Hey, everybody! It’s Bob and David! On Zoom!
The cult of Bob Odenkirk and David Cross’s ’90s HBO sketch series, Mr. Show, has endured for over two decades. Though its format was indebted to Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Mr. Show’s humor sprang entirely from the brain trust of Bob, David, and their stable of writers and performers, all of whom came to define what was then labeled “alternative comedy,” but is now basically just “comedy.” Stray lines and bits from the show became a secret language for its followers. Fans passed around tapes (later, DVDs and YouTube clips) as if they were cultural currency. For certain likeminded people, Mr. Show is not just a comedy classic, but a cultural touchstone and a lens through which to view our absurd world.
Since the show ended in 1998, the Mr. Show crew has reunited a few times, most notably for the 2015 Netflix revival series W/ Bob & David. However, in light of COVID-19 and quarantine living, Bob and David decided to get the gang back together again for a one-hour reunion special, filmed on Zoom, called Mr. Show Zoomtacular Annual Business Call for Charity, to benefit Lift, a nonprofit organization that empowers families to break the cycle of poverty. Almost the entire extended cast of Mr. Show participated in the event: Tom Kenny, Jill Talley, Jay Johnston, John Ennis, Scott Aukerman, Brian Posehn, Brett Paesel, Mary Lynn Rajskub, and Paul F. Tompkins. The special will be available to stream here until Sunday, May 17 at midnight ET for a $10 fee.
The special plays like a truncated, socially distanced episode of Mr. Show: There’s a cold open, a series of linked sketches, and a musical number to wrap things up. The main difference is that the cast chats out of character between the comedy. Everyone uses that time to plug their own work (both real and fictitious), joke around with each other, or try to plan a Mr. Show live tour, and despite the awkward pauses and technical glitches, it feels like you’re a fly on the wall in a bull session between great comedy minds.
At one point, Bob sincerely thanks the legion of Mr. Show fans and posits that the reason why the show worked was that they made it to entertain themselves. “We always knew that we were making really funny stuff,” he says, “and if people had the chance to see it over time, they would love it and they would see what we loved about it, and that was true. That turned out to be true.” This reunion special is proof of that fact.
Here’s a rundown of the new batch of quarantine-era sketches from the Mr. Show team:
A Special Message From GloboChem (Cold Open)
As COVID-19 spreads across the globe, it’s important to remember that corporations still care about you. Here to reaffirm that sentiment is GloboChem CEO Jeff Beeboop (Odenkirk), who wants to ensure his customers that the company is “standing with you, silently and bravely selling you [their] products” and that “all profits made during this pandemic will be just fine.” (They’re in offshore accounts.) Not only does GloboChem promise to charge the consumer an extra dollar for every one they send to a tax-deductible charity, their pharmaceutical department, run by Dr. Winnipeg T. Roosterman (Cross), is hard at work on a vaccine. Additionally, they’re hard at work on creating COVID-20, which will apparently make COVID-19 look like “a two-pump chump in a tornado filled with spiders,” because America can and will beat China in the great virus race. Bob and David excelled at satirizing corporate jargon on Mr. Show, so it’s no surprise that they nailed it in this sketch, complete with the phony concerned tone that masks blithe disregard for anything but money. Still, GloboChem loves you, even when they rob you blind.
Terrible Unfunny News
In the latest edition of Terrible Unfunny News, which sends reporters to “all the worst places in the world,” it seems that the journalists are focusing more on the minor inconveniences that befall them and less on the issues. Steven Spreckles (Odenkirk) was sent to war-torn Damascus, but the nightmare he experienced involved a bumpy flight and a hotel with “less-than-ideal air conditioning and scratchy blankets.” Kip Kibbleson (Aukerman) had his credit card declined at refugee camp in Greece. (The clerk, who was bleeding from his head because of an IED, was of no help.) Meanwhile, Belinda Banes (Rajskub) was surprised by the lack of warmth and hospitality in Turin, Italy, where she was arrested every time she tried to kiss anyone on the cheeks. Finally, Rory Reams (Johnston) collapses in despair before he can deliver his “Wuhan Weather Watch.” Though the roundtable sketch was the weakest of the evening, it was still a nice showcase for familiar faces, especially Johnston, who overcame technical difficulties with his trademark howls of anguish.
F.F. Woodycooks Takes a Byte Out of (Cyber) Crime
Dedicated Mr. Show fans will definitely recall one of Bob’s most memorable characters, F.F. Woodycooks, the corny, mustachioed host of Take Back the Streets who shakes his “crime stick” at crooks who try to pull off any mischief. (Fun fact: F.F. Woodycooks is based on retired Chicago cop J.J. Bittenbinder, who was also skewered by comedian John Mulaney in a lengthy bit in his special Kid Gorgeous.) Well, F.F. Woodycooks returns, forced out of retirement “by circumstance and bankruptcy,” to teach all the PC patsies, iGoofballs, and smart phonies about the dangers of the cyberweb. It seems that Woodycooks fell for an extremely obvious phishing scam, which led him to hand over all his personal information to a “Nigerian nincompoop” posing as his wife, despite the fact that she was in the very next room. As Woodycooks (Odenkirk) explains his predicament in one screen, David, also dressed as Woodycooks, silently reenacts the scene in another, creating the illusion of voiceover narrating a pre-taped segment. Since Zoom’s lo-fi vibe falls in line with Mr. Show’s low-budget, high-imagination aesthetic, David goofily acting out Woodycooks’s Tron-esque trip through the “computo-sphere,” while one of his fake eyebrows constantly falls off, worked perfectly for the special.
COVID-19 Band Meeting
The reunion’s centerpiece sketch brings together every member of the Mr. Show family (available on the Zoom call, apologies to Karen Kilgariff) for a K-pop boy-band extravaganza. The group COVID-19 — an acronym for Creating One Voice in Death, which has 19 members, all of whom are 19 years old — has been having some PR trouble lately because of this pesky worldwide pandemic, so the members who haven’t been sent to retraining camp for “thinking thoughts” meet with Born 2 Kiss Records executive Maurice Kimstein (Cross) to discuss their options. Some of the band members in attendance include Ego 3 (Aukerman), the boy with the blonde hair, the shoes, and the ego of three; Twiggy Peanuts 7B (Posehn), the boy with the leather underwear, women’s shirts, as well as shoes, who lives in Apartment 7B; and Go-Go Zamboni Lip Flap (Rajskub), the boy with no shoes. Together, they hear “voicemails” from a concerned mother (Ennis) and their fan club president (Paesel), and seek the advice of Gail Sweetfellow from Persona Incorporated (Kenny) and standards guru Rick Rondone (Odenkirk).
Despite some technical glitches that come with the territory of a Zoom show, this sketch hews most closely to classic Mr. Show structure, complete with a linking prologue — featuring return appearances from Entertainment 4-Every-1 Productions’ agent Candy Addams (Talley) and “Choo Choo” the Hurkey Jerky Dancer (Johnston) — and a chorus of voices that utilize the entire ensemble. Mr. Show musical director Eban Schletter even composes a new song for the occasion: COVID-19’s latest single, which contains such unfortunate virus-related lyrics like “There is no vaccination / Infectious generation / It’s mimicking a heart attack / No PPE, you’ll not regret.” Though the premise might be more topical than the standard Mr. Show sketch, the comedy remains evergreen and absurd, like a meta riff on “Who’s on First?” and Tom Kenny bringing out his huckster voice. If this isn’t your cup of tea, blame the “algorithm provided by Yahoo and their comedy department” that wrote the sketch.
“Eat It” Celebrity Cover
Anyone who dared to watch the tone-deaf celebrity cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine” already knows there’s nothing worse than celebrities smugly singing at you. But maybe it was just Gal Gadot’s song selection that held it back. To close out the reunion show, Bob and David got a bunch of their friends to sing “Weird Al” Yankovic’s Grammy-winning song “Eat It,” in the hopes that it “will linger briefly in your heart and then camp out like a murder hornet in your ears.” Many members of the comedy community grace us with their presence to contribute a lyric or two. This includes Mr. Show cast members Sarah Silverman, Scott Adsit, and Jack Black, who at one point almost swallows the camera; Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul alumni Bryan Cranston, Rhea Seehorn, Michael Mando, and Michael McKean; and other familiar faces like Tony Hale, Rachel Bloom, Philip Rosenthal, and former Minnesota senator Al Franken. Even Mr. Yankovic makes an appearance to bring the song home. Just remember, we’re all in this together … but just until the nightmare is over. After that, you’re on your own.