any costume or hairpieces in. And yet, even though the character’s name has been said many times, even though it’s high-profile in the show, because it’s a funny name, even then, you don’t get it?

Cross: Also, "call" rhymes with "Saul." There’s a purpose to it. "Better call Saul." Not "Better call Sal." Some people are lazy in America.

Also I’d like to point out that we are in one of the most culturally dynamic, aesthetically beautiful cities in the country, and Bob is in a mall. He chooses to be inside, in a mall. Right now, I’m in Back Bay, in one of those little alleys, sitting on a stoop, and it’s beautiful.

Odenkirk: I would love to be with you. I want to get a pair of pants, because I didn’t pack enough for the days I’ve been gone. So that’s all.

Boston has some very fine museums, Bob.
Cross: Yeah, but not pants museums.

Are there any ways in which your wives are jealous of the relationship you two have?
Odenkirk: Well, my wife is jealous of how much sex David and I have. But I tried to explain to her, it’s gay sex. There’s no way I can have that with her. No, my wife is a huge fan of Bob and David. She would like if it we did more together.

A lot of people feel the same way. You both have individual projects you’re working on, and there’s work you’ve done together that fans don’t necessarily know about, including an HBO pilot that didn’t work out. Are there any other reasons you don’t work together more often?
Cross: We also live 3,000 miles apart from each other, so it’s not that easy. But we have, as you stated, worked together quite a bit. And we’re going to continue doing it. But outside of this aspect? Who knows? Life’s a fuckin’ ongoing, mystical thing, man.

Bob, do you agree that life’s a fuckin’ ongoing, mystical thing?
Odenkirk: No, no. Not at all. I never thought that, and it’s not true. Life is a short-term, plain-as-day, unmysterious object.

When you were putting the book together, and you re-read the scripts, did they seem to you, in retrospect, like they were commercially viable scripts?
Odenkirk: I think the structure of the sketch movie [Bob and David Make a Movie] is viable. David and I are walking down the street, talking about getting the movie made, and then it becomes sketches. That would be a lot of fun to watch. Our personality would carry that part.

And then, as far as Hooray for America!, the other screenplay in the book, we talked about doing it Claymation style. I think that could be done in some offbeat way, and be relevant. But not in a full-blown, let’s spend millions of dollars to make a big movie way. It’s just too quirky and too Mr. Show-y.

Cross: Let me answer that question in a very factual, practical way. Do I think it’s commercially viable? If we spent $4 million to make it, and $4 million to market it, that’d be $8 million, all in.

Do I think it would make its money back? Yeah, I would say it would quadruple its money. Either one of those scripts. Now, that’s today. I don’t know about 12 years ago, when we wrote ‘em. But I think you would quadruple your money, at minimum, if you invested $8 million into that.

The problem is, at this point, you can’t get Bob Odenkirk for $4 million.
Cross: Well, that’s the fucking problem. That’s why these movies haven’t been made. Bob’s quote is crazy. And can I also note, for the record, that I can hear the mall behind you, Bob?

Mr. Show fans want to know why they can’t watch it on HBO Go.
Cross: We’ve heard that question constantly. And we don’t have the answer. We do not work at HBO, we don’t know those people. I’m sure it’s a business thing that somebody in a basement office in Culver City can answer.

We’d love it to be on HBO Go. We’d love it to be on Netflix. We’d love it to be readily available to any and all. But we don’t know why.

Do you care if people illegally download it from the Internet?
Cross: No, not at all, please. We don’t make any money from DVD sales or any of that shit. It’s been on TBS, it’s been on IFC. We have not seen a dime for Mr. Show. Ever.

Do you think it’s strictly a business decision on the part of HBO to not broadcast it?
Cross: Yeah, I don’t think they have a personal vendetta. It just comes down to number-crunching, and somebody did the math and said, "We’d only make a couple million, so it’s not worth it."

Odenkirk: It’s very hard to understand why we’re so pushed aside by that company. I mean, they could make some more money off us, and we think they should be proud of having done the show.

Cross: Yeah, our tour is sold out, and our book is already on the Amazon bestseller list. It’s frustrating, too, because we’ve felt this since the inception of Mr. Show, when HBO moved it from their Friday comedy block to Mondays, and they effectively killed the show. After eighteen years, we still feel marginalized and underappreciated. It’s a weird, frustrating feeling.

Odenkirk: And yet, we’re thankful that they made the show at all.

Cross: I’m kind of over that part. 

A lot of people now say Mr. Show was a groundbreaking show. Were people saying that when it was on the air?
Odenkirk: Nobody was watching the show when it was on. It was a very, very, very tiny audience. This audience that is excited about the show, and holds it dear to them, they watched it on DVD, they watched it in friends’ houses, they watched on YouTube. People tell me they watched a scene or two, they didn’t like it, and then when they finally watched a whole episode, they got it. I don’t think they claim to have been there when it started.

Cross: We have a whole new audience who came to Mr. Show because they were like, "Oh, I love that guy on Breaking Bad" or "that guy on Arrested Development."

Odenkirk: Yeah, that Sal character.

So when you hear people talking about how glorious Mr. Show was, do you ever think, "Where were you fuckers in 1998?"
Odenkirk: The only frustration David and I have is that the network didn’t seem to understand how it could be appreciated by people. And they still don’t seem to get it.

On September 11th, AMC announced they were going ahead with a Breaking Bad spinoff for Saul – or Sal – Goodman. They’d been discussing it for months, as a possibility. Bob, how did you find out it had been greenlit?
Odenkirk: I found out from the press release.

Cross: It’s true. We were in New York, rehearsing the show. And he started getting texts. His phone just fucking blew up. No lie. That’s all real.

Was there a high-five, a hug, a bottle of champagne?
Cross: I don’t want the show to happen. I really don’t. I think Breaking Bad is possibly the greatest drama in television history, and I don’t want it sullied with a spinoff. Remember how you felt when Maude came out?

Odenkirk: Hey, what if I change my name to Sully? Would you like that?

Cross: (laughs) It would make it better.

David, you’re developing a series at Showtime, and you want Bob to play the lead. Will the Saul spinoff put an end to that possibility?
Cross: I’m starting to resign myself to the fact that Bob’s not going to be available for the show I’m doing, and I’m steeling myself for that inevitable disappointment.

Odenkirk: Well, we’ll see what happens.

Can you just cast an Odenkirk double?
Cross: That wouldn’t work. My idea is to shoot all of Bob’s scenes in his house, while he’s rehearsing for the Saul Goodman spinoff, and then just fix it in post.

I think the Showtime thing is going to happen, and I wrote it with Bob in mind. I know how amazing he’d be in it. So I have selfish reasons for not wanting a Saul Goodman show. But also, I don’t want a fucking Breaking Bad spinoff! Leave it alone! Goddamn it, it was the best fucking show. I get angry when I walk past posters in the subway for Michael J. Fox’s show, and Betsy [Brandt, who plays Marie on Breaking Bad] is on the poster. It’s like, "No, not yet! The show’s not fucking over yet!" I don’t need the reminder.

My show’s going to be fucking awesome, though. It will win over two awards. I don’t know what the awards are, and it may not have anything to do with the show. But it’s going to win as many as two awards in its lifetime.

Maybe it’ll win some AVNs.
Cross: (laughs) Yes, please. I hope so. Bob’s pretty gifted in that department, I’ve gotta say.

Odenkirk: What are AVNs?

Do you want to explain it, David?
Cross: When adults get together, and love each other…

Odenkirk: Right.

Cross. …and profess their love for each other in front of a camera…

Odenkirk: Right.

Cross: … and then that visual is beamed towards people who don’t have love in their life…

Odenkirk: Okay

Cross: Aww, Jesus, I don’t know how to explain it.

Odenkirk: It sounds wonderful. That’s all I can say.

You’ve promised a Mr. Show tour in 2015, for the 20th anniversary of the show’s debut. Will it be a longer tour than the one you did this year?
Cross: Oh, it would be totally different. Bob and I would get together and write what would basically be an extended, 90-minute Mr. Show episode. It would just be for the stage, and we’d tour way more extensively than we are. That’s my fault, that we’re not going to more places.

Why is it your fault?
Cross: I got very busy with a project that I wasn’t expecting.

Odenkirk: David, you should tell him about your movie. We were going to do a more extensive tour, but then David got the funds he needed to make a feature film, and he shot that, and now he has to edit it. He can’t leave the editing room for six weeks. So we had to shorten the tour.

Cross: I’ve been hounding Bob, berating him, for years about doing a longer tour…

Odenkirk: Not unlike the pants conversation we had.

Cross: (laughs) Sometimes I’ve been a dick about it. "Let’s tour! Fuck you, come on!" And then when we got the opportunity, ironically it was me that had to go, "So, that thing you said yes to, finally? Umm …" It was just bad timing. But we will not let anything affect this idea Bob and I have for this 20th anniversary tour.

Odenkirk: This tour is actually a good warm up, you know?

Cross: It really is. Not in an egotistical way, but in a pragmatic way, it’s been good to get this reminder, "Oh yeah, people love this shit. This is worthwhile. This is worth our time and effort."

David, the movie you’re working on is called Hits. You wrote it and directed it. What’s it about?
Cross: Everything I say about it sounds pretentious. It’s about the idea of fame and 21st century YouTube America. That sounds awful. I don’t like that. I don’t know. We’ll talk later!

You’re still in the mall, Bob. I can hear it.

Odenkirk: I’m going to buy some pants as soon as we’re done talking.

Bob, did you know it’s possible to buy pants without going to a mall?
Odenkirk: I know, but I’m in Boston and I need them for tonight.

Cross: Yeah, but that does not have anything to do with what he just said. He made an astute observation.

Odenkirk: I’ll leave this mall as soon as I can.

Cross: I think his point is, you can. You can leave the mall any time you wish. And perhaps you should.

Where David is, in Back Bay, there are stylish stores where you could buy a nice pair of pants.
Odenkirk: I’m going to J. Crew, because they have the style I want.

You’re buying dad pants, aren’t you?
Odenkirk: They’re not dad pants, they’re cool.

Cross: They are dad pants. You can’t go, "I’m going to J. Crew, because they have the style of pants I want," and then go, "Yeah, they’re cool pants."

Odenkirk: Are we done? Are we done giving me shit?

I think I am. I don’t know if David is.
Cross: I’m good!