Comedy vet Scott Aukerman on his new IFC show ‘Comedy Bang Bang’
IFC found something funny its basement … Scott Aukerman. Accompanied by comedian/musician Reggie Watts, Aukerman — himself a comedy icon with credits including “Mr. Show,” “Between Two Ferns,” and most recently the popular Earwolf Network of comedy podcasts — acts as giddy impresario on his new TV show, “Comedy Bang Bang.” Translating and evolving the weekly podcast of the same name to the screen is no small feat, but Aukerman features an army of comedy stars to help create a universe where silly reigns and the laughs are non-stop. Aukerman took a few minutes to invite Metro into his weird and hilarious world. We barely made it out alive.
J: Hi Scott! How are you doing?
S: Great, great. How are you?
J: I’m great, thanks. Are you in L.A. right now, is it 8 a.m. for you right now?
S: It is, as a matter of fact. Can you believe it?
J: Oh my goodness.
S: I’ve been up since 6:30 doing radio, though.
J: You’re an animal. Thank you so much for taking some time to talk to Metro. I know you’re primarily West Coast and our papers are mostly East Soast, so hopefully we can…
S: Combine forces!
J: Exactly! East meets West! So, congratulations on everything. As a fan, I’m very excited to get to see you in a new format. I love the podcast. You live in my head all day.
S: Oh no! How weird for you to be hearing me off the cuff.
J: I’ve tried to talk to you on the podcast through my headphones before, but you’ve never talked back.
S: Maybe THIS is a podcast right now!
J: My mind is blown. In terms of the show, what opportunities are you excited to have access to now, as you move from podcast to TV show? What’s new and exciting for you about that?
S: Well, you know, I’m finally a celebrity. Which is great, because when you’re a celebrity, and this is something people don’t know, but it’s a lot like becoming the president. The celebrity secret service takes you aside and lets you know all of the state secrets; what’s in Area 51, who killed JFK …
J: Oooh! What is in Area 51?
S: Well, I can’t tell you, you’re not a celebrity. That’s the thing: The Celebrity Promise, that we’ll never tell non-celebrities. You would think that one celebrity over the years would have spilled the beans, but nope! We all keep it close to the vest. I’m just excited for people to see the show. I’ve been working on it for so long and I’m really proud of it. Fans of the podcast shouldn’t come in expecting it to be exactly like the podcast, because, you know… it’s like The Avengers movie. By all accounts, that started as a comic book.
J: Get out of here! Is that one of those celebrity secrets?
S: No, no. And before that, it was cave paintings, and cavemen would tell each other stories about Batman. But anyway, I think it would be really boring for The Avengers movie to have just been pointing a camera at someone reading a comic book out loud. It’s the same with my show — it’s very visual. It’s inspired by the podcast, but I don’t think you really need to know what a podcast is or know my show at all to enjoy it. I made it for everyone.
J: That’s a really apt analogy. Did you move forward with more confidence because you had the podcast though? With a backlog of characters and a built-in audience?
S: I’ve been doing the podcast for three years, and I think it gave me confidence in my on-air conversations with people and to not be afraid of the more improvisational aspects of the show. At one point when we were filming, it all of a sudden hit me that half of our show wasn’t planned out and that I was being entrusted with millions of dollars and I was ultimately leaving it up to fate and chance that it would come out alright. So I got nervous. But then I thought, “Eh! It’s alright.”
J: A million dollars isn’t cool, anyway. You know what is cool? A BILLION DOLLARS!
S: I mean, a billion dollars IS cooler than a million dollars, from what I’ve heard. I have a new take on that joke, by the way. “Hey, you know what’s cooler than a billion dollars?” “A BILLION dollars.” And then someone taps him on the shoulder and whispers “You already said that.”
J: That one’s got legs, Scott.
S: Legs that have been chopped off at the knees!
J: There’s a huge surreality in the podcast that invokes a lot of visuals for listeners. Now that you’re actually working within a visual idiom, is it a struggle at all trying to figure out how to translate some of the established characters into flesh and blood? We’ve already seen Andy Daly twice now doing classic characters and it adds a lot to see him acting them out.
S: I don’t know that it’s a challenge as much as it is just being confident about the choices we make. We make choices, and hopefully people will like them. A lot of these peoples have been doing these characters for a long time. So, with Nick Kroll, for instance, when he does El Chupacabra, the Spanish-language radio DJ, he’s been doing that character since well before my podcast started. So, he comes in with a very concrete idea of how he wants it all to look. It’s more of a process of working with each of the comedians and seeing what they want to do, and hopefully the audience will come along with it. The great thing is that when you have something like Paul F. Tompkins doing Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber. I mean, we ALL know what Andrew Lloyd Webber looks like in real life, right? From all the posters we have on the wall.
J: I’m frankly running out of space on my Webber wall. I just took some old ones down to make room for the 2012 collection.
S: The new Andrew Lloyd Webbers are here! The cargo wagon arrived! But, Paul had very specific ideas about how he wanted to look like Andrew Lloyd Webber, which is apparently not at all! People are fine with it. The less hard you try in that regard, the easier it is for people to laugh.
J: That’s similar to “Mr. Show,” in a way, where you had worked. Is avoiding getting overly serious about ornamentation something you developed over there?
S: Well, I think that just being silly is what I really respond to. You know, Bob [Odenkirk, "Mr. Show" co-creator] worked on “SNL” and “The Ben Stiller Show,” and especially on “The Ben Stiller Show,” they would take such great pains to look exactly like the people they were parodying, and that was part of the joke. Bob and David [Cross, "Mr. Show" co-creator] thought it was funny just to put gaffers tape under their noses to make a mustache. There’s just something sillier and more fun about that. And that’s sort of my philosophy as well for this show: Be silly, move quickly. I think the show looks great. Our art director, Ben Berman, did a really great job with it. But, you don’t want a comedy show to look like a feature film, because it gets in the way of the laughs a lot of times.
J: The set is such a defining characteristic in the show. It’s almost a character itself. And you’re in the middle as sort of a collision of Wayne Campbell, PeeWee Herman and Dick Cavett.
S: It’s been designed to look like your grandpa’s basement, if your grandpa was a real weirdo who wanted to murder you.
J: And that’s the air you’re trying to make for your guests?
S: Yes, I want them to not be sure whether or not I’m about to murder them, just to keep them on their toes! A lot of guests get complacent, and I don’t like that.
J: No thank you. The audience is paying for blood.
S: And I’m the man to give it to them.
J: Do you call this a talk show?
S: I think it’s a talk show. In some ways, it’s a fake, almost a spoof of some things about talk shows. But, at the same time, on “real” talk shows, the host always knows what the guest is going to say. Conversations on talk shows have all been previously scripted by people. When go onto Conan or anything, you talk to a producer and go over every question that’s going to be asked so it’s all nice and planned out to a degree. So, I think my show is more of a “real” show in a sense, since we don’t write anything out and it’s totally improvised. My show is more real than all of those shows.
J: Them’s fightin’ words.
S: I will fight any talk show!
J: I didn’t realize it was completely improvised. How does the process change for your guests, who are phenomenal improvisers, when they have to work under the time constraints of television, rather than letting them sit back into their character?
S: On the podcast, because it’s so long, we definitely have more time to play around and get really in depth with characters. We don’t have that kind of time on the TV show. But, that’s why the podcast exists. I’m still doing it, you know? So, if people are really interested in the long form stuff, the podcast is still around. But I think it would be a little presumptuous of me to go to IFC and say, “Hey, I want every episode to be 90 minutes long like ‘SNL’ [but the whole thing will be] of me just talking to one character.” I think it’d be hard to sell that. I’ve tried to make it like the podcast, but it’s interesting to distill those characters down to what they can do in three-and-a-half minutes on TV. But you also have to understand that three-and-a-half minutes on TV is kind of an eternity, in a talk show format especially. So, when the picture is on the TV, they help so much in telling a lot of the story, and you don’t need a lot more than that.
J: That makes sense, that the visuals can help tell something about these characters. Is there anything you’re excited to use a TV budget towards that you haven’t had access to previously to with the podcast?
S: It’s not really that big of a budget, compared to other shows, or even other shows that I’ve worked on. We have gotten to do some cool stuff. We get to do some great fake movie trailers, some cool filming stuff.
J: Right! I saw the one with Reggie [Watts, the musician/co-host of the show] when he returned to the uterus after wishing he had never been born. My wife is eight months pregnant and I assume that the fetus looks like Reggie Watts now.
S: I would hope so, for your sake. I’m also assuming you look like Reggie Watts, in that case?
J: Eh, I’m 5’7″ and Scandinavian, so yeah, basically twins.
S: We got to do some cool stuff like that, and I think that it’s a great show because it doesn’t stop to catch its breath. It’s half the length of a normal talk show, but at least twice the laughs.
J: The brevity thing can make things more interesting. In the episode, we saw Gillian Jacobs [star of NBC's "Community"] featured for all of 14 seconds, and she’s a well-known comedic actress. Is it fun to decontextualize people for a TV audience in a way they aren’t used to seeing? You have big names like Jon Hamm, Gillian Jacobs, Paul Rudd…
S: I love Paul Rudd, for instance, and he’s such a funny guy naturally off the cuff. But, you know, when he goes on a normal talk show, he has an agenda and talking points he has to hit. On my show, we never talk about anyone’s projects.
J: No plugs?
S: No plugs. Sorry for fans of plugs. But, you get to see Paul Rudd be funny in a way that he loves to be funny, which is more natural. I think that’s a really cool for people to watch the show. If you want to see people like Jon Hamm being as funny as they naturally are in a talk show hosted by their friend who knows how they’re funny and knows what to ask to highlight why they’re funny, this is your show.
J: Do you think that you’re representing alternative comedy in a way, and bringing it forward?
S: I’m just kind of doing my sense of humor. The great thing about the comedy scene is that we’re friends and like to collaborate. So, I’m really glad I got so many comedians on the show. Each episode has six or seven great comedians on it. But, like you said, they’re all there for a shorter amount of time. It’s kind of a cool vibe where I can be doing an interview with Seth Rogen, and we cut over to the side of the stage and Will Arnett and Topher Grace are getting into a fake argument for two minutes. As far as representing alternative comedy, I leave that to better people than myself.
J: It just seems like such a good time for emergent and working comedians, with things like your podcast network as an example. I know you’re just doing this show out of spite to Marc Maron, though.
S: I tell you, that Marc Maron. The minute I get an IFC show, he goes out and gets his own IFC show and steals all my thunder. It’s the kind of thing that makes you want to say “WTF?”
J: Have you had a knife fight for network dominance yet?
S: I will fight any other show INCLUDING Marc Maron’s!
J: Have you worked with IFC before or is this a new partnership?
S: I did some interstitials for them back in 2011 when they acquired some comedy shows like “Mr. Show,” “Undeclared,” “The Ben Stiller Show,” things like that. They wanted to add in some extra content to those shows so that people who were already familiar with them had a reason to watch. So we did interstitials and interviews. That was kind of a testing ground for this show. They wanted to see how I would do as a performer and a piece of on-air talent. So, that was sort of a precursor to this show in a way. They were mostly interviews with people like Danny McBride, and happened during commercials.
J: I read an interview where you had mentioned having an admiration for Tom Lennon’s work ethic and productivity. Now that you have the podcast, you’re running a podcast network AND you have the show, is your plate full enough?
S: I’d love to keep doing the show and it seems like people are excited about it. I’d love to do more “Between Two Ferns” and write some movies. I want to keep on keepin’ on and hope that people follow.
J: Have you heard from Bob Ducca yet? I’m sure that he’d be very proud of his ex-step son.
S: Bob Ducca is missing! No one knows where he is. I imagine he’s probably in the shed with Dennis.
J: Alright, not to be terrifyingly specific about your personal life, but was the dog in the Zach Galifianakis sketch your dog Rocky? The world is asking.
S: Here come the water works. That is not Rocky. We got a dog that looks like Rocky, but is a little more well behaved than Rocky. In the sketch, that dog had to be sitting right next to a cat, which Rocky would not abide. So, Rocky will be in the show in a later episode. That is my promise to anyone who knows that I have a dog named Rocky. Which is probably about 10 people.
J: That’s like my personal readership! We cross over nicely. Is there ever going to be a universes-collide, Crisis on Infinite Earth-esque Earwolf Network crossover that mixes up the characters that you’ve made for the show and the podcast?
S: Well, this week on Earwolf, there’s a little bit of that, because Reggie and I are appearing on every single show. This week, I’ll be on Improv4Humans doing improv, which is not something I usually do! So there’s definitely a little bit of that going on. But, the reason that Crisis on Infinite Earth came about is because in the DC universe, there were too many universes and too many conflicts between the two universes. So, now that we have a TV version of the podcast and the regular podcast, we will indeed need to figure out a way to settle things up. Supergirl and The Flash die first.
J: Will this swallow the Nerdist podcast network in the carnage?
S: The Nerdist podcast will never die. If anything, Chris Hardwick will be carrying all of our dead bodies. Being the Nerdist, he knows about all the technological advances and will be able to cryogenically freeze himself during the fighting. He will outlive us all.
J: Is there anything else you like to say about the show?
S: Don’t be afraid of your television. Plug it in! Turn on IFC! You’ll be glad that you did!