Charles Manson’s place in pop culture was already well established by the early 1990s, with the provocative, baiting convict portrayed in film and television as a serious criminal ringleader. But Bob Odenkirk, who would later find success on Mr. Show, Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, created the most singular performance of the cult leader in 1992, turning the deranged criminal into man’s best f(r)iend on the revered, short-lived The Ben Stiller Show.
Simply titled “Manson,” the skit finds a long-haired, bearded Odenkirk in a 1950s Lassie-styled TV show wildly gesticulating, violently blinking and going on semi-coherent, gibberish-filled rants like his real-life counterpart. (“You want to talk to Mrs. Wilson? Why don’t you want to talk to Charlie? You think if you don’t talk to me, I’ll go away, but I can’t go away because I’m not even here! I’m a ghost of a phantom of a shadow in the heart of your children!”)
Odenkirk had channeled Manson on the show before. In “Ask Manson,” the comedian rocks back and forth in a chair in his cell answering prosaic questions on stain removal and hissing mufflers. “You can’t get a stain out!,” Odenkirk says. “You think I’m the stain. They say Charlie is a stain and they try to rub me out and put me in a jail cell. Only you just spread me around more!”
“Ask Manson 1”
“Ask Manson 2”
“Manson” takes Odenkirk’s imitation to its absurd extreme, enlisting Andy Dick and Janeane Garofalo as wholesome parents whose son Timmy hunts for toads with his psychotic companion. When Timmy gets bit by a poisonous snake, Manson’s diatribe (“Accident? There are no accidents! Don’t give me that jive, Jack! There is only the plan.”) saves the day.
In the pantheon of brilliant skits that included “Woody Allen’s Bride of Frankenstein” and a Cape Fear parody starring Stiller as a psychotic Eddie Munster, “Manson” remains a show high point. Like so many skits on The Ben Stiller Show, “Manson” blended topical familiarity with surreal premises that still resonate with comedy nerds.
That audience proved too niche, however, and FOX canceled the show after 12 episodes. But Stiller would get his revenge in 1993, when the show won an Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Variety or Music Program.
Bob Odenkirk – “Manson” Outtake