THINK YOU KNOW Bob Odenkirk best as an actor, maybe from his now-infamous portrayal of Saul Goodman on Breaking Bad and the upcoming Better Call Saul, or his role in the excellent, Oscar-losing Nebraska?
You don't. Odenkirk's comedy writing has insidiously, invisibly made its way into popular culture, notably in two of the most memorable Saturday Night Live sketches of all time: "Superfans," which he co-wrote with Robert Smigel ("da Bearss"), and "Motivational Speaker," in which Chris Farley lived in a van down by the river.
This is not to mention his writing (and, yes, acting) contributions to HBO's legendary Mr. Show, a sketch comedy show whose hilarious, groundbreaking run from 1995-1999 was virtually unwatched at the time; you can now not-watch old episodes of Mr. Show via convenient streaming methods like HBO Go and Netflix, where it remains unavailable.
Odenkirk has doubled down on his writerliness with A Load of Hooey, a book from McSweeney's that purports to be the first volume in their Odenkirk Memorial Library series. It carries the flag of comedy books like Peter Cook's Tragically I Was an Only Twin and Steve Martin's Cruel Shoes—which is to say, it's very funny and immensely silly. Odenkirk combines disciplines (essays, scripts, and "unabridged" quotations, in which famous quotes are extended to include the parts Bartlett "left out") in A Load of Hooey; he told the Mercury about making the transition from writer/actor to author.
MERCURY: With a published book, "writer/actor" or "comedian" may no longer be adequate job descriptions for you. Would you call yourself a "humorist"?
BOB ODENKIRK: I would call myself far worse names than "humorist," but I don't want to offend anyone. Not right now. Soon, though.
How is writing comedy for the page different than TV?
Some of the pieces in this book are riffing on certain types of writing ("I Found a Jackson Pollock," "Meaningful Poem," and "Her Laughter")—something you can't do when writing for TV or the stage. I read a lot, so it's fun to be able to poke at literary indulgences. Having said that, one of the funniest things on the audiobook is Brian Posehn reading "I Found a Jackson Pollock"... and Jay Johnston reading "Baseball Players' Poems about Sportswriters"... so maybe this was always meant to be performed.
The book includes scripts, essays, poems, a comic—do you have a format in which you are most comfortable writing?
Everything in this book is mocking itself, so it's not really like I'm doing any of these forms of writing in actuality. I'm probably most comfortable with scriptwriting; that doesn't mean I'm good at it. Oh, here's what I'm decent at: rewriting. That's the thing you need to get good at, and I'd like to get better at it.
And regarding comfort: What do you wear when you're writing?
Underpants. A hat. Insoles. That's it.
Do you do any writing that's not comedically driven? Serious essays, angry letters to newspapers, Encyclopedia Brown fan-fiction, that sort of thing?
No. I am not being cute or humble when I say I'm just not that good at writer-ing; comedy helps make it about something else—about the idea, the twist, the joke. This covers for my [faults]. It's a win-win.
Is the Odenkirk Memorial Library an actual series that will have more of your books? Or is the joke on me?
No, it's intended to be a series. I have some ideas, and Dave Eggers has encouraged me to talk to friends about future tomes.
What is the funniest book you've ever read?
It's a fistfight between Charles Portis' The Dog of the South, Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, and Jeff Torrington's Swing Hammer Swing! Torrington wins!
You are a man of letters. What, exactly, is "hooey"?
Balderdash. Shenanigans. Bunkum. Baloney. Nonsense. Gimcrackery. Japery. Crapola. Offal.