At Music Box, Bob Odenkirk remembers the Chicago day when he saw his showbiz future

An encounter with improv guru Del Close convinced the kid from Naperville that career in the arts could work.

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Bob Odenkirk shares a laugh with his interviewer, fellow Second City alum Tim Meadows, during a Chicago Humanities Festival event Wednesday at the Music Box Theatre in Lake View.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

People packed themselves as close to the front as possible for Wednesday’s Music Box Theatre event starring Bob Odenkirk — Second City alumnus, “Saturday Night Live” veteran, and Naperville-raised rabblerouser.

The Chicago Humanities Festival had partnered with Seminary Co-Op Bookstores to celebrate the actor-writer who recently released a memoir titled “Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama,”

In conversation with fellow Second City and “Saturday Night Live” alum Tim Meadows, Odenkirk spent an hour reflecting on and reminiscing about his time in show business — from first learning that he could make a living doing comedy through his dramatic turns in “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” to his surprising but convincing turn as an action star in the recent film “Nobody.”

Bob Odenkirk chats about his career and new book, “Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama,” during a Chicago Humanities Festival event at the Music Box Theatre in Lake View on Wednesday night.

Bob Odenkirk chats about his career and new book, “Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama,” during a Chicago Humanities Festival event at the Music Box Theatre in Lake View on Wednesday night.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

It began, as many comedy origin stories do in Chicago, with improv guru Del Close. Odenkirk had met the legendary performer/director and iO Theater visionary after he had been fired from Second City— “for the fifth time,” Odenkirk added jokingly — and was struck by the way Close had spoken about upcoming projects.

“It was the first time I’d heard an old person excited about what they were doing next,” Odenkirk said, admitting that Close was 49 at the time but came off like a haggard 70-year-old man. Still, it was enough to convince Odenkirk that a career in the arts was feasible for a kid from Naperville, who, by his own admission, was generally clueless about show business.

Odenkirk’s time in Chicago, New York and Hollywood found him collaborating with other comedy luminaries including David Cross (on “Mr. Show”), Garry Shandling (“The Larry Sanders Show”), Conan O’Brien (a fellow “SNL” writer) and Chris Farley.

Reminiscing about their Second City days together led Meadows to ask about Odenkirk’s father — a figure who looms large in Odenkirk’s past. As the second oldest of seven children, Odenkirk shared that he felt somewhat responsible for his younger siblings and sensed his largely absentee father had issues but couldn’t quite identify them at the time.

Odenkirk recalled a time when his dad gathered to family to claim he was broke, but in a twisted and almost comical way, this happened shortly after they had moved into a new house and purchased a bunch of new furniture.

“I wanted to be the opposite of my dad,” Odenkirk said.

Wednesday night, he demonstrated he succeeded. His warmth talking about comedy pals was palpable; his relationship with his father had brought him closer to Farley, who shared a similarly complicated past. His character in “Nobody” was a dad standing strong and avenging his family after a break-in.

Odenkirk also admitted he won’t be absentee from Chicago — a place he said he had to leave to truly appreciate.

“I didn’t feel like a Chicagoan when I left at 25 to do ‘Saturday Night Live,’” he said before declaring, proudly that, now, “I’m a Chicagoan.” And the audience, packed so close they were almost in his lap, wildly agreed.

Tim Meadows laughs as fellow “Saturday Night Live” alum Bob Odenkirk reads a passage from his book, “A Load of Hooey,” during a Chicago Humanities Festival event at the Music Box Theatre in Lake View on Wednesday night.

Tim Meadows laughs as fellow “Saturday Night Live” alum Bob Odenkirk reads a passage from his book, “A Load of Hooey,” during a Chicago Humanities Festival event at the Music Box Theatre in Lake View on Wednesday night.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

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