We’re All a Bunch of Silly Billies
Bob Odenkirk on writing, weirdness and A Load of Hooey
A Load of Hooey
If you see Bob Odenkirk on the street, try to restrain yourself.
Since being cast in the award-winning “Breaking Bad,” “People yell out ‘Saul!’ at me, like I’m an object,” says Odenkirk. “That feels weird. But I get it too. If you’re part of something as big and impactful as ‘Breaking Bad,’ people can’t help kind of seeing you as some kind of object that suddenly materialized in front of them out of the ether.”
It’s taken Odenkirk about five years to write and assemble the essays compiled in A Load of Hooey, his new book out nationally on Oct. 7. He comes to Bookworks (4022 Rio Grande NW) Sept. 27 for an early book release—copies of both Hooey and Hollywood Said No! (coauthored with Brian Posehn and David Cross) will be for sale. For Odenkirk a lot has changed in the past five years. Hooey reminds the world that this dramatic actor and director got his start in comedy and absurdist storytelling.
Naturally many fans associate Odenkirk with “Breaking Bad” and the upcoming “Better Call Saul” on deeply emotional levels, although Odenkirk’s career is expansive and varied. “That feels weird to me, though,” says Odenkirk. “Every actor is just a person doing their job, and if they’re lucky the material marries up with their talents and limitations to be ‘good.’”
It’s only recently that Odenkirk has made the switch to more dramatic acting parts. He started as an improviser, then moved to sketch with his comedy partner David Cross on “Mr. Show with Bob and David.” “I thought of myself primarily as a writer who acted sometimes and sometimes directed. But lately I have felt both challenged and rewarded as an actor,” he says. “One reason might be that I have only recently been getting cast into dramatic shows and films. Even though I am given some comedy, I think I feel that as an actor I am a better presence and contributor surrounded by weightier situations.” Although he’s taken on these weightier roles for the past few years, A Load of Hooey marks a return to Odenkirk’s comedy-writing roots.
Hooey (McSweeney’s; hardcover; $20) is a delightfully absurd collection of comedic essays with satirical elements. The collection has silly essays like “My Education, or, the Education of a Me, or, I Not Dumb,” where Odenkirk writes that his education on the streets “taught [him] very little algebra and absolutely no organic chemistry.” The book also includes the dark political satire “Hitler Dinner Party,” a one-act play in which the guests discuss what Hitler might do after the World War II thing and decide that he “pulled a real boner” going into war like that.
Odenkirk also works elements of his improv background into Hooey. “Initially, you are improvising your way through a character voice and/or situation,” he notes. “All writers are improvisers. The difference is, they don’t immediately have an audience sitting right there watching. But the ‘Yes, and …’ basics of improvising are necessary when writing the first draft of anything.” The “Yes, and …” approach is a tenet of improv acting. The goal is to accept the reality of what’s occurring in the moment and then add to it. This is especially evident in “Hitler Dinner Party” with a chorus of guests who constantly raise the stakes and push boundaries.
“I like to make people laugh. Like really crack up. When that happens, that makes me proudest,” says Odenkirk. “Cleverness is all well and good, and a grinning nod of the head can be nice, but a good, honest, surprised laugh is best.” And Hooey shines in this way. Nestled between the essays are short pieces called “Famous Quotes—Unabridged” with such quotes as, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. When I have failed miserably, that, too, was on the shoulders of giants—giant fuckups, that is.” Odenkirk attributes this gem to Sir Issac Newton.
Odenkirk is gearing up for a brief book tour in which he'll read, take questions, and “there even might be singing,” he says, “but since it’s me, you can’t rightly call it singing—not in the traditional sense of there being a melody and notes to it.”
The genius of Odenkirk’s comedy, whether in his book Hooey or his improv and sketch, is its subtlety and seamlessness. Yes it’s absurd—at times it’s even dark and piercing—but mostly it’s essentially human and embedded with an innocent charm. “If anything ties my comic writing together, it is pointing out what a bunch of silly billies we all are,” says Odenkirk. Each essay seems to outdo the one before it—more absurd, more irreverent and way goofier. Humans need the reminder: They are seriously silly.
Saturday, Sept. 27, 1pm
4022 Rio Grande NW