ESQ&A: Bob Odenkirk

The man behind Breaking Bad's Saul Goodman on religion, writing and Cranston

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As well as playing Walter White's ethically-lax lawyer Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad (and spin off show Better Call Saul), Bob Odenkirk is a widely respected comedy writer, with credits including Saturday Night LiveThe Ben Stiller Show and the Emmy-winning Mr. Show with Bob and David.

In his new book, A Load of Hooey, the 51-year-old embarks on everything from absurdist monologues to surreal fiction to (gulp) free form poetry. 

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We caught up with him about the book, his memories of Bryan Cranston and why internet comments suck.

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Did you write comedy as a kid?
I wrote comedy from the time I started watching Monty Python on public TV in Chicago. I was around 11. I would sit in my basement bedroom and write sketches, sometimes with my brother, Bill, who has now been writing at The Simpsons for years. When I was in my twenties my heroes were Albert Brooks and Chris Guest.

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You've said Peter Cook was an inspiration for A Load of Hooey. What do you make of the differences in the British and American sense of humour? 
I have been enjoying the Peter Cook collection Tragically I Was an Only Twin for a few years now. Peter Cook is the smartest comic voice that is also the most relaxed and natural I've ever encountered. His brain just spewed out clever, absurd, sharply comic points of view with no sweat or overreach. I think Americans probably have a hard time dealing with the mix of silliness, intelligence, and anarchy that is mixed into British comedy. We're a simpler people over here. We hit each other with sticks to settle arguments. We're clods. Lucky for me, I come off as 'semi-intelligent'.

The collection seems very conversational and free-flowing. What is your writing routine?
I just wrote stuff when it came to me. This book is odds and ends I wrote while writing a couple of TV pilots and acting in a few things. I didn't force any of it, and I did overwrite it.

What and who makes you laugh the most?
Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, 'This Bloke Came Up to Me'; Jay Johnston, 'The Story of Everest'; Charles Portis, The Dog of the South; Woody Allen, Zelig; Planes, Trains and Automobiles; Spinal Tap; the Mr Rogers bit from The National Lampoon Radio Hour; Bill Murray; Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim; Steve Brule; The Royle Family; the BBC Office; and David Cross just talking.

One of the passages in your book is about internet comments. Do you ever read online reviews of your work?
Yes. And no. But mostly yes. I try to avoid internet reviews or comments on my work. I think it's a perversion of the relationship between artist and audience. I'm not kidding. I think the artist, if you can call me one, should express themselves, try to satisfy their imagination and then move on. As an audience member, though, I love talking about (and talking down about) every damn thing I see or read. But I don't comment on the internet.

Religion rears its head a good deal in A Load of Hooey, as it does in a lot of humorous writing, like that of Simon Rich. Why do you think this might be?
There isn't a lot of dignity or seriousness around us in the modern world. It can be hard to find pomposity but religion is one place you can count on – as well as hypocrisy, deceitfulness, self-serving double-talk, selfishness on a grand scale, and sheer lunacy (sorry, Scientology). That all said, I am not an atheist. I find there is a certain intense pomposity in much atheism as well. I think humans need much of what religion attempts to deliver, but we haven't perfected it. I like to think I'm making fun of the imperfections. I hope this is a very confusing answer – that would make it truthful.

Have you enjoyed making Better Call Saul? What has the process been like?
Far more challenging than any acting gig I've ever had, and rewarding in the way a challenging effort can be. I try not to think about it in a big picture way, just show up every day trying to play the moments as honestly as I can. That makes it manageable for me.

Who was the biggest wisecracker on the set of Breaking Bad?
Cranston cracked wise a lot. I kept my lucky mouth shut and, mostly, continue to do so. In season two [of Better Call Saul] I will cut loose.

A Load of Hooey is released on October 7 and is available to pre-order now.

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