In a way, Comedy Bang! Bang!, the new IFC show created and hosted by comedian Scott Aukerman began back around 2002 when the former Mr. Show writer and his partner-in-comedy B.J. Porter started Comedy Death Ray, a weekly standup show at Los Angeles' M Bar. It became a staple of the alternative comedy scene and paved the way to the 2009 debut of Comedy Death Ray Radio on L.A.'s Indie 103.3, which then morphed into to the Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast – the spirited, surreal, completely improvised flagship show on the Earwolf Network (which Aukerman co-founded in 2010 with Jeff Ulrich). On the subsequent TV show, premiering tonight, Aukerman, alongside one-man-band leader Reggie Watts, navigates the worlds of podcasting, imrpov, variety, sketch comedy, and late night talk to create an undeniably unique and wholly hysterical show. In a recent chat, Aukerman talked with Rolling Stone about bringing CBB from podcast to TV, the joys of working with friends, and why this is the show he's always wanted to make.
The TV show is certainly its own thing, but you were able to capture some of the feel of the podcast. How did you transition from a largely improvised podcast to a semi-scripted TV show?
I'm really glad to hear that you thought it captured the feel of it, because that was really what I was looking to do without it being an exact adaptation. I wanted it to have elements of the podcast, while still being the TV show I've always wanted to host. That was really what was most important to me. For a little while I didn't know if I was gonna call it Comedy Bang! Bang! or something different. But when we saw the pilot, we realized that we had enough of the improvisational feel of me talking to celebrities mixed with me talking to comedians portraying characters that it really felt like the podcast without being just a direct translation.
With the amount of improvisation on the show, what was the initial writing process like?
The first few weeks was just writing funny stuff. We didn't know where it would go, what we would do with it, but we were trying to get cards up on the board. Then it turned into us trying to make nine or 10 of these episodes with the best ideas we had. It's a really uniquely structured show, so we would sometimes approach taping an episode and still not know who the guest would be or what elements we would have in the show. Which I think really made everyone nervous – I know it made people nervous cause they were about to have an uprising about it! So much of the show being improvised means you're left up to the whims of the gods; but with the work I've done over the past few years – especially Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis [which Aukerman co-created and -produces] – I'm pretty comfortable going into a situation where I know we'll get something.
The show seems to be a mix of the podcast, sketch comedy, and also a late night variety show – is that how you envisioned it from the beginning?
When I was first approached about doing the show, we didn't know what it was. So when we started figuring it out, I realized that this could be the show I've always kinda dreamed of doing since I was a kid. I think the vision I had for it surprised everybody cause I knew I wanted it to be weirder than I think everyone expected it to be.
Well you know I think my sense of humor is ... I love crazy ideas that have aliens and the devil and [laughs] … I love just insane things happening. You can do that when you have a talk show – you can go off into all these insane places.
You've mentioned David Letterman as an influence – was it his host role that drew you to him?
I think that his personality and sense of irony was really instructional. The first time you discover irony as a kid is huge; the first time you realize that you can be incredibly sarcastic, for me, was such an incredible moment. I don't think I was ever really drawn to being the host, though; I always kind of assumed I'd be the guy on the other side of the couch.
What really attracted me when I was a kid was the expression of ideas that Letterman got to do: He got to put on a show and all these ideas were coming through him. That's what's really great about it to me, and that's what's so exciting about this TV show – I get to do anything on it!
How do you view the transition from Comedy Death Ray, to the radio show, to the podcast, to the TV show?
I've always thought of the stuff I've worked on that has to do with any kind of brand name is that it's my taste. When you go see Comedy Bang Bang: Standup, you're gonna see the standup that I really like. The podcast then became a way for me to interact with all the great comedians I see – and that's really what I've tried to do my entire career with these types of things. I just want to make cool stuff that showcases my funny friends. I think I have a certain amount of freedom and level of control over it to where if you tune in or come to a live show, you know what you're gonna see is something that isn't being fucked with by a lot of people. It's what I want to put out there.
It seems like everything is kind of a constant collaboration, bringing in whoever you can.
Yeah, I mean I love to collaborate with people. It's so funny that over the 10 years that I've been doing the live show, I've tried to get so many things off the ground, and this is the first show that I've really gotten to do that is pure, unadulterated, talented people that I love to work with being as funny as they can be. There aren't a lot of shows like this, for some weird reason that I can't figure out. There should be more shows like this, I feel. This is the kind of show that everyone at the UCB Theater wants to make. There should be hundreds of these!