Bob Odenkirk‘s CV is an aspiring comedian’s fantasy: writing for SNL in its late-80s heyday, the ahead-of-its-time Chris Elliott show Get a Life, and Late Night With Conan O’Brien in its 90s prime; cocreator and costar, with David Cross, of Mr. Show; a recurring role in The Larry Sanders Show. He also happens to have discovered Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim.
Yet my favorite Odenkirk moment isn’t from any of those projects, nor is it from his recent quasi-dramatic turns as Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad and Bill Oswalt in Fargo—it’s from The Ben Stiller Show, which the Berwyn-born, Naperville-raised comedian cowrote and in which he costarred. In the black-and-white “Of Buildings and Women,” Odenkirk lampoons early-60s French New Wave films—he dons a fedora and drives a drop-top sedan around Los Angeles, dramatically and faux suavely comparing random architecture to female conquests in a ludicrous French accent. It’s a perfect example of one of Odenkirk’s chief comedic strengths: satirizing pretension by facetiously reenacting and exaggerating something that takes itself too seriously.
A Load of Hooey, Odenkirk’s debut book, is a collection of humor essays and satirical writing related to this exercise. Scattered throughout are “unabridged quotations” that feature real quotes with Odenkirk’s jokes appended to them. (An example, courtesy of Albert Einstein: “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.” Odenkirk’s addition: “But that might just be me being stupid.”) The book is best when it captures the ridiculousness of contemporary life by nailing the tone of society at its most hysterical. My favorite piece is “‘Didn’t Work For Me,'” fake Amazon reviews of major artistic works by the same user (MisterEveryman) that all begin with the same introductory caveats (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: “First of all, I am a HUUUUUGE fan of Twain”) and quickly turn into reactionary thoughtlessness (“SPOILER ALERT—It’s TERRIBLE”).
With its frequent digressions and liberal silliness, A Load of Hooey‘s clearest inspiration is Monty Python. But I was often reminded of the writer and rock critic (and former Reader contributor) Richard Meltzer, who like Odenkirk often uses all-caps for humor as well as emphasis, and employs conceptual writing to address bullshit at its most egregious. Meltzer and many other writers during the 1970s were greatly influenced by Mad magazine and National Lampoon, and Odenkirk’s book reads as if from that lineage.
Not all of A Load of Hooey induces laughs: some of the pieces are too oblique or ridiculous, and Odenkirk’s poetry (yes, there are poems) doesn’t exhibit his characteristic sharpness. But the book is slim enough to read in an evening. And as a wise man once said, “It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish” (Tolkien). “But that’s nothing compared to writing a trilogy—that takes fucking forever” (guess who).