Comedy Nerd Road Trip: LA, Mr Show (1998)
We found out that Mr Show was getting canceled sitting there in the audience at the taping of what turned out to be the very last show. My friends and I–I’m not sure how we found out about the tickets. It might have been the internet, or a magazine, or the telepathy granted to my final pre-singularity generation, but there we were seeing David Cross fuck up his lines during the Marilyn Monster Pizzeria sketch, and it was surreal.
From my perspective Mr Show is the central nexus, that is, a large section to any venn diagram of modern funny. It’s a long list of your favorite forces in comedy that assembled together to make this show. Bob Odenkirk and David Cross’ names were in the title, but here’s just a short list of amazing people who were involved: Paul F. Tompkins, Sarah Silverman, Tom Kenny, Brian Posehn, Jill Talley–many more. Scott Aukerman, who went on to create Comedy Bang Bang, Earwolf, etc. wrote there and did some acting in the later seasons. Great minds were colliding. This point doesn’t need to be made. We all know how great it was, and how important to this medium that we all love.
Let’s set some givens. I’m thirty-seven. I’m a comedy nerd, have been since Sesame Street. I grew up with good sketch comedy on television. The 90s. My generation of SNL was the Phil Hartman years. The Jan Hooks years, the Mike Myers years. Dana Fucking Carvey. The Kids in the Hall was on repeat on Comedy Central in those days. So was stand-up. I was a sponge.
For a time in the late 90s I had premium cable. Because the universe wants me to be a comedy fan forever, I had free HBO when Mr show happened. I was living on my own for the first time in Flagstaff Arizona, where I was meandering halfheartedly through and English BA. I had plenty of time to watch TV.
I was weeks away from leaving Flag, where I was going to college, having (I shit you not) experienced a revelation on a mescaline trip. (All of this is true. I’m sorry.) The day I took the mescaline I came home in what you might describe as a psychically vulnerable state and watched the episode of Mr Show with the Altered States of Drugachusetts sketch as I was coming down.
I might have taken all of it as confirmation of some cosmic message.
Back in Tempe Arizona,
Months later I made lifelong friendships over a shared love of this new show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and for everyone that I knew, Mr Show and Tenacious D got taped. It is good to be in a prolonged adolescence with some great (I mean great) stuff to giggle at while stoned. I had a vcr with one cassette for Buffy, and one for Mr Show. I can only assume that any true-hearted WARrior would be fluent in both shows.
Like all TV I love, Mr Show was destined to fail. Don’t believe me? They wrote a book about it. On a more personal note, I give you the following list: Get a Life, Carnivale, Stargate Universe–this list could be very long and very, very nuanced and tiresome. Just believe me…Some things get decent runs. Star Trek shows have fared decently…I’ll stop.
The drive to Los Angeles from Phoenix is about seven or eight hours. It was four of us, all geeks. Myself and three friends, two of whom were boyfriend and girlfriend. She drove. (I’m leaving out their names on purpose.) We stayed in a motel in Hollywood that was as shocked by our prior phone reservation as we were by the crack pipes left under the covers. Scuzzy, but it didn’t matter. We were giddy. We had In-n-Out burgers for the first time. It was that kind of road trip.
When we got into LA I remember being on the lookout for the LA of Beck songs: quaint, Latino, interstellar. We were basically camped near the Walk of Fame; it was lots of tourist stuff. We were there on a budget. (See above, motel with crack pipe pillow mints.) We all agreed that all of this was about a million times cooler than Tempe, and that we were very excited to see Mr Show being taped later. We drank cappuccinos and tried hanging out at a coffee shop on the strip for a while.
The next day at the show we stood in line outside with the other nerds. We had tickets, but suddenly feared that we wouldn’t get in for some reason. There were a lot of people. Brian Posehn lumbered past us at one point. One of us remarked on him being the tall weird funny one. We didn’t know his name, but it was cool. Celebrities!
After the fact we realized that it was Patton Oswalt who did the crowd warm up. He was hilarious, of course. I remember him saying something about Bob and David not bathing for fear of washing the funny off. Some throw away line. Oswalt introduced Bob Odenkirk and David Cross, and the show got underway.
The thing about being in the audience for the show was that it wasn’t really for us. We were more like extras. This was a taping. It wasn’t live performance in the way you might expect. Watching SNL is likely more like watching theater, overlooking commercial breaks. For Mr Show (at least the one we saw) there were multiple takes, and lots of explaining to the audience what was going on.
My friend made it into the show for a second as an audience member. A claim to fame…well, I think it’s cool.
Here we were! We were doing it, we took a few days to travel to LA just to be here in this audience, because Mr Show was that goddamned funny.
It’s not that there has ever been a deficiency, but as with everything now, comedy is abundant. Right now it’s all available. All of it. Mostly free. Seeking out the living Chris Farley isn’t necessary, because Chris Farley will live forever on Youtube. (Finding all of the clips would be a good way to spend any given downtime.)
At that time, things were ever so slightly less abundant. We were proud, do you understand?-PROUD to have made this drive to be there. The thing was, there was this overwhelming sadness in everything that happened that night. During the pizza shop sketch David Cross kept blowing his lines. I remember him saying something to the effect of tonight of all nights. At the end of the taping we found out why.
Bob and David announced to the audience that Mr Show hadn’t been renewed after finishing the last sketch. It was weird to be there. There was lots of emotion going around, and it felt like we were intruding on it. Who knows how informed the rest of the audience was, but it felt like we were co-opting grief.
We left saying to each other how awesome it was to have been there, especially considering the news. Months later when it aired we exchanged high-fives when our friend’s face appeared on the screen, his expression being one of oh shit am I on camera?–he was.