November 3, 2015 marked the 20th anniversary of Mr. Show With Bob And David, the sketch comedy series fronted by Bob Odenkirk and David Cross. Of course, Odenkirk and Cross were working together before the fall of 1995, and their creative partnership has outlasted Mr. Show’s sadly brief, nearly perfect run. It’s a relationship that winds through The Ben Stiller Show, the “alternative” (don’t call it that) comedy scene of the mid-’90s, feature film scripts (one of which became Run Ronnie Run!, others later published as the tellingly titled Hollywood Said No!), two live tours, and the duo’s time apart in the ensembles of Arrested Development, Breaking Bad, and Better Call Saul. Now they’re back together (and back in the title) for With Bob And David, the Netflix series that reunites Odenkirk and Cross with Paul F. Tompkins, Brian Posehn, Scott Aukerman, and practically every other writer or performer who contributed to Mr. Show. It’s not explicitly a sequel to their previous TV collaboration, but with its interlocking sketches, balance of smarts and silliness, and keen sense of satire, With Bob And David is also not not a spiritual successor to Mr. Show. With all four episodes of With Bob And David (and a making-of special) set to debut on Friday, November 13, The A.V. Club spoke to Odenkirk and Cross about crinkling diapers, their more relaxed approach to making With Bob And David, and one sketch you won’t see on Netflix. The phone interview began as Odenkirk was wrapping up some musical entertainment.
Bob Odenkirk: We were having fun with the fucking music that comes on every time you guys put us on hold.
David Cross: Every time we switch interviewers. Bob was singing along to it—it was making me laugh. Giving it some real bebop thrust.
The A.V. Club: The last time The A.V. Club spoke to you guys as a duo, Hollywood Said No! was about to come out, and you mentioned the possibility of a reunion tour to mark the 20th anniversary of Mr. Show. When did that idea morph into With Bob And David?
DC: Pretty quickly. We had all these sketches, and we did tour around the book. That tour consisted of Bob and myself and Brian Posehn and some other people in each city acting in the sketches that we had. And Bob pretty quickly was like, “Look man, why are we putting all this time and energy into the stage show, which would be great, when we could just put in the same time and energy and do four completely new half hours?”
BO: And more people would see us. Those stage shows are great, but we’ve done two tours since Mr. Show ended, and I still have people who are like, “When are you guys going to go on tour?” I’m like, “We were there, we did it a year and a half ago. We came to your city.” People don’t even know you did it.
We were talking a lot about how we would do this 20th anniversary thing, and it was like “same amount of time and effort—and here’s all new material and an exciting new venue for us to work in.” It’s just way more appealing to me—and I think David, we’re not necessarily on the exact same page, but we’re in the same chapter as far as “Let’s not spend too much time celebrating something we did 20 years ago.” Who gives a shit? Let’s do new shit, new comedy—we’re still writing stuff, we still enjoy working together.
And I think the other thing that was an inspiration was we had that get-together with the writers. Paul Tompkins tweeted a picture out—it was one year ago from now when we met. It was just so inspirational to read sketches with those guys and have them laugh and pitch and help improve those sketches. We just knew right away there was so much great energy there. That inspired us to do a show.
AVC: With the returning cast members and writers, how had their skill sets changed since the end of Mr. Show?
DC: They’re all improved. A couple of those guys are running their own shows now and have been for years and show it. Everybody’s more experienced, more mature as human beings. We had a minimal amount of the kind of hurt feelings that new writers might have when their sketch doesn’t get on and you need to explain it to them.
BO: Less crying.
DC: Yeah, less crying. [Laughs.] But everybody knew how it worked, so you got to skip all of that and just concentrate on good stuff.
BO: David. David. Less crinkling of the diapers. You remember when Jay said that?
DC: [Laughs.] Jay Johnston’s retort to Brian Posehn—
BO: It was some bit in his sketch, some riff or some moment in the sketch, and somebody was like what if this happens? And Brian was like, “I pitched that like five minutes ago!” [Laughs.] And Jay goes, “Oh, I’m sorry, we couldn’t hear you over the crinkling of your diaper.”
DC: We’d been there for 12 hours, in that big writers’ room, and we were all going crazy trying to come up with something. [Laughs.] And then Brian was particularly—let’s just call it “low blood sugar” for now.
AVC: What types of sketches could you do now that you couldn’t do then?
BO: Have you seen the fourth show? The salesmen sketch? That’s a sketch we wouldn’t have done, because it’s too long for Mr. Show. We would’ve had a rule about wrapping it up and not taking so much time with it. We were real purists when we did Mr. Show, which is wonderful—
DC: But we would’ve had to sacrifice other sketches to do that, because of the time delivery constraints that we had with HBO—which we did not have with Netflix.
BO: Yeah, Netflix doesn’t care. The creative freedom is available in a couple places now. HBO still offers creative freedom, Hulu, and a lot of places. But Netflix has, in addition to that, no time restrictions—which is pretty amazing. I’m not sure how long that fourth episode is, but I think it’s 33 minutes or something. That’s way over what you could do anywhere else. [The salesmen sketch] wouldn’t have come out that way. [Beeping noise in the background.] Jesus Christ. Sorry, my toast is ready. It’s a joke! I repurposed!
DC: The exact same way!
BO: [To The A.V. Club.] Did you like the salesmen sketch?
AVC: Yeah. The last half of that fourth episode is really great. I love the salesmen, and I love the Colton Burpo sketch—“Heaven Is Totes For Realz” might be my favorite sketch of the new show.
BO: Oh, that’s a David Cross joint!
DC: [Laughs.] Well, yeah—those two things, it really makes for a whole show. But again, “Salesman” being north of 8 minutes long, that’s just something you can’t do in any other outlet. You might be aware that it’s a long piece, but it doesn’t feel long. You’re not like, “Hurry up, when’s the ending of this thing?” As you do become conscious of how long the sketch is, it’s actually a really cool thing—it’s an enjoyable element to it, that we took that time, and it’s a really slow-paced and evocative piece. And maybe in a different context, maybe “Heaven Is Totes For Realz” isn’t as enjoyable alongside a piece like “Salesman.” I would throw that in the mix—there’s a good balance to the stuff we did.
BO: And just so you know: A lot of people have asked us, “Why is it called With Bob And David,” or they joke about the contract—the legal aspects of it and all. But the truth is we pitched this show to HBO, we told them we’re not going to call it Mr. Show. Because we wanted to be able to do something like “Salesman” and not worry about, “Well, that’s not really something we would have done 16 years ago.” It’s similar to some things we did—“Basketball Recruiters” is very similar to it. We just wanted total freedom here. We didn’t want to sell it based on yesterday so much. If you’d asked me a year ago if we’d get that many of the old cast in this show, I would’ve said “No.” I would’ve said, “They’re too busy, and we’re going to use young people who we’ve met, and who are due,” and it turns out that the writers and the actors from the original Mr. Show were excited, interested, great energy, eager to do it. So we used them. Of course, we also had new people. Jon Barinholtz is the guy in that “Salesman” sketch, and he’s really great, and a guy I’ve done sketch comedy with over the last 10 years in different groups. Some of The Birthday Boys appeared in the show. We got Dave “Gruber” Allen—I don’t think Gruber was ever in Mr. Show, was he?
DC: I want to say he was—in the hippie pie. Isn’t he a stagehand? He is, when we do that Batman thing.
BO: Erik, did you see the “extra Beatles” sketch?
AVC: Is that in the second episode? I was having trouble with the screener of that one and couldn’t watch the whole thing.
DC: Gruber’s in that, and he’s so fucking funny. And he improvised that.
BO: And we probably wouldn’t have done that in Mr. Show, either. That was just a crazy, free-form improv by Dave “Gruber” Allen that we left in complete. And again, the reason being, we don’t have time-structure limits on Netflix.
Let me ask you something, Erik—did you see the thing about the skier?
AVC: Waif Nickelson?
BO: Yes, yes. I just want to say, David, and I have not brought this up yet, but I think that with that Dave “Gruber” Allen moment, and with Waif Nickelson, we’ve done some pieces that are closer to the great Monty Python than anything we’ve ever done. Not that you give a shit.
DC: That’s arguable. But that seems to make sense to me in the moment.
AVC: I’ll back Bob up on that one. I caught a Python vibe from the part of the skier sketch when Waif is being interviewed.
DC: The whole thing. The whole thing.
BO: The reason is, I think with Mr. Show—and David, you’re going to argue with me on this—but, man, I don’t know: I just had a lot bugs up my ass. Sticks up my ass? What did I have up my ass, David?
DC: You had bugs, on the end of a stick, up your ass.
BO: [Laughs.] I had sticks with bugs up my ass doing Mr. Show! And they were all based on coming out of Saturday Night Live and being younger and being frustrated for so many years at not being able to do the best sketches I could do in the best possible way. I had a real fucking hard-on about what a sketch was and how to do it right and how to do a great sketch show. And I think with this, it’s like, “Well, we already did Mr. Show, and that’s great and pure—now let’s just have some fun and try to be as funny as we can be.” I think we’ve relaxed a lot more, and that’s where a piece like the Waif Nickelson piece, the extra Beatle—not that we wouldn’t have done those in Mr. Show, but I think we would’ve tortured them a little more and made them less fun. That’s how I see it. Because this isn’t called Mr. Show, because we had no time limit on this, we didn’t have this purist drive. It was like, “Let’s be funny and write the best sketch we can, and let’s weave Dave “Gruber” Allen’s super hilarious improv monologue in, because it’s too damn great.” And who cares if it links up or doesn’t link up. We cut loose a little bit.
DC: To that point, part of what gives you that feeling is the fact that when we had the initial Waif Nickelson sketch, and we were doing the rewrites for it—and I say this for all the pieces this time around—the rewrites came a little easier to us. We weren’t as tortured figuring it out, rewriting it. With the exception of “Pot Tours,” which obviously we didn’t do—and I’m sorry Erik, I’m referencing something you don’t know about, and will never know about. Our rewriting was a little bit more fun—we just came to it easier than we did Mr. Show.
BO: I would say that, with Mr. Show, there were more scenes like “Pot Tours.” This is a sketch that you didn’t see, Erik, because it is not funny. We tried like hell to make it work, and we had a lot more of that on Mr. Show. “No, we’re going to make it funny. We’re going to make it work.” This one we just said “Fuck it—let’s just go on to another idea that’s actually funny.”
AVC: One thing that’s noticeable in the course of this interview is that you guys still make one another laugh. Do you think that’s what makes your relationship work after all this time?
BO: Well, I’m sitting on David’s hand. But other than that…
DC: And Cialis.
BO: Let’s not deny Cialis.
DC: Laughter is definitely a part of it. But there have been medical advances in the last 16 years—
BO: And laughter is a side effect of Cialis.