comics talk to comics

Bob Odenkirk Talks to Derek Waters About Drunk History, Drinking With David Simon, and the State of Sitcoms

Photo: Illustration: Maya Robinson and Photos by Kevin Winter/Getty Images and Maarten de Boer/Getty Images Portrait

Ten years ago, Bob Odenkirk met with Derek Waters and his then–comedy partner Simon Helberg, and suggested they do a show together based on their lives. A couple years later, they all worked together on the hilarious web series Derek and Simon, and the rest is history (that same year, Helberg joined the cast of The Big Bang Theory, and Waters debuted the first installment of Drunk History.) So, with the now-Emmy-nominated Drunk History’s third season set to premiere tonight, who else better to interview Waters than Odenkirk? They discuss the show’s new season, getting offered drinks, Mr. Show, and the Emmys.

Derek Waters: Welcome back.

Bob Odenkirk: Yeah, I get a brief visit to L.A., which is awesome. I didn’t get to come home much last season when Better Call Saul was shooting. I was in a lot of the show. I’m Saul, as it turns out. 
Before I forget, I want to ask you where you got that purple sweater you were wearing. Episode three of Mr. Show. I really liked it.

Which Mr. Show? The new one? 
New Mr. Show. Netflix Mr. Show.

Oh, yeah. I got it at J.Crew. 
I really, really liked it.

Did you like the new show? It’s not called Mr. Show. It’s called With Bob and David
That’s better.

It’s better. It’s shorter. You don’t have to remember Mr. Show With Bob and David. You can just remember With Bob and David. That makes it simpler and easier. HBO owns the words Mr. Show, not us. 
Both words?

Yes. Mr. and Show. They can use them anytime they want. Any day, any place. But we cannot, unless we knock on the door and ask them. It’s all good. We got to make more shows. We’re really excited. You liked it, huh? 
I loved it. I love that Salesman parody. There are very few people who know the documentary Salesman, and then to parody it is so good. When does it start?

I believe in November. Netflix is still deciding. There are no rules over at Netflix, which is great. They don’t have seasons, they don’t have anything. They just put stuff on when they want. They make what they want. There are no time limits. There are no rules. What about you and Drunk History? Are you shooting, or are you done? 
We’re still shooting some interstitial stuff. We did a whole episode in the theme of really great journalists, and I got to go to Baltimore last week and sit down with David Simon and eat crabs and talk about journalism. Fucking insane.

That is so great. That’s great. What’s he like? 
Could not have been sweeter. Really funny. When you’re next to somebody like that, you think any minute they’re going to look at you and go, “What are you doing? You don’t know what the fuck you’re doing.” He didn’t say that. At least not out loud. He was great. He wants to be a narrator next season, if there is a next season.

He’s willing to get that ripped? 
Yeah. He wanted to get ripped. We drank tequila and hot sauce. And I don’t do well with hot sauce, but I’m not going to say no to him. I start doing it, and I’m just crying. He was like, “Oh, I know what you’re fucking doing. I know the interrogation tricks. You’re trying to pretend that you’re not fucked up, so I’ll start drinking more.”

There were like eight people in this restaurant where we were. And everyone when we walked by just said, “Omar’s coming.” Pretty cool.

Did people try to buy you booze? Did they try to get you drunk? 
Yeah, I don’t know. Yes, to answer you.

You had to say no, right? 
I have to say no.

You didn’t think, how can I create a show where I get to be drunk? 
Yeah, how can I use this problem and make it a positive? Or, how can I get paid to drink? 

Right. You drank like a normal person, and not to excess, really. And you don’t look forward to drinking nowadays?
No, it smells like work, and it tastes horrible.

Yeah, this is the solution for alcoholism. Sell a show where you get drunk. Hey, that’s the new first step in AA now. 
That’s right. They changed it.

Yeah, there are 13 steps, and the first is, sell a show where you have to be drunk. So you got a good new season coming up. What can I look forward to? What can I look forward to learning about? 
Well, I’m really excited. We have some cities that I’m excited about. But we did a lot of theme episodes. We did one about spies, which was really exciting. Like, how Harriet Tubman was a spy. And Roald Dahl, the children’s writer, was a British spy. He got his information from fucking. Yeah, he would have sex with girls and pillow-talk with famous political women and get secrets out of them.

Nice job.
Yeah, really great job. And like the story of Griselda Blanca. Do you know her? She was the godmother of cocaine in Miami.

Oh, right. I saw Cocaine Cowboys 2, I believe. 
And now they are making a movie. What do you think the laziest title would be for a movie about a woman that empires a cocaine trade?

Oh, man. Mrs. Blow
My first guess would be Scarf-face. But it’s not Scarf-face; it’s Godmother. What’s lazier?

Jesus. That’s so boring. That’s boring as shit. 
That makes me think it’s not real. Like, What if the Godfather was a woman?

Yep. Sounds like a cheap, bullshit thing. 
Did Naomi [Odenkirk, Waters’ manager and Bob’s wife] tell you what happened last night?

Oh, yeah! You ran into Helberg. 
Yeah, just out of the blue, we randomly went to that restaurant where we shot our Derek and Simon presentation, and then Simon Helberg is sitting right next to us.

More people should go onto YouTube and watch the Derek and Simon episodes that we all made together. It was you and Simon Helberg being super-great and funny. HBO should have made it into a series.
People still talk to me about the Pity Card, the tour we did for HBO. It had that young actor, Bill Hader, and the young Zach Galifianakis.

Yeah, we only made a few episodes, but they were damn good. You were a hell of a team, and now Simon is on The Big Bang Theory, which has done well. I think it’s in its third season now. Second season? 
Second season.

Just got picked up for its second season. Good for them. [Laughs.] It’s about science, right?
It’s a theory about science. But that’s all I know.

How can you do a sitcom about science? There’s no one viewing it. No Christians are watching it because they are going to be insulted by it. It’s like an FU in their face. Like, “See? Evolution happened.” 
It’s like, “According to Jim.” It’s a theory.

Right, right, right. These sitcoms that are about theories. I like it based in reality. A situation based in hard facts. Dragnet is great and really funny because it was a simple: They just wanted the facts.
Are there any sitcoms anymore?

I like Mom
Mom. I’ve never seen it. Anna Faris. Allison Janney. Matt Jones. 

I don’t know if there are sitcoms. Girls is a great show. And Last Man on Earth is not a sitcom, but man, is it funny. 
It’s so great. I love it. It gives me such hope. Without sounding like I’m some preachy television guy, but the fact that it’s on network television …

Yeah. It’s crazy. I hope it’s doing well. It’s so funny and different. And it’s very much a genre-straddler. It feels like a movie, but it’s obviously episodic, but really links and builds out into a movie. 
I feel like that idea has been around forever, but no one has ever executed — “What if you were the last person on Earth?” Like, it’s stale.

I give a lot of credit to [Phil] Lord and [Chris] Miller, who produced it. Because I’ve directed Will Forte writing [in 2007’s The Brothers Solomon], and I did not handle it well. They figured it out. They figured out how to give it enough reality, and give it enough life that it feels complex and real, so that the comic parts are really funny, and also grounded. It’s a tricky thing to do. Will writes such funny, silly stuff, but you have to kind of fight the silliness. They did an amazing job. 
So believable. Have you been directing at all?

No, I’m just acting my pants off in Better Call Saul.
And it’s so great.

The job demands it. It certainly takes up all of my energy and focus to do this wonderful writing well. I have had so many different things, and I enjoy doing them, but I’ve got to really check myself when I do this show and take note of how well-written it is and how complex the emotional moments are. I have to bring it and get there and do them right, or otherwise it would be embarrassing.
You’re so good in it. I remember when you and I first met, and I would always talk about Larry Sanders or some moment you had in some other show, and you would be like, “Yeah, buddy, I’m not an actor. I’m a writer.” And now you’re nominated for a fucking Emmy, Bob. Congratulations.

Well, thank you. It’s all the writing. The emotional logic is there, and the depth is there. As you read the writing and think about it and practice the scenes, you find all of this resonance to what you’ve already done in the character. It all works. 
It’s so cool that all of this stuff stemmed from the heart and gold of the best show ever, which is Mr. Show. That’s how Vince Gilligan wanted you for Breaking Bad. Vince was a Mr. Show fan.

Yeah, I don’t understand how he made that leap, but he did. You’re nominated for an Emmy, too, right? 
We’re going. You want to carpool?

Definitely, let’s save on gas. Prius, both of us in it. 
Yeah, my Prius or yours?

Mine’s powered purely by wind power. My tux is 70 feet tall, so it can get the gust of wind that comes across the Sierra Madre, which will power it and make me look fabulous. I can’t get into the building because of the height you need to get the wind turbines to catch wind. I wish you luck. I hope you win.
With the whole process of how long I’ve been doing this thing, now it doesn’t become a serious show, but it’s like these people who look at real shows are saying this is in the same world as a real show, which is crazy.

I feel the same way. Obviously, we were going to be scrutinized coming out of Breaking Bad, but the fact that we got nominated, that’s a huge win for us. To be told, “Okay, It’s good enough.” It belongs in a world of legit stuff. 
Wait, when does Better Call Saul come back?

Oh man, I can’t wait.

Thank you for taking this collect call.

Sure. [Laughs.] Want me to bail you out of prison? 
If you don’t mind.

Okay, I’ll get right on it. 
All right. Thank you, Robert.

Odenkirk Talks to Waters About Drunk History