Odenkirk was born in Delhi, Illinois, and raised in nearby Naperville. He is one of seven siblings born to Walter Odenkirk, who was employed in the printing business, and Barbara Odenkirk, Roman Catholics of German and Irish descent. His parents divorced in part due to Walter Odenkirk's alcoholism, which would influence Bob's decision to avoid alcohol as much as possible. He would later say that he grew up "hating" Naperville because "it felt like a dead end, like Nowheresville. I couldn't wait to move into a city and be around people who were doing exciting things." Walter Odenkirk died of bone cancer in 1995.
Odenkirk attended Naperville North High School and Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, then transferred to Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois, "honing his sketch-writing and performance skills with live shows on both colleges' radio stations." He began his foray into comedy writing as a radio DJ for WIDB (Carbondale, Illinois) with Matt Helser and Greg Weindorf, their local college station at SIU-Carbondale. He worked at WIDB where he created a late-night (midnight to 4 am) radio comedy show called The Prime Time Special. The show was considered hilarious and provided Bob an outlet for some of his natural talents. After three years of college, Odenkirk decided to try writing and improv in Chicago. First studying with Del Close, Odenkirk attended "The Players Workshop of the Second City" where he met Robert Smigel, and they began a collaboration that would last for years and take Odenkirk to Saturday Night Live. He also performed at the Improv Olympic alongside notable comedians Chris Farley and Tim Meadows.
Odenkirk said his strongest comedic influence was Monty Python's Flying Circus, primarily due to its combination of cerebral and simple humor. Other influences included radio personality Steve Dahl, SCTV, Steve Martin's Let's Get Small, Woody Allen, The Credibility Gap, and Bob and Ray. He visited Chicago's Second City Theater at the age of fourteen. His younger brother is comedy writer Bill Odenkirk.
Odenkirk was hired as a writer at Saturday Night Live in 1987 and worked there through 1991. Working alongside Robert Smigel and Conan O'Brien, he contributed to many sketches they created, but felt uncertain of the efficacy of his own writing at the show. He acted in several small roles on the show, most visibly during a 1991 parody commercial for Bad Idea Jeans. During his final year at SNL, he worked alongside Adam Sandler, David Spade, Chris Rock and Chris Farley, but eventually he decided to leave the show in order to pursue performing. He has credited SNL with teaching him many lessons about sketch writing, from senior writers like Jim Downey and Al Franken, as well as his friends Smigel and O'Brien.
When SNL took its 1988 summer break, Odenkirk returned to Chicago to perform a stage show with Smigel and O'Brien, titled Happy Happy Good Show. The following summer he did a one-man show, Show-Acting Guy, directed by Tom Gianas. During his final summer hiatus, he wrote and acted in the Second City Mainstage show, Flag Burning Permitted in Lobby Only. In that particular show, he wrote the character "Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker", for Chris Farley, which would later be reprised on SNL.
In 1991, Odenkirk was hired to write for the TV show Get a Life, which starred Late Night with David Letterman alumnus Chris Elliott. Odenkirk also wrote for The Dennis Miller Show
Odenkirk's friendship with Ben Stiller, with whom he briefly shared an office at SNL, would lead to him being hired for the cast of The Ben Stiller Show in 1992. Working as both a writer and actor on the show, he created and starred in the memorable sketch "Manson Lassie", and helped the show win an Emmy Award for writing. However, the show had already been canceled by the time it won the award. Odenkirk served as a writer on Late Night with Conan O'Brien for the show's 1993 and 1994 seasons. Odenkirk met David Cross at Ben Stiller; shortly afterward, the pair began performing live sketch shows, which eventually evolved into Mr. Show with Bob and David. In 1993, Odenkirk began a recurring role on The Larry Sanders Show as Larry Sanders' agent, Stevie Grant. He would continue the character through 1998. Also in 1993, Odenkirk had brief acting roles on Roseanne and Tom Arnold's The Jackie Thomas Show. Radio artist Joe Frank hired Odenkirk and David Cross to appear in Frank's 1994 radio programs, "A Hearing" and "The Last Run" which, in 1997, was combined to become "The OJ Chronicles."
Created by Odenkirk and David Cross, Mr. Show ran on HBO for four seasons. The series featured a number of comedians in the early stages of their careers, including Sarah Silverman, Paul F. Tompkins, Jack Black, Tom Kenny, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Brian Posehn and Scott Aukerman. While nominated for multiple Emmy awards in writing and generally well liked by critics, it never broke out of a "cult" audience into larger mainstream acceptance due to being a premium cable show. After Mr. Show, Bob and David and the writers from the staff wrote the movie Run, Ronnie, Run. The film was an extension of a sketch from the first season of the show. However, the studio took production control away from Cross and Odenkirk during the editing stages, and the pair disowned the final product.
Odenkirk starred in numerous television shows and some films. He has written and produced many TV pilots, including The Big Wide World of Carl Laemke and David's Situation, but none have made it to air or been picked up as a series. In 2004, Odenkirk received an unsolicited package including the work of Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim. Inspired by their unique voice, he connected with them and helped them develop a semi-animated show for Adult Swim called Tom Goes to the Mayor. He assisted Tim and Eric with the development of their second series, Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job. He had a number of small featuring roles on TV shows, including Everybody Loves Raymond, Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, Seinfeld, NewsRadio, Just Shoot Me!, Joey, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Arrested Development, Entourage, Weeds and How I Met Your Mother.
Odenkirk was in consideration to play Michael Scott in the pilot of The Office, a role which ultimately went to Steve Carell. Odenkirk finally guested in the final season of The Office as a Philadelphia manager strongly reminiscent of Michael Scott.
In 2009, Odenkirk joined the cast of AMC's Breaking Bad as corrupt lawyer Saul Goodman. He appeared as a guest star in three episodes of the second season, and eventually became a series regular for the seasons after and remained on the show until its final season.
In 2011, Odenkirk wrote and developed Let's Do This! for Adult Swim, starring as Cal Mackenzie-Goldberg a "two-bit movie mogul and head of Cal-Gold Pictures as he leads a collection of crazy, fame-hungry strivers chasing Hollywood dreams". The pilot can be seen on Adult Swim's website.
Odenkirk executive produced the sketch comedy show The Birthday Boys which starred the comedy group of the same name. Odenkirk also appeared in and directed a number of the sketches on the show as well. It premiered on IFC on October 18, 2013. In 2014, Odenkirk played Police Chief Bill Oswalt in FX's miniseries Fargo.
In fall of 2014, Odenkirk played Dr. Stork, a podiatrist who specializes in cutting off people's toes, in Adult Swim's anthology series Tim & Eric's Bedtime Stories.
Odenkirk currently stars in the title role of Better Call Saul, a Breaking Bad spinoff. Primarily set in 2002, six years before the character's debut in Breaking Bad, the series follows lawyer Saul Goodman's journey from court appointed defense attorney origins to his eventual status as a successful, though unscrupulous, criminal defense lawyer.
The first season consists of 10, 47 minute-long episodes, with a second and third season of 10 episodes following in early 2016 and 2017 respectively.
It was reported in April 2015 that Odenkirk was teaming with former co-star David Cross to produce a new sketch comedy series based on their previous production, Mr. Show, called W/ Bob and David. The series was commissioned by Netflix with the first season having been released in November 2015, featuring four, 30 minute-long episodes along with an hour-long behind the scenes special. Odenkirk and Cross both write, star in and produce the show.
Odenkirk's first roles in film were very minor roles in films such as Wayne's World 2, The Cable Guy, Can't Stop Dancing and Monkeybone. In 2003, Odenkirk directed Melvin Goes to Dinner and also played the role of Keith. The film received positive reviews from critics and won the Audience Award at the SXSW Film and Music Festival. It was later self-released in five cities, then distributed on DVD by Sundance.
In 2006, Odenkirk directed Let's Go to Prison, which was written by Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant, and starred Will Arnett, Dax Shepard and Chi McBride. The film received a 12% "All Critics" score from the website Rotten Tomatoes and had a total box office gross of a little more than US$4.6 million. The following year Odenkirk directed The Brothers Solomon, written by Will Forte and starring Forte, Will Arnett and Kristen Wiig. The film received a 15% "All Critics" score from Rotten Tomatoes and had a total box office gross of approximately $1 million.
After starring in Breaking Bad, Odenkirk began to have more prominent roles in critically successful films such as The Giant Mechanical Man, The Spectacular Now, which received the Special Jury Award for Acting at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, and the Alexander Payne-directed film Nebraska, which was nominated for a Palme d'Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. He began to appear more prominently in comedy films as well, such as Take Me Home Tonight, Ass Backwards, Dealin' with Idiots, and Hell & Back. Though uncredited, Odenkirk directed a segment of the 2013 anthology comedy Movie 43, which was cut from the finished film.
In 1997, Odenkirk married Naomi Yomtov, who was later the executive producer of With Bob and David. They have two children.