Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama: A Bob Odenkirk Live Review

by - March 08, 2022

Photo courtesy of Chicago Humanities Festival/DT Kindler

The Chicago Humanities Festival started as a single day celebration of the humanities and quickly became a year-round festival of arts and ideas. They present more than 100 annual events in venues across the Chicagoland area, including a recent event to support the release of actor, comedian, writer, director and producer Bob Odenkirk’s memoir, Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama.

“CHF is first and foremost a Chicago institution,” Chicago Humanities Festival Executive Director Phillip Bahar said. “Our programming often brings leading artists, authors and thinkers to Chicago. But, we’re also very much committed to highlighting the incredible voices that come from Chicago and celebrating our city’s home-grown talent and creativity. Bob Odenkirk began here in Chicago, from the stages of Second City to so many other comedy clubs. Bringing him home to celebrate his career and the city’s legacy in comedy felt like a great way to start the year. Plus, we knew it would be great fun.”

Odenkirk started his Illinois portion of his book tour at the historic Music Box Theatre with fellow Saturday Night Live alum Tim Meadows. With Meadows as the moderator, the two discussed their time working together both in New York City and Chicago, as well as some of the stories mentioned in Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama.

When Meadows asked what made Odenkirk decide to write a memoir - “What made you think that anybody cared?” - he named several show business-related memoirs that he enjoyed. He also mentioned his interactions with legendary actor, writer and teacher Del Close.

Odenkirk ran into Close in Chicago during his college years and asked to interview him. A two-hour conversation transpired from that question, where Odenkirk heard him “ramble about his career and it inspired me so much, that interaction, [that] maybe I could do the same thing for some young people.”

“He made it seem possible,” Odenkirk said. “I never met an older person who was excited about what they were going to do next. I remember looking at him as he was telling me this and thinking [that] I’ve never seen anybody his age tell me what they were going to do in a way that sounded like it might be cool or great and that they were excited about it. There was something about his excitement and I just thought maybe I could borrow that labored action and build on it to write a book.”

Another interaction Odenkirk wrote about in his memoir is with actor and comedian Chris Farley. He said there were two things that he attributed to having cared so much about Farley during the time they worked together: growing up with an alcoholic father, which he said made him empathize with those struggling with alcohol abuse, and the fact that Farley shared so much of his soul with everyone he encountered.

“Chris had an effect on everybody that worked with him,” Meadows said.

Photo courtesy of Chicago Humanities Festival/DT Kindler

One of Farley’s characters on Saturday Night Live, Matt Foley, an eccentric motivational speaker who frequently reminded other characters that he lived in a van down by the river, was written by Odenkirk and inspired by the town he grew up in, Naperville, Ill. He told the story at the Music Box Theatre, as well as the next night at an event in Naperville hosted by Anderson’s Bookshop, that Matt Foley was partially inspired by a childhood memory of visiting the Burger King right outside Naperville’s downtown area and crossing the bridge above the DuPage River.

“I just pictured that place and that’s where I put him; in a van down by the river,” Odenkirk told the Naperville audience. “It was that bridge that I had in my head that he parked his van and said, ‘I’m living here now.’”

He also told the Naperville crowd that the first time he saw one of his jokes performed on Saturday Night Live was while he was working at Chicago-based, retro-themed diner Ed Debevic’s.

“I’m not even a waiter yet; I’m running food to the table,” he joked. “The first time Dennis Miller read one of my jokes on [Saturday Night Live sketch ‘Weekend Update’] I was bringing hamburgers to a table and I looked up at the TV screen and I could tell he was doing my joke because of the picture over his shoulder, otherwise you couldn’t hear him.”

He wanted Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama to not only be about all the success that he has seen but the failure as well. He wanted to write about the projects that almost made it, the ones that weren’t a total failure but never saw the light of day.

“We don’t hear about all the in-between that really make up a career and oftentimes pay the bills,” he said. “I tried to write about that as much as I could without exhausting the reader.”

Whether he was speaking to an audience in his hometown or in the city that kick started his career, Bob Odenkirk displayed that Midwestern charm and comedic wit that makes his memoir feel like it is having a conversation with a friend. He gives the reader a chance to meet the artists that inspired him, and in turn hopes his journey can inspire others.

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