Comedy Bang Bang’s Scott Aukerman on Celebrities, Hugs, and Making It in the Seafood Industry
Scott Aukerman’s Comedy Bang Bang is probably one of the funniest and most inventive shows on television right now. Featuring a plethora of guests ranging from cult comedians to A-list Hollywood actors, the show, based on Aukerman’s podcast of the same name, twists and turns its way through absurdist sketches, interviews, and pop culture send-ups.
This fall, Aukerman is taking Comedy Bang Bang on the road to promote the show’s second season, and he’s bringing with him frequent guest Paul F. Tompkins and sketch group The Birthday Boys. In advance of the tour’s stop at the 9:30 Club on Tuesday (tickets are still available for the late show), Arts Desk talked with Aukerman about expanding the show’s creative scope, working with Reggie Watts, and his future in the seafood industry.
Washington City Paper: For our readers who aren’t in the know, can you give us some background on how the podcast and the IFC show came to be?
Scott Aukerman: About four years ago, I started doing a tiny radio show, a comedy-based talk show that I started to podcast. When we started as a podcast there weren’t a ton of comedy podcasts out there. Nerdist wasn’t around, and I think WTF maybe was just starting as well. So we were one of the first comedy podcasts, but really wanted to do something different with it. We didn’t want to do what WTF was doing where I’d just talk to comedians about their lives and careers and their secret pain. I started having a lot of really funny comedians on improvising characters, fake people or weirdos. Sometimes they’d be doing impressions of real people like Jesse Ventura or Andrew Lloyd Webber. We started doing sort of improv, conversation-based comedy, where we’d talk to these characters and figure out their pasts and their strange lives. It became really fun, and the podcast became really popular.
IFC—the cable channel—they were all fans of the podcast, and so they offered me a talk show based on it. That was a couple years ago. So we started doing a talk show version. It definitely has the same kind of structure where I’ll talk to a celebrity like Zoe Saldana or Bill Hader or Pee Wee Herman, and then we’ll also have comedians on the show playing crazy, weird characters. But in the TV version also there’s a lot more sketch in it as well, where I get to do sketches, which are sort of my background from when I worked on [Mr. Show with Bob and David]. So it’s kind of a combination of a talk show and a sketch show, but really its more like a sketch show wearing a Halloween costume as a talk show. The TV show is a combination of all these different types of influences I’ve had.
WCP: You’re underway with the second season now. How has feedback been on that so far?
SA: The feedback’s been great. People really like the second season. We did a lot of work to improve the show. When you’ve done one season of anything you definitely have ways that you go, “Oh man, if we did another season, we could fix this or do this with it.” The response to this season has been fantastic. I think people really have enjoyed the way we've opened up the show and we’re doing different things. What I love about it is, when people watch the show you never know what you’re gonna get. You know you’re gonna get me and Reggie and we’re gonna talk to a celebrity, but it’s not predictable and each show is different, and we have some really crazy things happening.
This year we got to do so many great things. We did a musical episode. We did a Halloween episode and a Christmas episode and some really big sketch ideas as well. We’re only halfway through the season at this point, and I think there are some huge shows still to come that people are going to be really excited about seeing. It’s been really fantastic to get to do so many episodes, and get to experiment with the form and really kind of perfect what we’re doing.
WCP: One of my favorite things about this new season is how you keep finding ways to play with the form and audience expectations. Did you and the writers ever get to a point where you weren’t sure if you’d be able to keep up that momentum?
SA: In the first season, we were doing a lot of our take on talk show tropes. We would see what another talk show was doing, like, “Oh, Conan and Jay Leno go and show up on viewers’ doorsteps, and then they have a comedy segment. Well here’s our version of that.” We were doing a lot of that kind of stuff the first season, and by the end of the season we’d sort of run out of those types of ideas. When we started doing the second season I really wanted to open it up. I said to the writers this year, “Let’s not focus on that anymore. Any sketch idea you have we’ll figure out some way to put it into the show.” So it really opened up the show. Each show has these sketch and narrative elements that we didn’t really have in the show before. I think it’s really opened it up and made it more fun for us to do, and thankfully has gotten the viewers invested in a way that I don’t know that they were in the first season.
WCP: On top of that, you’ve featured guests like Anna Kendrick and Zoe Saldana, people who aren’t necessarily known for their comedic pursuits. What was it like bringing them into the Comedy Bang Bang universe?
SA: We’ve got some really great guests this year that aren’t known for doing [comedy]. You mentioned those two, but we also have Jessica Alba, or Clark Gregg from all the Marvel movies and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. A lot of those people aren’t used to doing comedy. Anna Kendrick actually was great because she was the first person to sign up for doing this season. It was kind of like a great vote of confidence to hear from her that she wanted to be involved. She told me she was a fan of the first year. So it’s definitely been really cool.
I was nervous about it because the first year we pretty much had all comedians on and people I knew personally. So this year I tended to get a little nervous talking to someone like Zoe Saldana who is a big movie star. But the great part about it is everyone threw themselves into it with such wild abandon, and put themselves in our hands, that they all had fun. They all come out looking really funny, and that’s what we try to do. We try to take care of the guests and make sure they have a great time, and make sure they come off really funny in the show. I think it’s really fantastic for people to show another side of their celebrity like that. I hope that if we continue doing the show we get to have more people like that.
WCP: What’s it like to work with Reggie? Is he the same off-screen as he is on the show, or do you see a little different side of him?
SA: Off-screen he isn’t standing behind a keyboard 24 hours a day, so that’s one major difference. Every once in a while you’ll be having a conversation with him and he’ll reach down to play the keyboard to punctuate something he’s saying, and it won’t be there. It’s definitely a surprise for him, too. Reggie’s great. He’s like a mysterious dude who travels the world, and I never know where he’s gonna pop up. If you follow his Instagram he’s always in some crazy place or another. I knew him before we were doing the show, and he was always a really funny guy and a really lovable dude who you like talking to. It’s been great working on the show and getting to know him better. We found that we have really similar senses of humor. We crack each other up on the show.
What’s weird is that we also have similar music tastes for ‘80s and ‘90s albums that not a lot of other people like, like Jellyfish. Reggie and I would sing Jellyfish songs all the time, and our sound guy was the only person who also knew them, so the three of us would really get into singing all the different harmonies. But also Reggie and I would sing The Smithereens’ Green Thoughts songs all the time on set. It’s been really cool getting to know him and figuring out how similar we are even though we’re two totally different people.
WCP: Since you mentioned Jellyfish, Bellybutton or Spilt Milk?
SA: We were doing mainly Spilt Milk songs. We were doing “Joining a Fan Club” a lot. Then I think we got into some Bellybutton stuff down the line. We were singing quite a lot of them. They all get mixed up in my head.
WCP: Let’s talk about the tour. What should D.C. expect when you, Paul F. Tompkins, and the Birthday Boys come to the 9:30 Club?
SA: D.C. was one of my favorite stops on the tour last year, so I’m really looking forward to going back there. The show we did last year was one of my absolute favorites. I thought it was so fun and the crowd was so great. I was telling Paul and The Birthday Boys about D.C. this year, and we’re all looking forward to being there. It’s the last night of the tour, which is great, and we added a late show because the first one sold out so quickly. So I think it’s gonna get crazy that night. We’re all gonna be a little loopy from a three-week tour, and I think it’s gonna get nuts.
As far as what people can see at the show, the Birthday Boys are going to do their complete sketch show, and they’re one of my favorite sketch groups, so that’s gonna be really great for people to get to know them. I’m gonna do some pre-planned bits and some sketch bits and maybe something from the TV show. And Paul and I are going to perform a totally 100 percent improv podcast as well, just the way we do on the podcast, and he’s gonna be doing different characters every single stop on the tour. So it’s gonna be a very unique experience to anyone who comes and something that we’re not gonna replicate in any other city. We’re really looking forward to being there.
WCP: The Comedy Bang Bang Twitter account recently tweeted out a promotion for people to get tickets for the shows, and I think it said that people who buy tickets might get a non-guaranteed hug from Paul. Can you describe for me what it’s like to hug Paul F. Tompkins?
SA: Well I’ve had several non-guaranteed hugs from Paul, and he’s compact. There’s a lot going on in that tiny body of his. He’s explosive. You get the sense that you’re hugging something that, much like an atom bomb, could just go off at any moment. But there’s also a sense of tenderness there that is unexpected, quite frankly, that you don’t see from a lot of older men. It’s a lot like hugging your grandpa if your grandpa was the funniest person on the planet. And I’m not saying that your grandpa isn’t. Bring your grandpa to the show and have him stand next to Paul F. Tompkins, and they can have a humor-off. That’s what we’re gonna do every stop of the tour. We’re gonna gather all the grandpas and have a joke contest with Paul F. Tompkins and determine who’s the funniest. If a grandpa wins, Paul’s thrown off the tour at that particular stop, and we’ll bring your grandpa along for the rest of the tour until they’re unseated.
WCP: Maybe we need to have some kind of hug-off as well to see if they’re equally huggable.
SA: That’s gonna be one of the parts that we judge them on as well. Get your huggable, funny grandpas out to the show and they can be a star.
WCP: After the second season concludes, what do you think is next for Comedy Bang Bang?
SA: I would love to do a third season. I would love to do a movie at some point. I think the world is our oyster. I would love to sell oysters. I’d love to open a seafood restaurant, the Comedy Bang Bang Seafood Restaurant and Crab Shack, where if you bring your own crabs we will boil them for you, and if you bring your own stick of butter we’ll also that boil for you. Actually, we’re probably gonna melt the butter in a microwave, let’s be honest. But I think that would be the next logical step, to do kind of a fish fry. That’s kind of where I see this going: the food service industry. That’s the most logical thing to do. Once people laugh, they get hungry, and we want to service those needs. Because if you’re letting laughs escape through your mouth, what’s not going into your mouth is protein, and so we want to cover all the bases. Things going out of your mouth and things going into your mouth. That’s really where I think Comedy Bang Bang’s gonna go from here.
"Comedy Bang! Bang! Live" takes place at 9:30 Club at 7 p.m. (sold out) and 10 p.m. Oct. 15 at 9:30 Club. $25.