The Ben Stiller Show  

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Cast of Characters


A former writer for "Saturday Night Live", Bob Odenkirk made the transition to actor by stepping in front of the camera on "The Ben Stiller Show." Smart move, considering his offbeat humor and style probably went largely unappreciated in the increasingly cautious atmosphere of "SNL." In addition to his duties as a performer on "Ben Stiller," Odenkirk was the only other cast member to sign on as a writer.

On the surface, Odenkirk might seem to be a bland choice for sketch comedy. But he uses his generic appearance to great advantage; Odenkirk is probably the only cast member to become totally hidden behind his make-up and costumes. His metamorphoses are so convincing, it's reminiscent of Joe Piscopo's early work. (Yes, that is a compliment.) In fact, it's often difficult to tell if Odenkirk is in a scene, his disguises are that good. What usually gives him away is the voice; his distinctive halting manner, with a tone that always sounds on the verge of prepubescent cracking, often provides the only key to being completely sure you're watching Odenkirk.

Make-up aside, Odenkirk is surprisingly versatile in his performances. He can range from the "saucy English prankster" Vaughn on "Melrose Heights, 90210-2402" to the gangsta rap star Ice Man McGee in "Kill Doug Szathkey". And, of course, he does the best Charles Manson I've ever seen. ("I can't go away 'cause I'm not even here! I'm a ghost of a phantom of a shadow in the heart of your children!") In his own subtle way, Odenkirk is absolutely essential to the success of the "T.J. O'Pootertoot" sketch. Playing the eager young waiter Dwayne, Odenkirk imbues lines such as, "It's not a fake theme!" with the perfect amount of tension and humor. Odenkirk is one of the primary reasons this sketch is able to work on so many levels.

Out of all the cast members, Odenkirk seemed the least visible following the "Ben Stiller" cancellation. He was nowhere to be seen in "Reality Bites," and he never showed up in his own sitcom like I kept expecting him to. Unlike the majority of the show's writers, he didn't go to work on another show for Fox and he didn't return to "Saturday Night Live." I was beginning to wonder about his health, when I turned on HBO's Free Weekend Special and found him alive and well.

Apparently, Odenkirk had been very busy. In addition to a recurring role as the agent on "The Larry Sanders Show" and his stand-up work (which included a hilarious performance on "Comedy Product" with Andy Dick as dueling Marilyn Monroe impersonators) Odenkirk was the co-creator and star of a new HBO series, "Mr. Show." Along with David Cross, another Stiller scribe, Odenkirk had returned to the sketch comedy form that served him so well. Similar in spirit to "The Ben Stiller Show" but with its own distinctive voice, the program featured Odenkirk and Cross doing what they do best--playing a multitude of characters in off-beat, anarchistic skits. "Mr. Show" aired a handful of episodes through the end of 1995, prompting The Village Voice to herald: "Like 'The Simpsons' and 'The Larry Sanders Show,' 'Mr. Show' deserves its own channel."

High praise, indeed, but I think I can do better. I liked "Mr. Show" so much, I actually ordered HBO.

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