Gurus Of Meta-Humor

BOB ODENKIRK AND DAVID CROSS, stars of HBO's ""Mr. Show With Bob and David,'' are almost famous. Famous enough to get a ""Yo!'' from the beer-bellied guy inflating the 20-foot-high rubber Budweiser can in front of the new Hooters restaurant in midtown Manhattan. Not famous enough to get served their Hooterburgers and curly fries in less than an hour. The goofball gurus of the alternative-comedy movement are beginning to penetrate the consciousness of Joe Sixpack. But they don't seem totally comfy here in mainstream America. Cross gazes at the over-testosteroned young males who patronize this brazenly sexist chain eatery and whispers to his partner, ""This place is horrible.''

No kidding. And filled with the kind of viewers HBO would love to convert to the show's smart, absurdist, raunchy sketch comedy. "" "Monty Python' meets "Nash Bridges' '' is how Cross describes the concept he and Odenkirk created in L.A. comedy clubs four years ago. He's being ironic, of course. He usually is. Part of being""alternative'' means being ""meta,'' one lev-el cooler than everybody else. (The two were introduced by the pinup girl of meta-comedy, Janeane Garofalo.) When Bob and David introduce themselves onstage, they do it with a knowing wink to bad sketch-comedy shows. ""We're an alternative to the stand-up comedy of the '80s,'' Cross says. ""But if an old Jew in Russia read this article, he'd be furious that we were being called alternative. Because there's really nothing we're doing that's new.''

""Funny'' defies description. ""Mr. Show'' bits like ""The 13th Apostle'' (an infomercial hustler) or the one about a rapper-style war between East Coast and West Coast ventriloquists must be seen to be appreciated. Suffice it to say that they're edgier and better than anything on ""Saturday Night Live,'' where Odenkirk, 34, apprenticed before teaming up with Cross, 33, on the short-lived ""Ben Stiller Show.'' Both are as sick of those catch-phrase-driven ""SNL'' characters as the rest of us, and won't resort to them. Instead, they offer a mix of live performance and taped pieces, with each sketch flowing randomly into the next A la ""Python.'' And because it's HBO, they use the F word a lot. Nothing wrong with a cheap laugh, no matter how alternative you are.