There exist a mere 30 episodes of Mr. Show, the sketch comedy series that drifted from one insomniac time slot to another on HBO for four seasons, but scarcity of supply has only burnished its cult prestige as the missing link between Monty Python and Marshall McLuhan. As devised by media-warped mad geniuses David Cross and Bob Odenkirk, each half-hour mapped the topography of a deranging parallel world—a faraway-so-close landscape of apostolic infomercials and NAMBLA PSAs, prenatal beauty pageants and bicoastal ventriloquist gang wars. A spin-off movie, Run Ronnie Run, about a trailer-park ne’er-do-well turned career felon and reality-TV luminary, premiered at Sundance in January to enthusiastic crowds, but New Line, citing poor test scores, has since consigned the film to its vaults. Still, bereft Bob and David devotees have some cause for celebration: The first two seasons of Mr. Show are finally out on DVD, and their “Hooray for America” tour alights at Town Hall September 21 through 23. Last week, Cross and Odenkirk held forth thusly.
Is the tour based on your Hooray for America screenplay?
DC: Yes, but we’re merely using the ideas, as opposed to telling the entire story in a filmic way. Basically, a corporation has this evil plan, and they need to push this legislation through Congress. So they start a third party and decide the best candidate for president would be a dumb, amiable, malleable guy, and what better unethical, whorish person to fill that role than an actor?
Did you write it before the 2000 election?
BO: Yeah. Before it was prescient. But now it’s nostalgic.
DC: We actually wrote it in ’99, back when Bush was just stealing from Texas.
What’s the status on Run Ronnie Run?
DC: It’s up for three awards at Cannes: the Palme d’Or, and the Hot d’Or, which is for porn . . .
BO: And the PalmPilot.
DC: Yeah, the Golden PalmPilot, where they take your PalmPilot and dip it in gold, and then refuse to give it to you. We’ve got a big stack of those.
The film has become a sort of fetishized lost object.
DC: I know, and the more it’s discussed, the less it’ll be able to live up to that hype. It’s definitely got funny stuff, but it’s not that great. Our biggest frustration was being shut out of the post-production.
BO: We kind of don’t want it to come out. The director [Troy Miller] just turned on us, and people are going to consider it our movie, but we were kicked off.
Do you miss having Mr. Show as an outlet?
DC: Sometimes I’ll have ideas that could only be done on Mr. Show, but I am also gleefully happy to be able to do other stuff. Like I wanted to get back to helping Bob raise his kids. That’s important to me.
How’s that going?
DC: It’s good. I come in once an hour and read a story that I’ll have just written, and each one teaches a life lesson . . .
BO: He’s a fantastic food taster. I’ve tried to poison my kids about 15 times . . .
DC: And I’ve caught ya.
BO: He’s caught me every time, and, you know, he goes to the hospital and gets his stomach pumped, comes right back, just as strong. I always put it in steak. He hasn’t figured that out yet. Raw steak.
On the show, was anything ever off-limits, whether for reasons of taste or creativity?
BO: David will not make fun of Britain. He’s an avowed Anglophile. Anything about the Queen Mum.
DC: I’d say the only thing that was off-limits was making fun of Austin City Limits.
With Ronnie Dobbs, did you ever feel “white trash” was too easy a target?
DC: Well, we never used the words “white trash.”
BO: We said “human garbage.”
DC: ” . . . that had lost all pigmentation.” But here’s the thing—I really like Ronnie Dobbs. I grew up down in Atlanta, and he’s like a lot of those guys. Also, you watch Cops, and half the guys who are arrested come up with these hilarious, unbelievable stories. On the one hand, you’re like, “That’s your fucking excuse?” But you’ve got to give them props for having this crazy imagination.
Is a lot of your comedy fueled by anger?
DC: Speaking for myself, definitely.
BO: A lot of anger.
DC: Bob and I read the paper. We’re voracious consumers of news . . .
BO: I’ve been getting GRIT . . .
DC: [laughs] Bob, who’s going to fucking know that reference? When Bob and I were kids—this was back in the ’30s—there would be this thing in the back of comic books: “Sell GRIT! America’s Newspaper!” with a little picture of a kid with a big newspaper satchel. “Earn extra money for sock hops!”
BO: I don’t really know what it was, though. I never saw a copy. Did you?
DC: Never saw it, never knew anybody who had seen it, or sold it, or come in contact with it. Maybe it was a precursor to USA Today. They were able to exploit child labor, and get around laws that had yet to be established.
People have talked about the limits of comedy after September 11. Are there jokes that aren’t funny anymore?
DC: It’s mostly Graydon Carter. I can’t tell you how many times reporters have asked me, “What do you think about the death of irony?” Like it’s a fucking fact. And it’s just because some asshole in his ivory tower decided that’s what he felt.
What projects do you have in the works?
DC: I’m writing a lot more, which I really enjoy. I do a monthly column for Vice.
What kind of stuff are you writing?
DC: Limericks. Knock-knock jokes. You know “Ode on a Grecian Urn”? Keats? Parodies of that. “Ode on a Grecian Turd.” “Ode on a Grecian Burn Victim.”
BO: I directed a feature [Phyro-Gates] and I have a TV development deal. I have two kids, who I’m trying to avoid. That’s a lot of work.
Is there a rivalry between you two?
DC: We have a tug-of-war once a year, and then we have a crown that . . .
BO: We actually met after the fifth tug-of-war. I didn’t even know he was into comedy. He was just this guy I would meet at a park in L.A. once a year at a certain hour, and we would tug-of-war and walk away. We have a golden cup that we’d give to whoever won, and finally, one year, I gave him the golden cup, and I was like, “Hey man, who are you?” You know those blind tug-of-wars people do?
DC: That’s how Armenia was settled.