Who Is Bob Odenkirk?

Bob Odenkirk is a longtime comedian and actor who says he went through periods where he struggled to land work. When director Vince Gilligan offered him the role of sleazy lawyer Saul Goodman in the second season of “Breaking Bad,” he accepted it even though he hadn’t watched an episode or even heard about the show. The reason: “I needed money!” By the end of the prequel’s six seasons, he had been nominated five times for an Emmy for lead actor.

Early Years

Robert John Odenkirk was born in Berwyn, Illinois, on Oct. 22, 1962, to Barbara (Baier) and Walter Odenkirk and grew up in Naperville, outside Chicago. When he was just nine years old, his father left the family, which included seven children. Odenkirk has described his father as a “hollow man” and discussed using the pain of his childhood abandonment to fuel his acting. Artistically, the British TV show “Monty Python” influenced Odenkirk growing up in the ‘70s.

Odenkirk attended Southern Illinois University Carbondale, where he worked as a DJ for the college radio station WIDB, but he moved to Chicago three credits short of graduation to work in local improv workshops and open-mic stand-up comedy.

TV Shows and Movies

‘Saturday Night Live,’ ‘Get a Life’ ‘Ben Stiller Show’

Odenkirk met comedian Robert Smigel in Chicago, who helped him get a writing job for “Saturday Night Live” in 1987. Odenkirk, who worked at the show until 1995, won an Emmy in 1989 for Outstanding Writing in a Variety or Music Program. Among his creations was the motivational speaker Matt Foley, played by Chris Farley, who famously lives “in a van down by the river.” He also co-wrote “The Superfans” sketch about Chicago sports fans who passionately root for “Da Bears.”

But overall, Odenkirk had a hard time getting his writing on the show. In his 2022 memoir, Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama, Odenkirk said of his time with "SNL": “Sadly, as a writer, I was a waste of bagels! I was trying too hard, but the more I failed, the more I tried. It’s a sick cycle that afflicts many a fresh SNLer… On occasion, I would go home before the actual live show started and watch from my apartment, sneering through tears.”

In the 1990s, he appeared on “The Larry Sanders Show” and worked as a writer for the Chris Elliott show “Get a Life” and “Late Night with Conan O'Brien.” He also wrote for and acted on “The Dennis Miller Show,” starring the former SNL Weekend Update host. That led to a writing and acting gig with the “Ben Stiller Show,” where Odenkirk won a second writing Emmy in 1993.

‘Mr. Show’

In 1995, Odenkirk and his friend David Cross, whom he met on the “Ben Stiller Show,” created the HBO comedy “Mr. Show,” which featured the two comedians in zany sketches. They would start in front of a live audience and, as The New Yorker described it, “introduce some scenario, like an O.J.-style Popemobile highway chase, or a bloopers episode, or a Scientology-type initiation, and the show would progress in a series of scenes linked together like a game of exquisite corpse.” The show lasted four seasons but has since become a cult hit.

‘Breaking Bad,’ ‘Better Call Saul,’ ‘Nobody’

It would be 11 years from the end of “Mr. Show” until Odenkirk landed the role of Saul Goodman in 2009. That was a challenging time for Odenkirk—which included auditioning for the character of Michael Scott in “The Office” (which went instead to Steve Carell) and making TV pilots that didn’t get picked up. Odenkirk wrote in his memoir, “I had so many projects to drive into the dirt and laughs to be had along the way. One trick for surviving Hollywood’s beatdown is to keep making new things despite every ‘no'… I had no intention, ever, of making it big.” During this time, he did stand-up comedy and made guest appearances on TV shows including “Just Shoot Me,” “3rd Rock from the Sun,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “Arrested Development.”

His career took off when he landed the Saul Goodman role on “Breaking Bad,” about a teacher-turned-meth-kingpin played by Bryan Cranston. The critically acclaimed series showcased Odenkirk’s talent in depicting the opportunistic, hustling lawyer Saul Goodman, who is almost pathologically adept at getting his way. His performance was so compelling that creator Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould collaborated on a prequel, “Better Call Saul,” that starred Odenkirk. NPR said the show “could end up as the best dramatic TV series ever made.” In 2021, he suffered a nearly fatal heart attack while filming an episode for the final season of the show, during which his heart stopped beating for 18 minutes.

In 2021, Odenkirk starred in the movie Nobody, which showed a different side of the actor, playing a vengeful action hero who excels at hand-to-hand combat and wielding a knife in a fight. The film, which The New York Times called “as slick as a blood spill and as single-minded as a meat grinder,” grossed $55 million that year, a demonstration of Odenkirk’s star power.

Wife and Children

Odenkirk is married to producer Naomi Odenkirk. They have two children.


  • Best Known For: Bob Odenkirk is a comedian, actor and filmmaker who found success in a series of writing and acting roles during the 1980s and 1990s. He didn’t achieve stardom until his breakout performance as Saul Goodman in the AMC hit TV show, “Breaking Bad,” and its prequel, “Better Call Saul.”
  • Industries
    • Film
    • Television
  • Schools
    • Southern Illinois University Carbondale
  • Occupations
    • Actor

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  • Article Title: Bob Odenkirk Biography
  • Author: Biography.com Editors
  • Website Name: The Biography.com website
  • Url: https://www.biography.com/actor/bob-odenkirk
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  • Publisher: A&E; Television Networks
  • Last Updated: December 2, 2022
  • Original Published Date: December 2, 2022