Wednesday, July 24, 2013

One Saul, That's All: The Comedic Nexus of "Mr. Show with Bob and David"

"What is the best sketch comedy show of all time?" is a question if asked, would prompt many different answers from a great many people who love comedy.  Gen Xer's and below would probably answer something like "Monty Python's Flying Circus," or "The Carol Burnett Show," maybe even "Kids in the Hall." Where as millennials and beyond would answer maybe "MadTV," or even the current "Saturday night live."  But there's a hidden sketch comedy show that a case can be made for that it was the best sketch comedy show of all time. That show was HBO's "Mr. Show with Bob and David."

Mr. Show can be considered to be a hidden comedic gem simply because it had relatively very low viewership over its four season run despite being paired with the popular "Chris Rock show" in a Friday night time slot.  Mr. show, much like "Breaking Bad," has had a very small, but very loyal cult following that's only grown over the years.  But even though the writing and performances were nearly flawless over its short four year run, the show struggled to stay on the air every year it was up for renewal.

Initially it was support from comedian Garry Shandling that had a big hand in keeping the series on the air after the first season.  Seasons two and three were greenlit just on the fact that everyone at HBO, and a lot of important people in Hollywood and New York really liked the show; plus it was a cheap show to produce.

But for whatever reason, for its fourth and final season, Mr. Show was bumped to Mondays a midnight, a virtual death sentence for most shows, especially an Avant-garde adult sketch comedy show.
The "Bob and David" in Mr. Show were two comedians Bob Odenkirk and David Cross.

Bob had worked alongside Robert Smigel (Triumph the Comic Insult Dog/David Letterman) and Conan O'Brien (Simpsons/Letterman) on Saturday Night Live.  Bob's biggest contribution to SNL was the infamous Chris Farley Motivational Speaker sketch.

Matt Foley motivational speaker

From there, Bob went onto the Ben Stiller Show as a writer/performer where he contributed to many of sketches, with the show going onto win a posthumous Emmy for best comedy writing after it was cancelled after only one 13 episode season.

This was also the first time we saw Bob's affinity for rap music via the Kill Doug Szathkey sketch where Bob plays rapper "Ice Man McGee" who writes a rap song about his neighbor, Doug Szathkey, encouraging his fans to "Kill Doug Szathkey," which then Ice Man tries to claim that his fans were misinterpreting his lyrics.

ICE MAN McGEE (rapping)
That's right, I said, kill Doug Szathkey. He makes me mad, G, frontin' on my posse. Tellin' me to keep it down and all that. Just a suckah steppin' on my balzac. Just a stupid neighbor complain'. Keep it up, I'll call the block association. The one that meets at the end of my fist. Huh! Little doggies gonna get kissed.
Cuttin' up my lawn, and scatterin' his clippings. You think I don't know where my yard begins? He lives on Springer Road, number 311. Sucker gets home every night around 7.
Kill Doug Szathkey. That's right, I said, kill Doug Szathkey. Peace.
Kill Doug Szathkey
Original Video - More videos at TinyPic 
On Mr. Show, Bob expanded his love for rap in several sketches, including; Rap the Musical; Three times one, minus one, and the Fat Kids camp sketches.
RAP: The Musical!
Bob also wrote what many consider to the best sketch for the Ben Stiller show, the Manson/Lassie sketch.
Manson/Lassie sketch
While at the Ben Stiller show Bob worked with future big comedic names such as Judd Apatow, Ben Stiller, Robert Cohen, Dino Stamatopoulos, Janeane garofalo, Andy Dick and David Cross.  Bob then went onto the "Larry Sanders Show," for a few years before launching Mr. Show with David Cross.

David Cross had worked the stand up scene in the early 90's before joining Bob on the writing staff of The Ben Stiller show.

David's first sketch, the "T.J. Opootertoots" sketch, was the first sketch David also performed in.

T.J. Opootertoots
Original Video - More videos at TinyPic
Mr. Show had a relatively small writing staff, mostly all of which also were performers on the show at various stages of the show's run from 1995 to 1998.  Aside from Bob and David, Mr. Show's writers/performers included: Tom Kenny (Voice of Spongebob), Jill Talley (Boondocks), John Ennis, and Jay Johnston (Arrested Development).  These were the original writers/performers.

Over the course of the series there were other cast members and writers added to the roster.  Mr. Show added Jack Black (Tenacious D), Sarah Silverman, Brian Posehn (The Sarah Silverman show), Mary Lynn Rajskub (24), Paul F. Tompkins, Bill Odenkirk (Futurama), Jerry Collins (Curb Your Enthusiasm), B.J. Porter, Scott Aukerman (Comedy Bang Bang), Becky Thyre, Brett Paesel, Scott Adsit (30 Rock)
and Dino Stamatopoulous (Morel Orel).

The format of Mr. Show was that of sketch comedy, but not limited to strict parody, as most sketch comedies seem to embrace. Mr. Show was very rich in satire, which can the Chinese define as "laughter with knives." Vanity Fair noted that the series had mocked "satanism, teenage suicide, cock rings, hermaphrodites, after-school specials about mentally challenged parents, and the Ku Klux Klan" and just about everything in between.

Mr. Show didn't just make fun of things out of spite, but everything was fair game. There wasn't an agenda to push, or advertisers to appease, or the worry of censorship.  This allowed the show to push the envelope in ways that perhaps couldn't even be pushed today, but perhaps only on the internet. Mr. Show was for all intents and purposes an inside joke that was enjoyed by those in the know.

Much like "Arrested Development," Mr. Show was a show for those who truly enjoyed comedy and  Mr. Show's format was unique in that the sketches in each individual episode were all linked together in some fashion; maybe not as a whole, but usually in part. A character in one sketch, such as "Ty Maginty" appears in the adopted son sketch at the start of the episode as a full grown man adopted by a desperate couple.
Only to reappear at the end of the episode after the credits, as a promo for a faux new HBO series "Creepy Peeping Videos." being abused by mean Nanny, played by John Ennis in drag.
But there was one thing Mr. Show didn't have, and that was reoccurring characters or sketches.  The only character that can be considered to be a reoccurring character was that of the always sick character "Droopy" who was featured in three sketches over the years.
Chocolate Fingerprints
What was amazing about Mr. Show that they were able to play it straight and clean and deliver a classic sketch as the "Pre-taped Call in Show," about a frustrated talk show host desperately trying to figure out the format.
And then turn around and produce the hilariously, ADULT with a capital A, "Show me your Weenis" sketch, where the members an 80's hair band don't seem to realize that they're all gay until a "gay party tape" of them gets leaked on the internet from the "Underground tape railroad"(this was about six years before youtube), and then they are confronted by their angry manager.
Mr. Show was also prescient of future events, such as NASA in 2012 revealing that they wanted to blow up the moon, which the "blow up the moon" sketch accurately predicted back in the late 90's.
There was also the hilarious Larry Kliest sketch where the state was trying out a new work release program for criminals.  The program in the sketch involved a licensed public warning engineer (with a big sign) following around criminals via a work-release program that was supposed to warn the public that there was a criminal in the area, and to watch out.
This actually came true in early 2013 with Florida's new public warning against sexual predators initiative.
Seeing that Mr. Show has spawned, or was the genesis of so many talented comedians that went onto work on other shows, and has even influenced non-comedy shows such as "Breaking Bad," and other comedy shows such as "Tim and Eric Awesome show Great Job" (Also guest starring Odenkirk and Cross), I'm going to be breaking down each Mr. Show episode into its constituent sketches over thirty or so posts.

I'll be breaking down what was funny in each episode and why it was funny, as well as throwing in any trivia tid bits I've accumulated over the years. The unique thing about Mr. Show sketches is that because they don't rely on topical references, but incredibly strong comedy writing, they are a perfect example to show what true comedy is all about, and how incredibly difficult it is to come up with something funny.

David Cross was once asked by a fan "Do you write the show while you're high?," to which David's response was, "No. Has anyone actually been able to accomplish anything important while high?"

I'm going to leave you with the "Jeepers Creepers Semi-Star," which featured Jack Black right around the same time as Tenacious D was taking off.

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