NEW YORK (Reuters) - Going after fame and fortune in Hollywood leads a lot of people right to failure.
One lesson comedian Bob Odenkirk learned early was to go after something a little less flashy - just plain working. That led him from writing for shows like “Saturday Night Live,” “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” and “The Ben Stiller Show” to his starring role currently in the Emmy-nominated “Better Call Saul.”
Odenkirk spoke with Reuters for the latest in our “Life Lessons” series about how to create life and laughter in an increasingly crazy world.
Q: What did your family’s financial struggle teach you when you were growing up?
A: My dad wasn’t really around, so my mother was the most influential person in my life. As kids, we thought we were going to be booted from the house at any minute, because we knew we were financially fragile. Thankfully my grandfather was clever with the stock market, and he kept us afloat. In fact he made it possible for all seven of us kids to go to college.
Q: Did you have some lean years when you were getting started?
A: I actually enjoyed those formative times, working as a waiter and making $15 or $20 here and there for opening comedy shows. I lived so cheaply, sharing apartments with two or three roommates at a time. But at 25 I was hired by “Saturday Night Live,” and from then on I made a decent living.
I actually didn’t have big financial stresses until I was older and had kids, and made a couple of movies that were real stinkers. As a result I found myself in a great deal of debt, and I did sweat it at that point. That’s when I felt the hammer. That was a rough patch, but I did have faith that I would eventually come out of it, and I did.
Q: What was it like to suddenly be thrust into your dream job in your 20s, at SNL?
A: It was overflowing with stress. It was a job I was desperately afraid of losing, and failing at. And in fact, I did fail at it. I wasn’t a great member of that writing team. I got more out of that job than they got out of me. It was comedy-writing college for me, to be around people like Robert Smigel and Jack Handey and Al Franken.
Q: Many stars in Hollywood end up blowing it, financially or creatively - how have you avoided that?
A: A lot of people get distracted by fame or drugs. In particular, people in show business are always trying to make their next thing bigger than their last. It’s incredibly hard to guarantee quality that way, and just not satisfying. I have always wanted a career, not fame. I just want to keep working.
Q: You’re currently celebrating 20 years of marriage, so what advice can you share on that front?
A: Patience. Tell the truth. Forgiveness. Also, take care of your own issues, because even in marriage, your life is still your life and your problems are still your problems. You still need to manage that, and give each other space. You need to grant your partner that respect.
Q: How did you manage your charitable dollars?
A: We take about a tenth of our income, and then distribute that to organizations like schools, and charities for the environment and human rights. Then usually once a year, there is a person in our lives who is going through some kind of crisis, and needs significant help. The key thing is to identify how much you can give, create a fund, and then be thoughtful about it.
Q: What words of wisdom have you passed along to your two kids?
A: I want my kids to be in it for the long haul. Weirdly, Hollywood is kind of great for that, because they have already seen the ups and downs of so many show biz careers. It is a healthy way to understand that we are all on a long-term journey.
Editing by Beth Pinsker and Marguerita Choy