When you get David Cross and Bob Odenkirk, the duo behind W/ Bob & David, on the phone, chances are you’ll have to break up the two’s conversation — and chances are you’ll have a hard time not just letting them riff off each other for the remainder of your phone interview because they’re just that amusing.
This is what happened when Cross and Odenkirk called up EW to talk about the upcoming W/ Bob & David, an upcoming sketch series airing on Netflix. The show marks the first time the two — who’ve kept busy with beloved shows like Arrested Development (Cross) and Better Call Saul (Odenkirk) — have worked on a television series together since HBO’s Mr. Show, also a sketch comedy, went off the air after four seasons in 1998.
But that doesn’t mean this is Mr. Show 2.0: Odenkirk says he’s happy to be free from some of the rules they imposed on themselves during the making of that show, like making sure each sketch in an episode is connected.
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“In the end, the thing that really stays with you is not that you were clever enough to connect a sketch to another sketch, but what really sticks with you is when you just have an incredible moment happen, or execute a really funny idea,” Odenkirk says. “The laugh is what trumps everything.”
Read on for more from Cross and Odenkirk, and see the first season when it begins streaming on Netflix Friday.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where are you guys calling from?
BOB ODENKIRK: I’m in Albuquerque.
DAVID CROSS: I’m in New York.
ODENKIRK: Wait a second. Look outside your window, are you sure? You know one of us is in Albuquerque, one’s in New York. What do you see when you look outside your window, David?
CROSS: I see the statue of Albuquerque?
ODENKIRK: And I see the Empire State Cactus Building.
CROSS: I’m seeing a beautiful mesa. Am I using that word correctly, mesa?
What is a mesa?
ODENKIRK: It’s made of corn. It’s called a maize-a.
CROSS: Boo. Everybody’s booing that over here on my end.
Enough about mesas, let’s get to W/ Bob & David. When did you guys decide you wanted to do another sketch show together?
ODENKIRK: [Shouts] August 14, 1997. [Stops shouting] We’ve been talking about it for years. We’ve actually done a lot of touring and stuff and we even did a live tour with our friend Brian Posehn, what was that, two years ago, David?
CROSS: Yeah, about.
ODENKIRK: Yeah, it was like two years ago. We did a tour with sketches, lots of sketches and some stand-up. And we had a really, really great time, and it had all new sketches in it. And because we keep writing and thinking of stuff, and we still enjoy working together, it’s sort of just always something we’re talking about. We just have always had the hardest time having our schedules match up. So David was talking about doing something for Mr. Show’s 20th anniversary and we were talking about doing a live tour, and then I thought, why don’t we just do some new episodes of a new show that’s sketch comedy? And kind of just keep moving forward.
It seemed like a better way to spend our time than to do some kind of celebratory tour about this great show that we both loved. In the end, we ended up working with a lot of our friends from that old show but we never intended to, and we never thought … it was never a prerequisite, because we’re not celebrating Mr. Show with this show. We’re just doing new material. So we never felt like we had to use the old writers or the old cast, we just worked with everybody we loved, and as it turned out, it was quite a few of those people.
Now, did you look at Mr. Show as a model of sorts for this? Are there things you did and didn’t like about that that you used to help you create W/ Bob & David?
ODENKIRK: I did, but not as a positive model. [Laughs] I didn’t want to have to do some of the things we did. We were younger and we were very much purists in regards to sketch comedy, and for me, Monty Python was always the touchstone and the desire to have a show with the scenes handed off one to the other was really important and all that stuff is a lot less important to me now. I just want to do funny stuff that makes me laugh. In the end, the thing that really stays with you is not that you were clever enough to connect a sketch to another sketch, but what really sticks with you is when you just have an incredibly funny moment happen. Or execute a really funny idea. The laugh is what trumps everything.
And so this new show, I just wanted to not worry about any rules we had in the old show. And I also wanted to have David and I feel free to maybe do like a 15-minute long sketch, which we didn’t end up doing, but because we’re not Mr. Show, we can do whatever we want. This is a new thing. And we did do like an eight-minute sketch, which we’ve never done before. It’s not as different as I thought it might end up being. We don’t feel constrained by what we did in the past, and that was the key to it, for me.
CROSS: I suspect that if we weren’t so severely limited by our schedules, which really determined that we could only do four of these episodes kind of properly with the time we had, if we had done eight or 10, you would have seen an episode that was, maybe made of three sketches and one was 14 minutes long. I think we would have gravitated toward that as we were sitting there and really building up. It’s the one regret of this go-round is that, kind of just as we were getting our shit together and figuring it out, we had to stop. But I bet you would have seen more experimental things. Almost like we say, when we talk about a fifth season of Mr. Show, it’s kind of like, we were really hitting our stride, but what would have that fifth season have looked like? I think the examples Bob gave, you would have seen, had we done like six or eight or ten episodes. You would have seen that. And that’s in part because we had no constraints.
Some people are calling this a continuation or a sequel or spin-off. What relationship do you think W/ Bob & David has to Mr. Show?
CROSS: It’s not. It’s not at all. Of course it’s going to get comparisons, of course, and of course it feels similar, because Bob and I are Bob and I. And that’s the head of the show, the comedy mind of the show. We use a number of the same cast and a number of the same writers, but of course it’s going to feel similar and familiar but it’s really not, in part because of the examples Bob just gave and it’s a different thing and we’re older. We’re not kids anymore. Everybody comes into it with 16 years more experience.
ODENKIRK: If you see a stand-up comic, and they do four specials, they’re going to be different from each other. It’s new material. It’s not the same. I feel like without having to call it a spin-off or a continuation or anything, we should be allowed to just do a new round of material and, for us, maybe it’s really just for us, although I would say for the audience too … I just want everybody, our old fans and any new people to not feel like, how much is this like that other show and how much is it not? And I especially don’t want kids who love sketch comedy to feel like, well, I never saw that Mr. Show so why would I like it? I want them to be open to what we’re doing.
Now let’s talk about some specific parts of the first episode. What’s your deal with red meat?
CROSS: The World Health Organization just came out and said what we all kind of knew, that red meat causes cancer. So it has the unfortunate veneer of topicality in that sketch. All of a sudden what is just supposed to be a random thing that nobody was supposed to go, “Oh, wow, man, you guys did it again!” It’s now a topical, relevant issue.
ODENKIRK: Here’s the thing. I hope people like that resolutions sketch, but that sketch, even though it has a lot of humor in it and it kind of has a sketch core to it, the other side of it is that the episode that follows that sketch all addresses everything that happens in that sketch.
CROSS: That’s a very kind of Mr. Show idea.
ODENKIRK: I don’t think the sketch on its own is a great sketch. You shouldn’t eat red meat, but you shouldn’t make resolutions you can’t keep. You say you’re going to be the pope, become the pope. And don’t say you’re going to stop eating red meat when you like red meat.
CROSS: Listen up, America.
Do you guys eat red meat?
ODENKIRK: Not nonstop, every day. Three times a day, only.
That’s fine. So why should people watch this?
ODENKIRK: Because it’s funny. It’ll make them laugh, it’ll maybe make them a little upset, which is good too. Everybody needs some good sketch comedy. Oh, I’ll tell you why! Because Key & Peele are done. And who else has stopped? Colbert has stopped. Well, he’s doing his late-night show.
CROSS: Nick Kroll.
ODENKIRK: A lot of people have left the building. And there’s empty space. There’s room for it.
CROSS: I would say you should watch it because 10 percent of your watching goes to charity. So it’s for a good cause as well.
ODENKIRK: If you want to see what your parents laughed at when they were smart and hip, check it out.