Better call y’all: To write memoir, Bob Odenkirk phoned friends for details he was too busy to remember

Actor-director promises he ‘doesn’t go too deep’ in looking back at his Naperville childhood, his Second City stint and his adventures at ‘SNL,’ ‘Mr. Show’ and ‘Breaking Bad.’

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An avid reader, Bob Odenkirk says he recognizes bad writing and worked hard to keep it out of his memoir.

Jesse Grant/Getty Images

The arc of Bob Odenkirk’s showbiz career has been more like a squiggle.

Over the years, the Naperville North grad has veered from standup comic to sketch writer to comic actor to director, with a recent unexpected swerve into dramatic acting.

He stayed busy enough to have plenty to cover in a memoir. But also too busy to remember it all.

To write “Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama” (out Tuesday), he had to reach out to people in his past — pals, colleagues, even an old girlfriend — to refresh his recollections.

“I don’t have strong memories because I was mostly working so hard on all these shows,” he said in an interview.



Conversation with Tim Meadows, 7 p.m. Wednesday, Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave. Sold out.

Conversation with Kim “Howard” Johnson, 7 p.m. Thursday, Yellow Box Auditorium, Naperville. $40 (includes signed book).

And Odenkirk had another obstacle to telling his life story: his own high standards.

“I read a lot of books, and I know what bad writing looks like,” he said. “Too often, I’d pick up my work that I’d spent hours on, and I’d read it and think, ‘Wow, that’s not good stuff.’ I worked really hard to find the right tone.

“Look, I’m not a president of the United States. My life story is not objectively important. It’s only important in a distraction, show-biz-memoir type of way. It’s kind of a fun romp through a lot of fringe comedy. But I really needed to find a tone and speed that accompanied that level of purpose. I think I figured it out, and hopefully it’s a quick read, and it makes you smile, and it doesn’t go too deep.”

As he works his way from his Naperville childhood to his big break writing for “Saturday Night Live” to his labor of love “Mr. Show” to his entry into heavier stuff on “Breaking Bad,” Odenkirk slides in plenty of sly wit along the way. He doesn’t hesitate to gush or gripe or beat himself up for his missteps.

There are moments of joy, too, especially when he recalls his stint in a Second City show in 1990. For his then-unknown castmate Chris Farley, Odenkirk wrote a scene about a motivational speaker. He still revels in the memory of watching his uninhibited castmate bellow each night about living “in a van down by the river!”


In 1990, Bob Odenkirk (top right, with Holly Wortell) wrote the classic Matt Foley sketch at Second City starring Chris Farley (left, with Jill Talley and Tim Meadows).

Second City

Farley’s later re-creation of the scene on “SNL” is considered a classic.

“He was one of, if not the funniest person I ever worked with,” Odenkirk said. “And being on stage with him doing that character was just pure comedy crack. Just the best. The best.”

Also in that cast: a young Tim Meadows, later of “SNL” and “The Goldbergs.” He’ll reunite with Odenkirk for a sold-out Chicago Humanities Festival event Wednesday at the Music Box Theatre.

Why him? “He couldn’t run fast enough,” Odenkirk said. “He couldn’t hide from me.

“Everyone gets along with Tim Meadows because he’s one of the nicest guys alive. We’ll reminisce about old times at Second City, for sure.”

Odenkirk had finished the book when he had a heart attack last July, collapsing on the set of his show “Better Call Saul” in Albuquerque, N.M.

After he recovered, his publisher offered to let him update the book, but he declined. He wanted to keep it focused on his career. And he couldn’t share his recollections because he didn’t have any.

“I just didn’t make memories that week,” said Odenkirk, 59. “I was awake the next day after my surgery, but I don’t remember any of those days.


Bob Odenkirk’s “Better Call Saul” begins airing its final season on April 18


“My daughter made a dry-erase board that showed what happened on each day because every single day I would wake up and ask the same questions over and over. It said, ‘Tuesday: Heart attack. Died. Wednesday morning: Surgery. Thursday: Wake up and talk.’ Stuff like that.”

He got back to work and last month closed out his Emmy-nominated run as Jimmy McGill, aka lawyer Saul Goodman, which spanned 12 years and two series: “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul.” The final “Saul” season begins airing April 18 on AMC.

“I’m still taking it in, man,” he said. “I’m still taking in that we’ve finished. It’s gonna be great, by the way. The story is amazing, it’s exciting, it’s involving. I can’t wait for everybody to see it.”

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