Writing Staff Breakdown is a new Splitsider column that takes a writing staff from a beloved TV comedy, examines their individual contributions to the show and collaborations between the writers before and after. This week, we’re looking at the writers for the third season of Bob Odenkirk and David Cross’s Mr. Show.
“Mr. Show was certainly from a writers perspective, the best show to work for on TV. Which is to say, you have the most freedom.” - Bob Odenkirk, in the book Mr. Show What Happened?!
One of the most influential and revered sketch shows ever on television, Mr. Show amassed a devoted following amongst comedy fans and comedy writers alike off of its four-year, 30-episode run. The show’s third season was the time HBO gave Odenkirk and Cross a full 10-episode order following Mr. Show’s first two seasons, which clocked in at a scant four and six episodes, respectively. Having expanded to include a writing staff during the second season (Odenkirk and Cross wrote the whole first season alone), Mr. Show was able to add another couple writers for season three (Dino Stamatopoulos, who contributed to the show previously, and Mike Upchurch). Throughout its run, Odenkirk and Cross largely culled their writing staff (and cast) from LA’s alternative comedy scene, where they had done a series of live shows together that resulted in Mr. Show.
Bob Odenkirk & David Cross
Before partnering up with David Cross for Mr. Show, Bob Odenkirk spent four seasons on Saturday Night Live before jumping to The Ben Stiller Show and then to Get a Life. Using his well-oiled abilities as a sketch writer, he began collaborating with David Cross, an experienced Boston standup who was hired on as a writer for the tail end of Stiller Show, on a Los Angeles live show called The 3 Goofballz (the third Goofball passes away at the start of the show) that served as the impetus for Mr. Show. Odenkirk and Cross wrote the entirety of Mr. Show’s first season together and served as the head writers for the show for its entire run. Since Mr. Show, both Odenkirk and Cross have had wildly successful acting and writing careers, most notably playing Saul Goodman and Tobias Fünke on Breaking Bad and Arrested Development, respectively, with Odenkirk also shepherding in (and writing on) comedies like Tom Goes to the Mayor and The Birthday Boys.
Bill Odenkirk, Bob Odenkirk’s younger brother who earned a Ph.D in chemistry before starting his comedy writing career on Mr. Show, proved to be a prolific writer on the show’s staff. Post-Mr. Show, Bill Odenkirk was a writer on Futurama’s original run and has spent the last decade as a writer/producer on The Simpsons.
After getting his start in Chicago’s comedy scene where he performed at the Annoyance Theater and The Second City Touring Company, Jay Johnston headed to LA, where he teamed up with Paul F. Tompkins and put on a sketch show called The Skates that caught the eye of Bob Odenkirk and David Cross, who hired Tompkins and Johnston for the second season of Mr. Show. Johnston has since served as a writer for Dino Stamatopoulos’s Moral Orel and a consultant on Human Giant, starred on The Sarah Silverman Project, played a recurring role as a cop on Arrested Development (alongside Mr. Show’s Jerry Minor), and has done a ton of voice work (Moral Orel, High School USA!, Bob’s Burgers).
Paul F. Tompkins
Coming to LA via Philadelphia, where had started doing standup, Paul F. Tompkins performed in the aforementioned live show The Skates with comedy partner Jay Johnston before they were both added to Mr. Show’s staff. Since Mr. Show, Tompkins has stayed busy a standup, writer, and actor, releasing numerous standup albums and specials, appearing regularly on Comedy Bang! Bang!, hosting the web chat show Speakeasy, and the podcasts The Pod F. Tompkast and Dead Authors.
Sketches: “Our Secret Love,” “The Hanged Man”
A fellow standup in LA when Mr. Show began, Brian Posehn had a brief stint as a writer for The Jon Stewart Show before being hired by Odenkirk and Cross. Posehn wrote some of Mr. Show’s best-known sketches like “Titannica,” which followed the fan of a metal ban who badly burned his body in a vat of acid and came from an original idea by Posehn. Since Mr. Show, Posehn has remained busy as a standup, actor, and writer, starring in The Sarah Silverman Program, recurring on Just Shoot Me, doing the standup/tour movie The Comedians of Comedy, and writing for Nick Swardson’s Pretend Time, Metalocalypse, and more.
After having worked with Bob Odenkirk on The Ben Stiller Show and Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Dino Stamatopoulos took some convincing to join Mr. Show’s staff for its third season, having just ended on ABC’s ill-fated Dana Carvey Show. Stamatopoulos, who had previously contributed the “Jeepers Creepers” sketch to season two, stayed on for the rest of Mr. Show’s run and penned some of its headier sketches, including “Pre-Taped” and “Audition.” Since Mr. Show, Stamatopoulos has written for and played a recurring role on Community and created animated series Moral Orel, Mary Shelley’s Frankenhole, and High School USA!
Only working at Mr. Show for one season, Mike Upchurch contributed the initial premises to “The Devestator,” “Lie Detector,” and “Blowing Up the Moon” before jumping to The Chris Rock Show the following season and MADtv after that.
COLLABORATIONS BEFORE/AFTER MR. SHOW:
NOTABLE FUTURE COLLABORATIONS:
The most closely-tied TV series to Mr. Show was Tenacious D, an HBO series following Kyle Gass and Jack Black’s comedy-rock act of the same name, that Bob Odenkirk and David Cross co-created with Gass and Black after having seen the duo in LA’s alt scene and working with Black as an occasional actor on Mr. Show. The resulting HBO series, which also featured Paul F. Tompkins as an actor and Bill Odenkirk as a writer, only ran six episodes before Black and Gass decided to end it to avoid network meddling (HBO allegedly wanted 10 more episodes but only if they could take creative control away from Tenacious D).
Run Ronnie Run
Mr. Show’s spinoff movie focusing on David Cross’s redneck Cops regular Ronnie Dobbs, Run Ronnie Run was released straight-to-DVD and has been pretty much disowned by most involved (Odenkirk said, “I encourage people to rent, not buy”) after creative control was taken away from Cross and Odenkirk during production. Odenkirk and Cross wrote the script along with Brian Posehn and season four Mr. Show writers Scott Aukerman and B.J. Porter.
Comedy Bang! Bang!
Hosted and created by Mr. Show season four writer Scott Aukerman, the IFC series Comedy Bang! Bang! is the only TV sketch show created by a former Mr. Show writer to make it to series and it has featured a plethora of Mr. Show alums, including Bob Odenkirk, David Cross, Paul F. Tompkins, John Ennis, Jerry Minor, Sarah Silverman, and more, in addition to having an adjacent sensibility to Mr. Show. Same goes for Aukerman’s podcast of the same name that inspired the sketch show too.
Following Mr. Show, Bob Odenkirk created a pilot for a Fox sketch show called Next! that hoped to be a more mainstream version of Mr. Show. Bringing performers Jay Johnston, Jill Talley, Jerry Minor, and Brian Posehn and writers Scott Aukerman and B.J. Porter with him, Odenkirk shot the pilot (with Fred Armisen, Zach Galifianakis, and Patton Oswalt also making appearances), but the network passed on the show.
Hooray for America!
Written in 1998, Hooray for America! was David Cross and Bob Odenkirk’s first screenplay together, for what would have been a Mr. Show movie. Odenkirk says the sketch-heavy film “had one of the studios .. interested in it in a pretty serious way for a short while,” but it never came to be. They also wrote (with Brian Posehn) a feature called Bob and David Make a Movie in 2003, the screenplay for which was released last year alongside the Hooray for America! script in a book called Hollwood Said No! The book also featured an audiobook version from a bunch of Mr. Show performers.
There’s been a big wave of sketch shows that have come out since Mr. Show, and the creators of series like Portlandia, Key & Peele, Kroll Show, Inside Amy Schumer, and Human Giant, amongst others have all cited the HBO comedy as an inspiration. On top of that, there are sketch shows from groups that Odenkirk mentored (like The Birthday Boys and Tim & Eric) who have a more direct link to the series’ creative team.