Bob Odenkirk

On this date in 1962, actor and comedy genius Robert John Odenkirk was born in Berwyn, Ill., to Barbara (Baier) and Walter Odenkirk, the second of their seven children. His father worked in the printing business. Of German-Irish descent, Bob was raised Catholic in Naperville.

“My mom would have liked me to be a priest. A Roman Catholic priest, and a pope if I could get that far,” Odenkirk later said. “My father had no sense of who I was or that I did anything or would ever do anything or that I was a human being [laughs].” (Vice, May 30, 2017) Bob and his brother Bill kept the family entertained with their zany imitations. (Bill became a writer for “The Simpsons,” “Futurama” and other shows.) His father’s alcoholism eventually led to a divorce.

Asked how his Catholic upbringing affected him, Odenkirk said: “I have normal biceps, but my conscience muscle is a fucking hammer that can crush me or anyone around me at any time. I can experience guilt, shame and a critical, even damning, point of view of myself and everyone around me.” (Rolling Stone, April 5, 2017)

After short stints at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn and Marquette University in Milwaukee, he transferred to Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, honing his broadcast, sketch writing and performance skills at a college radio station.

He worked as a writer for “Saturday Night Live in 1987-91. During a summer hiatus with The Second City improv troupe in Chicago, he created the character “Matt Foley, motivational speaker” for castmate Chris Farley, which Farley later reprised with great success on “SNL.” Farley was “crack funny,” according to Odenkirk. “Somebody explained to me how freebase felt, and that’s what it was like to watch him. It was pure, unarguable, unquestionable. It wasn’t about cleverness. There was a lot of pain in Chris, but it was an expression of joy and humanity, and it was powerful. The best thing I ever got to be around in comedy.” (Ibid., Rolling Stone)

Relocating to Los Angeles, he joined the cast of “The Ben Stiller Show,” wrote for “Late Night With Conan O’Brien,” had a recurring role on “The Larry Sanders Show” and landed minor movie roles. “Mr. Show,” which he created with David Cross, ran on HBO for four seasons.

In 2009 he joined the cast of AMC’s “Breaking Bad” in the role of unscrupulous attorney Saul Goodman. It aired for five seasons until 2013. He started garnering more substantial film and TV roles and reunited with Cross in “W/ Bob & David” on Netflix. “Better Call Saul,” a “Breaking Bad” spinoff, debuted on AMC with Odenkirk in the title role in 2015. Its 63 episodes ended in 2022, the year he got his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. 

Odenkirk starred as Tommy Wiseau’s character Johnny in a 2023 remake of “The Room,” which has cult status for its low production values and wooden performances. No release date was yet set in late 2023.

Odenkirk married film producer Naomi Yomtov, 12 years his junior, in 1997. They have a son, Nathan (b. 1998), and a daughter, Erin (b. 2000). Yomtov is Jewish, and the children were bar and bat mitzvah’d and educated in the Reform Judaism tradition, which Odenkirk admires. “It’s a connection to the ancient principles and beliefs that hold a lot of truth to us now and a belief in God that is complicated and complex and ever changing and growing in the way that a person over a lifetime who’s paying attention will also grow,” Odenkirk said. (Jewish Journal, Nov. 15, 2013)

Asked once if there was one day he would change from his past if he could, Odenkirk replied in the affirmative: “I can’t tell you what it is. I’m never going to fucking tell you. If it tells you anything about me, it should tell you that I was raised Catholic. Shame and guilt are big parts of [my] psyche, and they’re bigger than any dream of the future. You’re always wishing you could change the past.” (Ibid., Vice)

PHOTO: Odenkirk at the 2018 San Diego Comic-Con International; photo by Gage Skidmore under CC 3.0

Freedom From Religion Foundation