“We have always wanted to do a tour,” explains Bob Odenkirk, via cell phone as he pulls out of the FOX parking lot in Hollywood. “It was something we had talked about back when we were doing the show.”
The show Odenkirk speaks of is Mr. Show, the sketch comedy program which ran on HBO from 1995 to 1999. Modeled after the eclectic style of Monty Python's Flying Circus, Mr. Show intertwined sketches with pre-taped video segments. Segments varied from the drunken antics of Ronnie Dobbs, “The World's Most Arrested Man,” to parody commercials for Apple Butter (believe it or not, in these guys' hands, apple butter was funny).
Three years after its demise, Odenkirk and partner David Cross, are taking Mr. Show to the live stage.
Formerly a writer for Saturday Night Live (1987-1991, during which he won an Emmy) and a member of the Chicago sketch comedy troupe, Second City, Odenkirk was no stranger to improvisation or acting. Co-starring in the Ben Stiller Show and Get a Life in the early-'90s furthered his comedic reputation.
He would eventually team up with comedian/actor Cross to create Mr. Show. The program pushed, shoved and kicked the envelope in regards to network censorship. Like Kids in the Hall before it, Mr. Show was an acquired taste, and it developed a cult-like following after its first season.
During its run on HBO, the show garnered two Emmy nominations and brought America the self-proclaimed “world's greatest rock band”- Tenacious D.
Tenacious D, of course, is comedian Jack Black and the insatiable “K.G.” Black played many characters on Mr. Show, but he was infamous as the “gay voice inside our heads”-a character that exaggerated and lampooned the latent tendencies of American males.
Michelle Dubois, guitarist and vocalist for the Athens, Georgia band, Ultrababyfat, knows the “gay voice” well. A big fan of indie rock and also an Athens resident, David Cross took Ultrababyfat along for his solo comedy tour earlier this year.
“Every single night he told us he was doing that skit just for us... We loved it-how the gay speaking voice transcends boundaries,” she recalls. “He would do this little bit where he'd be at the pizza place with a big line behind him, trying to decide on the toppings. He'd act like he was talking to his lover, like: ‘Honey, do you want glazed turtle heads?'”
DuBois says she was a huge Mr. Show fan before the tour, but traveling with Cross sealed her love affair. She suggests that Mr. Show featured some of the finest comedic writing America had seen in a long time.
“Saturday Night Live has been hurting for so long,” she says. “[Mr. Show] filled a need that a lot of people had to poke fun at things that are taken too seriously. And the fact that the writers are the main players makes it better too. They're able to [improvise] more because it's their own shit.”
When HBO moved Mr. Show to Monday at midnight in 1999, the death knell rang. And died it did. Earlier this year, however, a DVD chronicling of the first three seasons resurrected a legion of loyal fans.
Unfortunately for those fans, the planned Mr. Show movie-Run Ronnie Run, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival-will not be released nationally.
“The truth is, we're not very happy with [Run Ronnie Run],” Odenkirk ruminates. “We got kicked out of the process of making the movie by the director. So we don't think it's a very good representation about our sensibility. I think a lot of Mr. Show fans would be very disappointed if they saw it.”
So fans will have to be satiated with the live tour, titled “Hooray for America.” On TV, Mr. Show came off as controlled chaos. Members of the show's live audience, however, were treated to the uncontrolled chaos, including improvised material that kept the audience entertained during set changes.
“There are quite a few scenes that we did on Mr. Show that are really good, strong live scenes,” Odenkirk explains. “As a television show, we really didn't get to work those scenes. We basically rehearsed them quite a bit and did them in front of an audience twice, and that was the end of it.
“Some live scenes really deserve to be done over and over and over in front of an audience.”
Odenkirk says for the tour, he's enlisted a familiar cast, including Mr. Show contributors Biran Posehn (who now stars in Just Shoot Me), John Ennis and Stephanie Courtney. “We've been getting the script together, and we did a little bit of rough rehearsal and read-throughs about two weeks ago,” Odenkirk says.
The more recognizable names from Mr. Show-like Jay Johnston, Jill Kelly and Tom Kinney-will be used for the videos that link with the live sketches. The sketches will also ring a bell, from “The Burgandy Loaf” (about “the restaurant at which you shit in the box”) to “Shampoo” (a post-Amsterdam customs farce).
Odenkirk says that the writing doesn't really come to life until the night of the show.
“I did the [Second City] main stage with Chris Farley for three months,” he recalls. “You write a show and do eight shows a week, and you really work those scenes. Those scenes sort of get a new life as you do them. I want to see some of our Mr. Show scenes go through that process.”