'Comedy Bang! Bang!' creator Scott Aukerman discusses bringing his podcast to IFC
Plus, 'Happy Endings' star Casey Wilson drops by for a chat
Back in February, I dropped by the Abso Lutely Productions studio in Hollywood to catch some filming for "Comedy Bang! Bang!" a new IFC take-off on the talk show format.
"Comedy Bang! Bang!" finds Scott Aukerman loosely adapting his popular podcast, which has become a must-visit for any comedy actor with a product to plug and a must-listen for anybody with an interest in the craft of comedy. While the podcast mixes traditional guest segments with in-character appearances from Aukerman's posse of laugh-generating chums, the IFC series is more of a 30-minute talk show parody, though it features many of the same guests who have become regulars on the podcast.
Early IFC episodes feature Amy Poehler and Zach Galifianakis playing themselves, while Reggie Watts is a regular fixture as Aukerman's bandleader.
On the day I'm visiting, Aukerman and Watts are sitting in the show's cramped green room eating catering from Zankou Chicken, though neither is actually eating the famous chicken. Over the course of the wide-ranging interview, Aukerman remains the only constant, as Watts is pulled aside for work down in the retro hunting lodge-style set, while "Happy Endings" star Casey Wilson drops by in the middle of the conversation before going and shooting a very funny skit.
For the most part, though, it's me and and Aukerman discussing the process of adapting the podcast and his own skewed take on the talk show format.
"Comedy Bang! Bang!" finally premieres on Friday, June 8.
Check out the full Q&A, complete with the Wilson cameo.
HitFix: Give me the genesis of wanting to take the podcast to TV...
Scott Aukerman: IFC wanted me to do it. It was something they brought up. I did a bunch of interstitials for them, a year ago, where I interviewed people. I think what it was was I was interviewing Paul F. Tompkins for those interstitials and Dan over at IFC was watching it and was like, "Oh my God. This is so funny." We were just kinda not even talking about the subject matter anymore. We were just f***ing around and being funny and he was like, "I think this could be a half-hour show." What's great about IFC is that normally if you ever have a project that you're trying to turn into something else -- like a comic book you're trying to turn into a movie, or a short you're trying to turn into a TV series -- there's such a challenge to get people to even look at the source material or to get them on-board about the source material, but IFC, like everyone there already listens to the podcast on a weekly basis and has since almost the beginning, so it wasn't a challenge for me at all. They were the people who came up to me and said, "Can you turn this into a show?" and I was just like, "Yeah. OK. You'll give me a talk show and I don't have to audition or anything? Yeah, sure."
HitFix: The podcast is, well, podcast-lengthed. It's however-the-hell-long you want it to be and no one ever cuts you off. It's an hour-twenty, hour-thirty, whatever...
Scott Aukerman: Well, no one ever cuts me off here on the show either. That's one rule. That's the only rule, as a matter-of-fact. I have to finish sentences and then people can start talking.
[A producer comes and tries to pull Scott, but he insists on continuing the interview. They go back and forth over the length of time he can stick around and things resolve at 10 minutes.]
Scott Aukerman: See? That's negotiating!
HitFix: So initially IFC came to you and said, "10 minute show" and you said "90" and you worked your way down?
Scott Aukerman: Yeah, I'm like, "Give me an hour-and-a-half like the podcast is." No. The podcast is long-form. It's definitely a totally different kind of experience. I look at it as like how the Marvel 616 Universe is kinda like the Ultimate Universe, where like characters share the same name, there's still Peter Parker, who's Spider-Man -- Now Miles Morales, of course -- but there's still Doctor Octopus and the Green Goblin and they're still kinda the same people, but they're different. I think the TV show is definitely a different experience. We wanted to make it more visual. We didn't just want to put cameras in front of the podcast and then do a half-hour version of the podcast. I kinda don't see any reason to do that, so it's definitely a totally different experience, way more visual.
[I start to ask Reggie Watts a question about his role on the show, but he gets pulled away to shoot part of a skit.]
HitFix: What is the capacity that you want Reggie to have on the TV show?
Scott Aukerman: It's so weird how it came about. We're not a team or anything. We're not like people who have worked together all that much. He's done the podcast a few times. He's done both different theme songs for the show. And when I was talking to IFC about exactly what the show was and we were just trying to figure out the format or what it even could be and a lot of it is deconstructing talk shows, so a huge element of that is the bandleader. So we talked for a little bit about, "Well, do we have a different person every time? Do we not even have a bandleader?" Everything kinda came in our minds, but it just kinda kept coming back to how great and how much I love what Reggie does and how much I wanted to work with him. I didn't even expect him to say "Yes," really, but it was just such a thrill when he agreed to do it. The great thing about Reggie is he's not just a musician. He's actually more, to me, a super-funny guy and the music is something that you get in addition to that. So once he said that he'd do it, it just kinda started the ball rolling with all of these great ideas. Like, "OK, you're going to be a huge part of the show. We're going to do all the sketches together and you're gonna be in everything and we're going to do sketches just with you and not with me." It kinda takes the burden off of me not to have to be in everything.
HitFix: But how does that fit into, again, the 30 minutes? That has to be a tight 30 minutes.
Scott Aukerman: What's really strange is that when we did the pilot, we kinda thought we were over-shooting and we actually covered ourselves with every transition so we could cut any bit out if we were running long or something. So we wrote what we thought was maybe one-and-a-half shows worth of stuff and we shot one-and-a-half-shows worth of stuff, but then in editing, as I was watching other talk shows, I really started to notice how much kinda fat there is in all of them? How much bulls*** there is? Like even the shots coming back from commercials are these long zooms in while audiences applaud and when guests come out, there's about a minute while they walk from one place to another place. So when you start looking at shows like that and noticing that if you cut all of that out and just do a show where it's all about the material and the comedy, you can fit way more into it. We actually ended up putting every single thing that we shot into the pilot and it's packed with material. Every show has 20-to-25 things in it and it just zooms from one thing to another and never really rests on anything, in a great way, I think. I find it really hard to watch talk shows now, because of how they never get to anything. You have to when you're a strip show and you're doing four or five shows per week. You have to pad it out. When you've been going 30 years, or what have you, you have to do that, but we just try to strip everything out of the show and just do the bare minimum. That's a great quote, right? We try and do the bare minimum on this show.
HitFix: Is that the main reason for not shooting in front of a studio audience?
Scott Aukerman: I've done the podcast in front of live audiences, so I have some experience doing it. I know I was more comfortable doing it without a live audience. First of all, the "Between Two Ferns" stuff I shoot is without a live audience and I really started to enjoy the process of shooting long interviews and then stripping them down to really short sequences and just getting the really funny stuff. But also, the interstitials that we shot were not in front of an audience and I guess I was just kinda used to it, so I thought it would be really interesting to do sorta the single camera -- even though we have five -- take on a talk show. And it's really interesting how awkward it can get without an audience applauding things. It's really fascinating to me.
[Casey Wilson enters the green room area]
Scott Aukerman: Hey Casey! How are you? Come on in! Do this interview with me!
Casey Wilson: OK. Hi! Are you joking?
Scott Aukerman: No. Do the interview! [Narrates...] Casey Wilson just walked in.
Casey Wilson: I was born... My singing began...
[They briefly discuss their plans to do a singing revue together. This apparently is a real thing.]
Casey Wilson: You might ask if there's a comedic bent to it and there's not.
Scott Aukerman: There's not. It's the most sincere night you will ever see.
Casey Wilson: We just want to sing and, because we're comedians, we feel like maybe that gives us some right to sing? That we weren't able to make it on Broadway or anything like that...
Scott Aukerman: I think if you're in any aspect of show business, you have every right to get into any other.
Casey Wilson: To change lanes. Oh yeah. I'm gonna be doing the costumes as well.
Scott Aukerman: If Weezer can still call themselves Weezer and do what they do, we can do whatever we want.
Casey Wilson: But continue your line of questioning...
HitFix: I would say Casey's arrival makes a good transition. How are the guests used in the format?
Scott Aukerman: There will be guests. There will be blood. We sorta broke it into three different types of guests. There's the more...
Casey Wilson: Top tier guests...
Scott Aukerman: The first category is like the celebrity guests, who play themselves. The second category are our guests from the podcast, favorites on the podcast who are comedians playing characters that they've done a lot, either Paul F. Tompkins doing an Andrew Lloyd Webber or Nick Kroll doing Chupacabra, but characters they've developed. And then the third group are guests who are sorta based on talk show tropes, like famous talk show guests who we're doing takes on. Those are people like Casey here or David Wain or Nick Offerman, who are coming in and they're still doing improv, but it's characters who we've beated out for them and given them a take on.
Casey Wilson: It's the celebrities who weren't able to come up with their characters on their own.
HitFix: So what are you going to be playing, Casey?
Casey Wilson: I am playing a still-life painter.
Scott Aukerman: And what sort of preparation did you do?
Casey Wilson: I did a backstory. My character has some dark secrets that I hope will find their way to the surface if not through words, then just...
Scott Aukerman: Through hurt eyes.
Casey Wilson: There's a molestation background. I don't want to go into it, because I want you to just see it.
Scott Aukerman: And be moved.
Casey Wilson: If people aren't crying at the end, you have not done your job.
Scott Aukerman: That's a great quote for "Happy Endings." If you're not crying at the end...
HitFix: For this initial batch of episodes, how closely have you stuck with people you've worked in the past?
Scott Aukerman: Pretty closely. I've been really lucky to have most of the people who are appearing on the show be people I know and with whom I've worked. The other lucky part is that there have been great people who I've never worked with before -- like Chris Parnell was here yesterday and was amazing or Dave Thomas from "SCTV" is coming out to do something -- people who I've never met who have been gracious enough to be on the show. But, for the most part, because I do a lot of work at the UCB Theater, I know a lot of people in comedy and they've all been really working out. Casey's coming in just to do a short scene, which I really appreciate.
Casey Wilson: Everyone loves Scott. You have very deep relationships in the comedy community.
[Casey heads off to do hair and makeup.]
HitFix: I wouldn't say that the podcast is "timely" or "finger-on-the-pulse"-y, but it's topical. You guys are talking about the things that are happening at the moment. Are you missing topicality on this?
Scott Aukerman: Well, the great thing is that I still have to do that podcast every week.
HitFix: So I guess you're not really "missing" it, are you?
Scott Aukerman: Yeah, considering that I have to drag my ass in on Saturdays to still do the show... No. I love doing the show and I made a commitment to keep doing the show, because I want to. So no, I don't really miss it. Sometimes I wish I could only do a half-hour version of the podcast. But no, I get to flex both muscles. That's what great about podcasts is really that you can take your time with them and people want you to do an hour. They want you to do an hour-and-an-half. I put out a "Best Of" at the end of the year and I had so much material and I was like, "Would it be OK if I did a three-hour show?" and everyone was like, "Please!" Most people who listen to podcasts are trying to get through the day and fill their time. So I put out a four-hour version and everyone was filled. It's like our highest rated show of all-time. So I think it's a totally different medium, so I don't miss it all.
HitFix: This may be more of a podcast-based question, but with your show and with things like HBO and Showtime's comedians-talk-about-comedy shows, is it possible that we could ever reach a saturation point and start to have too much deconstruction of comedy in comedy?
Scott Aukerman: As far as the podcast goes, that was something that I started doing, was I started talking about comedy and then the radio station that I working for, three episodes in, they were like, "We'd rather you just actually be funny" and I was like, "Oh, I can do that. That's easier for me." So yeah, there's probably fear that people are talking about comedy too much instead of doing it. As far as the TV show goes, we've been really conscious of trying to have a good balance of sketches that deconstruct an idea and are actually funny. There is a balance. Any time an idea comes up like, "Hey, what if we did a woman on a talk show who collects potato chips," your first idea when you're doing a show like this is to deconstruct it where she's bad at it, so it's been our goal with this to kinda mix those types of ideas up and to do sketches where people are bad at what they do and sketches where they're good at what they do. But it's been an interesting thing, trying to see how far you should go to deconstruct something.
HitFix: And how much is "Two Ferns" really an early template for what this show is?
Scott Aukerman: It's definitely there with the way we're shooting it, with the small crew and with the way we're doing the interview parts of it, but the interview parts of it are probably 30 percent of the show. I think people will be surprised, fans of the podcast will be definitely surprised by how much of the show actually is a comedy show and is not a talk show.
HitFix: Are there ever going to be people who aren't quote-unquote "funny"? Or this this not an environment for people who can't roll with the punches?
Scott Aukerman: We're finding out who's funny and who's not as the shows go by. No, I think because the format of the show is, I hate to say "parody," but it's a take on a talk show, so most of the people in it are funny. We're not really doing any interviews with like "normal" people. You know how "The Daily Show" sometimes will go talk to a normal person and their whole take is on the approach to it. We're not really doing that. It's all pretty much comedians doing it all.
HitFix: How much are you still yourself and how much are you playing a take on a talk show host?
Scott Aukerman: It's kinda half-and-half. I'm definitely not asking any questions of the celebrities that I'm actually interested in. Part of my sense of humor is to do really fake conversations and ask stupid questions that in my own personality, I don't truly give a s*** about the answer to, because that's another thing that talk shows do that are just a waste of time, is talking about whatever they're trying to sell that day. We're trying to do more of an evergreen show that would be funny, dare I say, 50 years from now in the Television Museum or the Hall of Fame. If they decide to build a Television Hall of Fame at that point, I hope to be the first show that is inducted.
HitFix: In that context, does that make your inspiration actual talk shows that exist or does it make it something like a "Larry Sanders"?
Scott Aukerman: You know what it is? We've taken inspiration from not only several generations of talk shows, but shows with hosts in general. So we're doing takes on things from Mr. Rogers from Pee-Wee Herman to Jerry Springer. Anything that kinda has a host persona, we're sorta doing definite takes on.
HitFix: A lot of that is the function that, again, "Larry Sanders" tried to serve. Do you think the late-night landscape has changed since that show looked at things? Are there different things to parody?
Scott Aukerman: I was watching some early Letterman stuff the other day, not for inspiration of like "Oh what do I do?" but just because I was so into it and it was just to inspire me to start doing this show, and then I see a little bit that I go, "Oh wow. That would be exactly what we would do on our show." I think when talk show hosts start out their careers, they do a lot of these types of deconstructionist ideas. I know Conan did a lot of those types of things. I think that the longer a show goes on, the less interested the host is in doing that and they just want to have nice conversations. At this point, I'm not interested in real conversations with celebrities, so I think this going to be a fun show to do, right now. On the podcast, I definitely have more real conversations, but in this I'm not.
HitFix: On the podcast, then, how much is The Real You and how much is the Scott Aukerman character?
Scott Aukerman: On the podcast, I would say I'm 90 percent me? And on this, I'm 50 percent me.
HitFix: Is there a longer version of this that you could see yourself eventually doing that maybe incorporates more of Real You and maybe more traditional talk show elements?
Scott Aukerman: The ideas are all solid. Some of these shows we've been like, "How are we even going to cut these down to 22-and-a-half minutes?" We have about three minutes for the celebrity interviews and we're doing like half-hour takes that are all really, really funny. So there's going to be a lot of material, so part of me was kinda going, "Awww... I wish we could go longer. I wish we could do 40-minute shows," like when NBC used to supersize stuff. But the ideas are all solid and we could ever do a version in front of an audience and do all of the talk show stuff that I'm talking about, but at this point, this is the one that we're doing.
HitFix: But do you actively aspire to that longer show? Where do you see the limitations for this format?
Scott Aukerman: If I had to do a strip version of it that was daily, you couldn't do this much material. We've been working on the writing since November to get these 10 episodes where we're not repeating any kind of bit. We don't have any kind of recurring bits at all. Every bit in the 10 episodes is new. Every single guest is new. So I think if it were a strip show, you definitely would have to be more of a long-form. You'd have to take your time with stuff a little more, which is what's so great about the half-hour version, is we don't have to do that.
"Comedy Bang! Bang!" premieres on Friday, June 8 on IFC.