Column: Bob Odenkirk’s memoir a reassuring read for North students ready, but wary of leaving their hometown


Grace Aigner

On March 3, comedian, actor and author Bob Odenkirk spoke at a live event in a fateful return here, to Naperville– his hometown. The event, held by Anderon’s Bookshop at the Yellow Box church, was a stop on his ongoing book tour in honor of his recently published New York Times best selling memoir, Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama. I attended the event and read the book in the interest of learning more about the comedy nerd turned drama actor, and more importantly, about that one guy from Naperville who made it in show business.

In an interview about 10 years ago, Odenkirk had expressed his teenage desire to get out of Naperville, which he referred to as “Nowheresville.” This statement then infamously spiraled into the narrative: “Bob Odenkirk hated living in Naperville! And he still hates it to this day!” However, in a recent interview with the Daily Herald, Odenkirk corrected this assumption as he explained that he had wanted to leave when he was 15, but “that teen sentiment doesn’t represent how [he] felt as a child, or as an adult.” Odenkirk went on to say that he enjoyed his childhood in Naperville and still appreciates the town as he returns often to visit family.

I don’t blame him for feeling that way as a teenager. Honestly, I wouldn’t blame him if he felt that way now. I have lived here my whole life, but now as a junior in high school with the promise of college ahead, leaving the tame, mundane suburb seems more and more appealing, a sentiment many Naperville North students can probably relate to. Odenkirk himself is a graduate of Naperville North, and after hearing him speak, and reading about his adolescent years here, it’s hard not to see parts of myself reflected in him and how he wanted his life to unfold.

From my seat in the back of the auditorium, I noticed that he spoke directly to the audience as if he were at an intimate dinner party rather than an auditorium of 900 people. There was a familiarity about him I appreciated. He had a genuine, friendly demeanor and was funny in an easy way. That,  combined with an obvious Midwestern accent, meant that he facilitated a warm and welcoming atmosphere that permeated the room. Odenkirk discussed aspects of his life such as his unstable family life and childhood in Naperville, along with his career beginnings on the live performance and comedy scene and  his well-known work on Mr. Show, Breaking Bad and Nobody

At the live event, he spoke some about his school years at Jefferson Junior High, Naperville North and the small handful of colleges he attended including College of DuPage, Southern Illinois University (SIU) and Columbia College. One of the most profound things I read in his book came when he was writing about his time at SIU, when he was focusing on comedy more than school. He made it clear that he wasn’t born with the innate ability to write great sketch comedy, but he still worked at his craft. Odenkirk, who had been writing jokes and sketches since he was a kid, wasn’t doing it because he was ‘gifted’, he did it because he was fascinated by it and enjoyed it. He had found his passion and stuck with it. Look where it got him! As I’m staring down the barrel of applying to colleges and making decisions about my future, I see Odenkirk as a necessary example to keep in mind, especially in an environment like Naperville, where it can seem like you either have to be the best at your ‘thing’ or go to the best college. Odenkirk went to SIU (keep in mind: not an Ivy!) and he still ended up with a successful career doing what he enjoys, because he worked hard and continued to try. 

Odenkirk made it clear he wanted his book to be honest. He explained that he wanted his book to include all of the failures the public rarely sees in regard to show business. 

“We only see people and hear about their success or big failures. We don’t hear about all the in-between that really make up a career…I tried to write about as much of that as I could without exhausting the reader,” Odenkirk said during the live event.

That sincere truthfulness is undoubtedly present in his memoir– Odenkirk’s fellow comedian and friend David Cross even referred to it as “disarmingly honest.” I would agree with him. Odenkirk writes earnestly about how he viewed himself as a comedian and the realities of his career  experiences. He dedicates a chapter of his book to his three years spent as a writer for the comedy sketch show Saturday Night Live. Odenkirk acknowledges that SNL has a reputation for being the place to be if you want to ‘make it’ in comedy, as many comedy greats have. He also, however, remembers that his time at the show was not the fantastically inspiring and enjoyable experience one might expect. Giving it a “solid C-minus,” Odenkirk writes that he and the persistent feeling of falling short to the extraneous schedule and formula of the show were not a happy combination. He and SNL just didn’t mesh, and that’s okay.

“Three full years of sketch-comedy college, surrounded by valedictorians, and me trying, with everything I had, to grasp the tricks of the trade,” Odenkirk writes. 

Reading Odenkirk’s memoir and hearing him talk about the many stages of his life and career gave me a sense of reassurance. As the pressure of school, college and a career path winds up, knowing that there is someone who came from the same town and school, who’s had the same doubts about their ability and place, but who still managed to succeed in the career they’re passionate about is oddly comforting. 

Bob Odenkirk’s book is well worth reading if you want a brutally honest, heartfelt and genuinely funny story about a guy from Nowheresville who made a name for himself by being a comedy nerd. Odenkirk is upfront about the inevitable morphing of his show business journey from the unglamorous corners of live comedy to the joyous realization of what creatively clicks. Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama has an entertaining voice with a myriad of funny and not-so-funny anecdotes. It is an excellent read for any Naperville North student who wants to see aspects of themselves reflected in the story of a Hollywood name and a former Huskie.