Bob Odenkirk speaks for us all when describing his thoughts on the interminable last year.
“I thought it was going to be long,” said Odenkirk. “And it’s gotten long.”
Very true, and what has made this disastrous, deadly year seem even longer has been the relative absence of Odenkirk. “Better Call Saul” —the AMC drama that has transformed Odenkirk from a cult hero to a mainstream icon—has been off the air since April as the production gears up for its climatic final season.
After contributing memorable performances to a wide range of movies in 2019—including the period piece “Little Women” and the blaxploitation homage film “Dolemite Is My Name” — Odenkirk was absent from the cinema in 2020. Even his guest appearances on television shows — a longtime staple of his career — dwindled down to nearly nothing during the pandemic.
Fortunately for fans of his bone-dry humor, Odenkirk is set to make a big return in 2021, starting with an appearance at Festpocalypse, a one-day virtual extravaganza that will replace the usual mult-iday, multi-venue SF Sketchfest here in San Francisco, which was canceled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Airing on Jan. 30, Festpocalypse will feature an array of longtime Sketchfest performers and troupes, including: The Kids in the Hall, The State, Cheri Oteri, Fred Armisen, Dana Carvey, Rachel Dratch, Janeane Garofalo, Tim Meadows, Laraine Newman, Paget Brewster, Chris Elliott, Elliott Gould, Christopher Guest, Jon Hamm, John Michael Higgins, Michael Hitchcock, Bill Irwin, Jane Lynch, Oscar Nuñez, Andrea Savage, Aisha Tyler, Eddie Izzard, Noel Fielding, Margaret Cho, Bobcat Goldthwait, Emily V. Gordon, Dana Gould, Eugene Mirman, Arden Myrin, Aparna Nancherla, Kumail Nanjiani, Patton Oswalt, Kevin Pollak, Greg Proops, Jonah Ray, Paul F. Tompkins, Reggie Watts — and more.
Ticketholders will have access to the livestream starting at 5 p.m., with the broadcast available for viewing until Feb. 1. Proceeds from the event will help support the return to live performances for SF Sketchfest in 2022.
Odenkirk will share the virtual stage with David Cross, his longtime collaborator and co-creator of “Mr. Show,” the HBO sketch program that launched their respective careers. Odenkirk said they’ll perform a version of sketch show they put together for a few performances in Los Angeles and New York a couple of years ago.
While not exactly a “Mr. Show” reprisal, Odenkirk said the sketch will adhere to the same principles of the show, so fans should be in for a treat. An absurdist collection of recurring skits and motifs, “Mr. Show” was replete with bafflingly hilarious non sequiturs, jokes pushed to their logical breaking points and a rickety mixture of high and low humor. Its legacy can be found in the boundary-pushing comedy of “The Eric Andre Show,” Tim Robinson’s Netflix program “I Think You Should Leave” and entire oeuvre of Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim. (Odenkirk was their earliest champion and was responsible for the duo getting introduced to Adult Swim on the Cartoon Network.)
“Mr. Show” garnered Odenkirk a following of devout comedy fans, but his performance as the part-time grifter and aspiring lawyer Jimmy McGill in “Better Call Saul” has introduced him to an entirely different collection of admirers. A critical and commercial success, “Better Call Saul” emerged as a prequel story to the “Breaking Bad” series, based on Odenkirk’s scene-stealing work as a guest star in Vince Gilligan’s seminal story of a chemistry teacher who turns into a ruthless drug kingpin.
“I had not even a little bit of an idea that my character could be turned into a spinoff show,” said Odenkirk. “I thought I could fit into a dramatic role because I can play that sober type of character, but everything that after was extremely unpredictable and nothing I could have forecasted.”
Odenkirk is set to take his character-expanding exploits to the next level with “Nobody,” a vigilante action film set to be released in 2021. Odenkirk, who produced the film, plays a ho-hum dad who revives a past career as a killer after experiencing a traumatic event.
“There is no irony here,” said Odenkirk. “Fans should not expect the ‘Mr. Show’ experience.”
In addition to releasing that thriller, Odenkirk will wrap the final season of “Better Call Saul,” although he is still unsure if filming will conclude in time for the show to air in 2021. He’s also working on his memoir and writing a book with his children. So, fans can expect to see plenty of him in 2021, a welcome respite from his relative quiet 2020.
He’s feeling upbeat about starting the year at Festpocalypse, even if it is in virtual form.
“It’s not ideal, but we are making the best out of it,” Odenkirk said of the online event. “Comedy folks are still working, which is a good thing. Chin up everyone.”
IF YOU GO
When: 5 p.m. Saturday
Tickets: $20 to $5,000