Family & Companions
In the 1990s, Bob Odenkirk established himself as an avatar of the next wave of edgy, ribald American sketch comedy, initially as a cast member of the short-lived but portentous Fox series "The Ben Stiller Show" (1992-1993), then as co-creator and star of the off-the-wall subversive HBO series "Mr. Show with Bob and David" (1995-98). A native of Chicago's suburbs and later product of the Second City comedy fraternity, he followed that talent pipeline to a writing job on NBC's weekend institution "Saturday Night Live" (1975- ). Finding the "SNL" environment suffocating, he landed a cast role on "The Ben Stiller Show." Though the show only lasted a season, it would put Odenkirk in with Hollywood's comedy in-crowd, netting him work on HBO's groundbreaking single-cam "The Larry Sanders Show" (1993-98), writing for fellow "SNL"-alum Conan O'Brien's late-night talk show, and eventually creating his own HBO series alongside former "Stiller" co-writer David Cross, "Mr. Show." (The pair reunited later for a second series, "W/ Bob and David" (Netflix 2015).) He would expand his résumé as a producer-talent spotter of underground, post-structural comedy for online media and Cartoon Network's Adult Swim block, and as director of such offbeat, almost awkwardly silly comedy features as "Let's Go to Prison" (2006) and "The Brothers Solomon" (2008). Maintaining a regimen of comic supporting roles and TV guest-work, Odenkirk in 2009 joined the cast of the Emmy-winning AMC series "Breaking Bad" (2008-2013) as the cheerfully malignant TV lawyer Saul Goodman, a role he deepened and expanded on the seriocomic prequel "Better Call Saul" (AMC 2015- ). A missionary of ironic over-the-top social satire, Odenkirk made himself a nexus of the edgiest comic circles.
Robert John Odenkirk was born Oct. 22, 1962, in Berwyn, IL, to Barbara and Walter Odenkirk, who ran a printing business. They raised Bob and his six siblings in the Chicago suburb of Naperville, IL. He grew up a fan of sketch-comedy impresarios Monty Python and "SCTV" (syndicated/NBC/Cinemax, 1976-1984), and he and his brother Bill showed a penchant for showmanship early on, doing imitations of people in their lives to entertain the family. By junior high school, Bob had begun putting together sketches that he would perform for classes. Upon graduating Naperville North High School, he attended Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI, then transferred to Southern Illinois in Carbondale, IL, honing his sketch-writing and performance skills with live shows on both colleges' radio stations. After three years of college, Odenkirk dropped out and moved to Chicago to dive into its storied live comedy scene. He studied with Del Close, the pioneer of improvisational theater and longtime consultant to NBC's "Saturday Night Live," and he joined the Second City-affiliated Player's Workshop, where he met fellow writer Robert Smigel who took a job writing for "SNL" in 1985. Two years later Odenkirk joined him on the show. After the 1987-88 season, a Writers Guild strike sidelined the staff, and Odenkirk, Smigel and fellow "SNL" writer Conan O'Brien returned to Chicago where they put on a sketch revue called the "Happy Happy Good Show" at Victory Gardens Studio Theatre, starting a tradition of Odenkirk's return to live-stage comedy during the summers. Odenkirk worked another four years on "SNL," occasionally garnering some minor on-air parts, but ultimately found himself bridling at the formulaic grind, emphasis on recurring characters and repetitive schtick, as occurred with the devolution of one of his creations, Motivational Speaker Matt Foley, for cast member Chris Farley.
Dissatisfied and eager to do more on-camera work, Odenkirk and another disgruntled "SNL" vet, Ben Stiller, created their own solution in 1992 when Stiller and HBO Independent Productions sold the fledgling Fox network on a new show. "The Ben Stiller Show" proved to be everything "SNL" was not, sending up the absurdities of American pop culture with unique sketches every week - some gleefully silly, some wickedly mean - all driven by a collective of soon-to-be comedy luminaries, including cast members Janeane Garofalo and Andy Dick, writers David Cross and Dino Stamatopoulos, and writer-producer Judd Apatow. Critics embraced the show, but Fox's questionable time-slotting did little to help it find a regular audience. Though cancelled after 12 episodes, "Stiller" took the Emmy Award for Best Writing later that fall. Apatow would land at "Larry Sanders," HBO's groundbreaking, hilariously candid inside-Hollywood comedy series starring Garry Shandling as a grossly insecure late-night talk show host, as did Garofalo, co-starring as the fictional show's booker. In 1993, Odenkirk picked up a recurring role as Stevie Grant, her boyfriend and Larry's smarmy, slick-talking agent. The affiliation with Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, the show's production company, proved propitious, as it would offer Odenkirk the opportunity to create his own show. He and Cross conceived a free-wheeling sketch show, with Stamatopoulos along as a writer and producer and a raft of some of L.A.'s most talented underground comedians as its revolving repertory and writer's bullpen, among them Sarah Silverman, Jay Johnston, Jerry Minor, Patton Oswalt, Jill Talley Brian Posehn, Jack Black, Paul F. Tompkins, Tom Kenney, fellow "Larry Sanders" co-star Mary Lynn Rajskub and even Odenkirk's brother Bill.
Picked up by HBO in 1995, "Mr. Show with Bob and David" kicked off each episode with a buttoned-down Odenkirk and slacker-casual Cross live on stage, sending up comedy variety show formats of TV's Golden Age and setting up a general theme for the interlinking series of sketches, live and filmed, that followed - barbed lampoons of celebrity hype, religion, traditionalist convention, corporate and consumerist culture. One memorable sketch featured a confab of foul-mouthed Founding Fathers convened to discuss how to design an American flag that would be impossible for future performance artists to defecate on; another mocked a TV spot for the Ku Klux Klan, a "rebranding" campaign breezily suggesting it had opened its membership to minorities. The show earned Odenkirk, Cross and their staff three Emmy nominations, but shuttered after four seasons. The duo built enough cache with HBO to co-create another cult phenomenon for the channel along with Jack Black and his music/comedy partner Kyle Gass under the nameplate of their band called "Tenacious D" (1999-2000), which followed the musicians/roommates' off-kilter hijinks in their self-inflated attempts to "make it" on the L.A. music scene. Odenkirk next teamed with Zach Galifianakis to develop what was expected to be a "Mr. Show" sequel for Fox called "Next!" (2002), starring Johnston, Talley, Posehn, Oswalt and Minor, but the network passed on it. Odenkirk and Cross' creations were revived in various iterations over the years, most notably with their feature film expansion of the "Mr. Show" character Ronnie Dobbs (Cross) in "Run, Ronnie, Run" (2002), with Dobbs being a redneck who had achieved celebrity status by being arrested on "Cops"-type shows.
Odenkirk's feature directorial debut, "Melvin Goes to Dinner" (2003), a simple conversational comedy based on Michael Blieden's play (and starring the playwright), featured the director, Cross, Minor and Black in supporting roles. Naomi Odenkirk - the former Naomi Yomtov, whom Odenkirk had married in 1997 - served as producer of the film and would play a similar role in some of his future projects. In 2004, Odenkirk himself made his imprint as a producer, bringing a web series, "Tom Goes to the Mayor" (2004-2006), created by Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim to Cartoon Network's Adult Swim late-night network. Following a clueless "idea man" who offers his wherewithal weekly to an insane small-town mayor, only to have the resulting off-the-wall gimmick blow up in their faces, the show often guest-starred Odenkirk. He would go on to produce Heidecker and Wareheim's bizarre Dadaist follow-up series for Adult Swim, "Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!" (2007-10), frequently showing up as a gregarious, sleazy pitchman, as well as appear in its spin-off show "Check It Out! With Dr. Steve Brule" (2010- ) starring John C. Reilly as a nearly unwatchable local news reporter. He also did a raft of guest roles on some of television's most cutting-edge comedies, among them brother Bill's new employer, "Futurama" (Fox, 1999-2003; Comedy Central, 2010-12), the beloved but short-lived "Arrested Development" (Fox, 2003-06), "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" (Adult Swim, 2000- ), "The Sarah Silverman Program" (2007-09), "Weeds" (Showtime, 2005-12), Seth McFarlane's "American Dad!" (Fox, 2005- ) and "The Life and Times of Tim" (HBO, 2008-12). Odenkirk also picked up featured recurring roles on "How I Met Your Mother" (CBS, 2005-14) and "Entourage" (HBO, 2004-2011).
He directed two more features, "Let's Go to Prison" (2006), a low-budget comedy about an average guy (Will Arnett) mired in the horrors of the American penal system, and "The Brothers Solomon" (2007), which starred Arnett again as one of a duo of intellectual but socially addled brothers making a late foray into the dating world in order to grant their dying father a grandchild. Unfortunately both films meeting with widely negative critical reception. He also wrote, directed and/or starred in a number of comedic shorts for AtomFilms.com, FunnyorDie.com and SuperDeluxe.com (the latter later merged with Adult Swim), for which he developed the web series "Derek & Simon: The Show" (2007) with comic actors Derek Waters and Simon Helberg. In 2006, Waters and Helberg had attempted to sell HBO a new comedy series based on the latter project, called "The Pity Card," but the network passed, as it did with another project pitched four years later by Odenkirk and Cross, "David's Situation." Odenkirk would periodically pop up in funny supporting turns in features such as Silverman's concert film "Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic" (2005), "Relative Strangers" (2006), Andy Dick's semi-autobiographical outré comedy "Danny Roane: First Time Director" (2006) and the low-budget action comedy "Operation: Endgame" (2010). He would garner his highest-profile role since his HBO days in 2009 when Vince Gilligan, creator of the Emmy-winning series "Breaking Bad" (AMC, 2007-2013), cast him as an ambulance-chasing attorney who helps launder money and offers drug-dealing advice to the show's would-be methamphetamine kingpins, Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul). As the delightfully sleazy Saul Goodman, the actor started as a guest star during the second season, but soon became a fan favorite and series regular for the remainder of the show starting in season three. Hilariously candid and without moral scruples, Saul was actually an exceptional attorney who ably pulled strings to keep Walt and Jesse out of trouble while acting as their shadowy partner.
In 2013, while seeing Saul through the final season of "Breaking Bad," Odenkirk also appeared briefly in the earnest indie "The Spectacular Now," playing the kindhearted owner of a men's clothing store, and had a supporting role in Alexander Payne's lauded dramedy "Nebraska," starring Bruce Dern and Will Forte. He also launched a new sketch-comedy show, "The Birthday Boys" (IFC, 2013-14). As "Breaking Bad" came to a close, it was announced that a spin-off series, "Better Call Saul" (AMC 2015- ), would explore the origin of Odenkirk's morally complex character. The same year, Odenkirk reunited with Cross and the rest of the "Mr. Show" crew" for a limited-run streaming series, "W/ Bob and David" (Netflix 2015).
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Was an executive story editor on Fox's "Get a Life"
Wrote and performed for "The Ben Stiller Show" (Fox)
Played a concert nerd in "Wayne's World II"
Wrote for "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" (NBC)
Seen as bookstore man in "The Truth About Cats and Dogs", starring Garofalo
Played Matthew Broderick's brother in "The Cable Guy"
Appeared in "Hacks", the feature directorial debut of TV writer Gary Rosen
Provided character voice for NBC animated series "Sammy"
Directed "Melvin Goes to Dinner," a film adaptation of Michael Blieden's play "Phyro-Giants!"
Directed "Let's Go to Prison," a comedy starring Dax Shepard, Will Arnett and Chi McBride
Helmed the comedy "Brothers Solomon," reuniting him with Will Arnett and Chi McBride
Began his acclaimed run as Saul Goodman on "Breaking Bad"
Appeared in Alexander Payne's "Nebraska"
Unveiled a new comedy show, "The Birthday Boys"
Appeared in horror comedy "Freaks of Nature"
Appeared as Big Boss Cop in the short film "Dennis"