What do you do when Bob Odenkirk invites you onstage for some impromptu acting? The answer is a no-brainer: You say “yes.”
By Peter St. Cyr
Photos by Don James
Bob Odenkirk’s weekend to-do list includes a lot of the things that are on our own: riding a bike around the city, eating lunch at Café Azul, checking out Bookworks’ newest arrivals. But there’s one item on his agenda that doesn’t show up on just anyone else’s.
For Odenkirk, playing improv games in front of a live Albuquerque audience is a must.
Like other celebrities who surprise audiences with new songs or short standup comedy routines in small local venues around the country, Odenkirk likes to drop in and perform with Albuquerque’s professional improv ensemble (known as The Show) at The Box Performance Center on Friday and Saturday evenings.
So when “Mr. Show” invites me to interview him onstage, I shouldn’t be too surprised. And, at first the idea seems perfect—until it morphs into intimidating. After all, journalists aren’t used to being on stage under the bright lights. But Odenkirk assures me it will be fun, so I agree to give it a go.
Odenkirk is waiting for me when I arrive at the downtown theater on Gold Street. We’re both early; nobody else is inside the theater as we head to a dressing room to discuss what’s about to happen. Odenkirk says he’ll appear in the show’s opening bit and then he’ll invite me onstage for two separate question and answer segments—which will be in front of a room full of people.
Odenkirk says the Q&A will be the basis for the group’s material. It actually sounds fun, and I’m starting to feel relieved—until Odenkirk throws me a curveball. He says he plans to keep me onstage after the second round of questions to join in the games.
I’m reluctant, and Odenkirk, who senses my anxiety, encourages me to give it a try. To set me at ease, he shares his secret of success.
“Number one: don’t try to be funny,” he says.
That shouldn’t be a problem.
But I’m still on edge when Doug Montoya, the co-owner of The Box and one of The Show’s co-founders, arrives to get the stage set for the sold-out performance shares. A funny man himself, Montoya shares a few other tips, which I appreciate. But when the lights go down, my legs feel rubbery. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt butterflies flitting around in my stomach.
Both Q&A rounds fly by. Odenkirk elegantly brushes off my questions about whether he thinks his Saul character is based on any of Albuquerque’s personal-injury attorneys. It’s also clear that Odenkirk doesn’t like to get stuck in a quagmire talking about acting, Hollywood, or his television show.
On center stage, Odenkirk pushes me to one knee and informs the crowd that I’m a television news photographer recording the other professional actors’ action.
Taking the cue, I cup one hand and move it to my eye, pretending I’m looking through a view finder. Without trying to be funny, I naturally start circling my other arm to represent the filming.
“You’re an old-fashioned photographer!” Odenkirk says, almost like we’re playing charades.
When the audience laughs with approval, I begin to understand the magic of his secret: reacting to Odenkirk’s direction naturally created a fun moment.
When the show is over, I’m surprised to see “Better Call Saul” show developer Peter Gould walking toward me. I had no idea he was in the audience, witnessing my debut. Ever the gentleman, he compliments my first performance.
Again, I’m not trying to be funny when I ask him to cast me as the short, fat, bald guy on his show. Gould smiles.
While I’m dreaming of possible stardom, the other actors have congregated in the green room. When I catch up with them, they’re discussing and reliving the best moments of the show, and beginning to unwind.
Twenty minutes later, on my way out of the theater, I notice a flier for improvisational comedy classes at The Box. Montoya tells me they’re great at helping people learn how to act, developing characters, and boosting self-confidence needed for public speaking. Check the class schedule online and for your shot at the stage, join The Box every other Wednesday for an open-invite evening of improv. Who knows? You just might run into Odenkirk—or me.