Like an indie band or self-published book, there was a certain sense of mystique to David Cross and Bob Odenkirk's Mr. Show with Bob and David. In the days before YouTube, it was a perfect self-contained work for comedy fans in the know, a treasure trove of perfect, interesting comedy that served as a secret handshake for late-90s comedy nerds.
Like many of my general age range, I first stumbled upon the show flipping through cable late at night, in search of things of which my parents would have almost certainly disapproved. I landed on Mr. Show's "Jeepers Creepers" sketch, a huge Jesus Christ Superstar musical number starring a then-unknown Jack Black.
Unlike many of its sketch comedy brethren, time has been exceptionally kind to Mr. Show, thanks both to the success of so many of its alumni -- Odenkirk, of course, has his very own Breaking Bad spinoff, Better Call Saul -- and its incredible writing. No wonder Netflix announced last week that they'll be producing With Bob and David, a brand-new four-episode sketch series starring Cross and Odenkirk.
In celebration of their return, we tasked ourselves with choosing Mr. Show's 10 funniest sketches. It was tough, but the the choices demonstrate the breadth of comedy present in the series, making it all the more exceptional that it holds up so well more than 20 years later.
It almost feels like a cheat including a sketch based largely on a single joke, but it's just that good. The Brian Posehn-penned metal head sketch features a tremendously funny sight gag done in tremendously bad taste.
Taint is a rare instance of straightforward media satire, in this case Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights, released a year prior. Odenkirk displays his directing prowess in this sketch co-written by and starring future Comedy Bang Bang host Scott Aukerman, which perfectly captures the utter disgustingness of it all.
8. Sam and Criminy Kraffft present Drugachusettes
Bob and David play off one another terrifically in the intro to this sketch, an on-the-nose take off of the long-suspected drug references in Sid and Marty Krofft's '70s-live action children shows. Cross's Criminy channels David Crosby, down to the walrus mustache and Odenkirk gives off a real Norm McDonald as Burt Reynolds vibe of utter disinterest. Of course, the real magic happens when the goes full on H.R. Pufnstuf, channeling the dark side of 70s drug culture, as Tom "SpongeBob" Kenny strips to his skivvies during a particularly bad trip.
7. East Coast vs. West Coast Ventriloquism
It's the sort of premise the rest of your Freshman year sketch troupe would have laughed off, and in the hands of lesser writers would have spelled utter disaster. Somehow, however, Mr. Show spins an East Coast/West Coast hip-hop-style feud into four minutes of amazing jokes. The show seques into the bit with series of video clips from a low-rent talent scout, including Choo-Choo The Herky Jerky Dancer, one of the series' most brilliant moments of physical comedy from walking animated GIF Jay Johnston.
The sketch culminates with an in-studio appearance by a pair of feuding ventriloquists played by Bob and David, along with their hip-hop counterparts, including the first of two appearances by the wonderfully-named Professor Murder (who would later lend his name to a mid-00s NYC dance-punk band). It's a single deadpan line delivered by Karen Kilgariff in a cutaway, however, that completely brings down the house and gives the episode its name.
Any Mr. Show fan who claims not to have referenced this sketch roughly once a month since it first aired is almost certainly lying to you. Bob Odenkirk and Jay Johnston perfectly capture the awkwardness of the male friendly acquaintance "goodbye" back pat, increasing in discomfort by orders of magnitude the seemingly dozens of times they accidentally run into one an other on their way home. A great encapsulation of a true-to-life feeling, things suddenly take a dark and hilarious turn halfway through.
Jay Johnston's brilliant ballet of lunkheaded slapstick is only made funnier by knowing a bit of back story. Telling a story of exploits ascending the world's highest peak, the wildly gesticulating explorer crashes into a wall display of thimbles again and again. And again and again. And again. According to Cross in 2002's Mr. Show: What Happened, there were 115 thimbles in all, each of which had to be collected and reshelved after every crash. "So you're stooped down for seven or eight minutes in between each fall. It really heightened the sense of, 'oh, you've got to be fucking kidding me, they're doing it again?!' " The sight gag is funnier with every subsequent crash, leaving the viewer feeling slightly guilty for laughing so hard every time.
4. Blow Up the Moon
Over the years I've gone back and forth on my favorite bit of one of my favorite Mr. Show sketches. The premise is a pitch-perfect portrait of pre-9/11 American jingoism. There are number of hilarious man-on-the-street lines delivered straight-faced by non-actors and a brief cameo by a young Sarah Silverman. The right answer, however, is Odenkirk's spot-on Hank Williams Jr.-esque character, who has arguably the funniest name in sketch show history, beating out even Jay Johnston's President Guy "Whitey" Corngood.
3. Lie Detector
As a troupe, Mr. Show traded in complexities. The show used SCTV's televion-station conceit as a framework for its postmodern approach and applied layer upon layer of cultural tapestry. Some might accuse the troupe of laying that concept on too thick, but I submit "Lie Detector," a sketch that would have been just as successful stripped of all of the trappings of premier cable. The classic sketch comedy premise is perfectly executed right, down to the hammy freeze frame punchline.
Before there was Inception, the was "The Audition." Incredibly simple on its surface, the piece folds in on itself several time like sketch comedy origami. Dino Stamatopolous and Odenkirk both serve as audience surrogates as Cross auditions for a part with a monologue called "The Audition." The sketch is a sly indictment of the utterly dehumanizing process of acting auditions wrapped up in an exquisitely written piece. The first class of all sketch comedy workshops going forward should open with a screening of this sketch.
1. Pre-Taped Call-In Show
Penned by master of comedic mindfuckery Dino Stamatopoulos, Pre-taped Call-in Show is as much a conceptual math problem as is it a comedy sketch. It would require some whiteboard problem solving to fully appreciate if Cross's ulcer-inducing mental aerobics weren't so damn funny on their own merit. It's far from being the most viscerally funny thing Mr. Show ever did, but along with "The Audition," also co-written by Stamatopoulos, it's a pretty strong contender for the most perfectly crafted comedy sketch ever. And while the show's studio audience sometimes feels like a relic of a simpler TV time, it's ultimately part of why this sketch succeeds on so many levels, as cautious chuckles transform into knowing laughs as the full scope of the sketch unfolds before them.