Saturday, November 1, 2014
INSIDE IS FUNNY THINGS
"If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. When I have failed miserably, that, too, was on the shoulders of giants--giant fuckups, that is."
- Sir Issac Newton (from "Famous Quotations--Unabridged")
Even if you've never heard of Bob Odenkirk, I'd say it's likely that you've seen him before. Maybe you're a die hard Mr. Show fan, or maybe a How I Met Your Mother fan, or a Breaking Bad fan. Odenkirk is the often schmucky, often be-suited, half-witted character, wearing the suit--you figure--to try and distract people from how inept, or half-ept he is. Odenkirk, like Dave Foley on The Kids in the Hall, owes much to the vaudevillian straight man. He'd be a stuffed shirt, if his shirt weren't so rumpled.
Many of the pieces in A Load of Hooey are shot from that schlubby hip: inept politicians, unprepared orators, convocation speakers who become increasingly obsessed with the future porn careers of many of the graduates. The content is all in the title: this is a load of hooey. Poppycock and twaddle and flimshaw. But honed, sharp versions of all that nonsense.
Comedian books are on the rise, but many of them err on the side of biography. Bossy Pants, or Yes Please or Zombie Spaceship Wasteland--even Odenkirk's most visible comedy partner, David Cross, keeps most to personal opinion in his book I Drink For A Reason. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it relies on your familiarity with that comedian as a personality. Odenkirk--who began his writing career on Saturday Night Live in the mid-80s, was able to flex his weirder muscles on Mr. Show and I think might be the only source of structure conscience on Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!--keeps entirely to set pieces, skits, conceptual monologue. It's a writer's book; a character actor's book. "This is stuff I wrote in between writing TV pilots and movies no one made," is how he describes the book on a recent Nerdist podcast. "Sometimes I'd send them into the New Yorker, but often times I wouldn't, because honestly a lot of the pieces are too crude for the New Yorker."
A Load of Hooey is much more in line with the randomness of 70s classics like Side Effects or Without Feathers or Cruel Shoes--and I'd even argue that there are hints of Leacock's Literary Lapses or Nonsense Novels in all of these comedic grab bags. Without those contexts, Odenkirk's load might feel a bit half-baked, hurried. It's a book of characters and ideas that you wouldn't want to last more than a few pages. Like the use of "hooey" in the title, the approach may be a bit antiquated now that comedians are putting out full fledged self-help books. But Odenkirk knows what he's doing. Whether or not you enjoy this load of hooey relies on whether or not you know what Odenkirk's doing.