Scott Aukerman and the Evolution of ‘Comedy Bang! Bang!’

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The critically acclaimed Comedy Bang! Bang! returns to television this Friday. Creator, executive producer and host Scott Aukerman, continues to prove this talk show is more than just an interview. Aukerman questions celebrity guests accompanied by bandleader Reggie Watts; packed with sketches, character cameos and story interwoven, the show riffs in a surreal world.

He is the co-creator, producer and director (and recent Emmy winner) of Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis, co-creator of the podcasting network Earwolf and creator/host of the weekly Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast.

I spoke to Scott while he was in New York City about finally getting celebrities on the show, cultivating new talent and of course – the weather report.

I apologize because I am getting over a cold and have a bit of a husky voice.

Ugh, no problem. I’ll make do, but pretty unprofessional.

What can we expect on the new season of Comedy Bang! Bang!?

Well, I think this season we decided to do something a little different. We decided, “You know what, let’s just get celebrity guests on the show!” I mean, what are we doing? What have we been waiting for? Celebrity guests bring viewers in, and people like to see them, why not have people like Ellie Kemper, Horatio Sanz, Bobby Moynihan and The Lonely Island. What have we been holding off for? We had a big meeting with the team – well it was more of a huddle to be frank. Personally, I think there’s no reason to have a meeting if you’re not going to huddle. It works in football, it works anywhere else. So we huddled up like, “Guys, are we gonna do this or what? Are we going to just swing for the fences or are we going to keep hitting ground rule doubles all day?” Which, as you know, are almost home runs but are not home runs. We just said, “Let’s do it!” So, we got a ton of celebrity guests that are going to be on the show.

Great!

We have Steven Yeun from The Walking Dead, we have Dane Cook, we have Chris Hardwick from The Talking Dead. We covered both sides of The Walking Dead spectrum.

Both sides of the dead?

Both sides of the coin! We have the band The National. We have the aforementioned Lonely Island. We have Bruce McCulloch from The Kids in the Hall, Alan Tudyk from Firefly. It’s a pretty, pretty cool season. I think we really figured how to do the show midway through season two so I think we hit the ground running in season three. We also have one of the craziest episodes we have ever done, the Eric Andre/”Weird Al” Yankovic episode. We really went for something there and I’m pretty pleased with how it came out.

Is there going to be recurring characters, even characters from the podcast as well?

Yeah, the very first episode that airs Friday we have James Adomian making his CBB TV debut as Governor Jesse Ventura which he has never done on the show before. We have a Thanksgiving special where a certain little boy who may not have parents anymore, makes his return. I know Horatio Sanz brings his Victor Ramos from the podcast and also Andy Daly comes in with the Honorary Mayor of Hollywood, Chip Gardner.

That’s going to be exciting for fans to see, on both sides of the podcast and TV show.

On both sides of the aisle!

Is there a dream guest you would love to have on, or a dream character perhaps?

You know, the first year when I was doing press people asked me that and I said Peewee Herman, and then that came true.

So now the next one you say will come true!

Yeah, when people asked me my dream guest for Between Two Ferns I would always say Barack Obama and that came true so I’m worried that A, either everything I say comes true or B, more likely that I have 3 wishes and only have one left and I shouldn’t waste it on a dream guest.

You should save it for something more important.

I should wish for money even though they say money doesn’t buy you happiness, but it buys you stuff that can make you happy, I think.

You’re always supposed to wish for more wishes.

I mean, there’s pretty much a standard ‘no more wishes’ clause in the 3 wishes these days. I doubt that would work, but I can try it definitely. But as far as guests I am not going to wish for but I would love to have on, for some reason every season I say I would love to have Martin Short on because he is one of my favorites. It hasn’t happened yet but we are filming right now Martin Short, if you have a Google search on your name!

I feel like we got close with Steve Martin last year because he was touring with his Bluegrass band. I think we got close, but it didn’t happen. I’m a huge Steve Martin fan so that would be amazing. David Letterman would obviously be the greatest although I know he’ll never do it. But hey, if he’s looking for stuff to do after he settles down, we are there in Glendale filming! [laughing] Beautiful Glendale! Those would be my three major ones that we haven’t gotten.

How do you approach finding new comedians or improvisers for the show? I know the podcast was always a great place for people to have fun and try new characters, how does that come into the TV show?

It’s interesting. There’s something I came up with, well not came up with but came up against when I was producing the Comedy Death Ray show at UCB. That show started out with the regulars who would do it every few weeks: Zach Galifianakis, Louis CK, Bob Odenkirk, Sarah Silverman. You know they were all great people but at a certain point people start to get too busy to do it consistently. One thing you have to do is really cultivate new talent. Otherwise you won’t be able to get people to do your show every week. But more than that, if you stick with the same people there’s less drive and I’ve seen it happen to other shows where you just kind of have the same people on and your audience ages along with you. I was always very concerned with finding new people to be on and that’s why the best show was always a mixture of established people and young people. With the podcast, it’s also very similar. I mean, when we started doing the podcast the regular people were Andy Daly, Nick Kroll, James Adomian as well as Paul F. Tompkins, who still finds time to do it, all the time. But those people get really busy, so it’s great that there’s a new rising crop of people like Lauren Lapkus or Joe Wengert to come up. The audiences have embraced them and haven’t been like, “Oh all my old favorites went away.” It’s really great to see people embrace new talent. I think if you watch Comedy Bang! Bang! the television show and I certainly hope you do…

I do! I have seen every episode!

Okay, thank you! Oh my God that was a close one. [laughs] I think if you watch the show, one of the cool things about the show is that every single person who’s on it is handpicked by us. We don’t really do a lot of auditions. Normally we just pick people that we know are really good for it or we make offers to actors that we’ve always wanted to work with. But hand in hand with that is cultivating new talent and putting new people on the screen even if they only say one line. They’re usually a funny improviser who our executive producer and head writer Neil Campbell knows from the UCB. We really want to do that. When I first came out to LA and started doing comedy, it was really important to me that Bob Odenkirk had asked me to be in an episode of Mr. Show really early on because I was a young kid that he really thought had some talent and wanted to help. That was my first TV show and I think that’s what we’re also trying to be for the younger comedians out there. I think it’s cool that I can be someone’s first TV show they are ever on, and someone trusted them with one or two lines that they didn’t have to audition for, where they can just show up and be really funny and there’s no pressure. That’s something I think is really cool about our show.

Has the creative process evolved from season to season especially now that there’s a lot more episodes next season?

Yeah, I mean mostly mankind has evolved from when God created us 2,000 years ago. From naked to wearing clothes, that’s the only evolution that’s happened. I don’t buy that whole, “We started out as monkeys” crap.

I think it has. The first season was really doing sort of our versions of what other talk shows would do, our versions of talk show tropes. We have all seen it on a talk show where the host shows up to someone’s house in the middle of the country, knocks on their door and, “Surprise, it’s me!” and has a good time with them. We’ve all seen a lot of hosts do that so what’s our version of that, what’s our new twist on it? We were doing that a lot in the first season and then by the end of the season we were kind of out of those tropes. I said, “You know, I’m not really interested in doing our version of throwing watermelons off the roof anymore or stuff like that.” Our tenth episode was the green screen episode where we had a storyline going on and it was a little bit more ambitious.

For the second season when we got our order doubled, hand in hand with that went a few discussions with the network about what was working and what wasn’t. They thought something we could do, which was exactly what we wanted to do, was have more storylines in the episodes. That’s where we’re at right now. Every episode has its own unique storyline going through it as well as elements that were there in the first season. That’s kind of the change that happened in the second season.

In the third season we have been getting more and more non-comedians and regular actors to do the show. We’ve been really working to make sure that the interview part of the show, which is such a large chunk, is really entertaining and has a lot of variety in it. We’ve been writing some cool bits for the interviews and not just totally dependent on an improv interview. That’s sort of the evolution. In season four, I feel like we have just cracked how to do the show real well. The episodes we have been filming at this point are just a continuation of seasons two and three.

I’m curious how the [title] animation came into the show, how did that develop? How did it grow from poster to opening credits?

Well, it sort of happened because I was at Chicago Comic Con, I think it was called Wizard World with some comedians: Patton Oswalt and Dan Telfer. I was walking around and the cartoonist Paul Hornschemeier passed me and went, “Oh, wait a minute!” [laughs] he came back and said, “Hey, I’m a huge fan of the show” and gave me his books. I had heard of him and seen some of his stuff before and really liked it, so we struck up a conversation. He really wanted to do the logo, and then he did the logo really great. I struck up a friendship with him and he was telling me how he had a cool animation process.

So when we were doing the show, I think we weren’t necessarily thinking about animation in the titles at the outset. I think on the DVD of season one there are a couple different stabs at a title sequence. I didn’t think they really said what the show was all about. Initially, Reggie wanted to re-record the theme song and do a full band version of it. Along with that, I think we started thinking there could be some really cool surreal animation titles instead of something that Conan does or Fallon does, where it’s shot out in the city or anything like that. It was really just my desire to do something a little more surreal after failing at a couple different attempts at title sequences.

Paul did a really great job. I think it was pretty much what he designed, straight to the screen, I don’t think we did a lot of changes to it, I really like the way it came out. I think it really says it’s a unique show and not a typical talk show. He’s done lots of paintings that are in the studio as well. He’s a really talented guy. He has some great books, I think one of them is on the New York Times Bestseller List. He has an animated short that I’m producing, that I’m also in with Paul Giamatti and Kate McKinnon and a bunch of great people. People should definitely check his work out.

Where did the idea for the episode names come from [example: Steven Yeun Wears Rolled Up Black Jeans & No Socks]?

We were trying to come up with what we would call the episodes in the first season. I knew if you were on Netflix or iTunes, more so than if you are on the guide on your TV, and looking at a bunch of different episodes, I always get really frustrated trying to figure out if I’ve seen something or not [laughs]. Everything has these ambiguous titles that sometimes don’t even have anything to do with the actual plot of the episode that you watched. I’ll quite often start an episode of something going, “Have I seen this one?” then watch ten minutes of it and go, “Oh no, I have seen it” and have to go back. I knew I wanted something where people could say, “Oh, okay, I’m looking for that episode Amy Poehler is in” it’s just right there for you, Amy Poehler is the first thing that you see. I knew I wanted that, but we didn’t want it to be necessarily boring the way some talk shows just list the three guests. We talked a lot about what we wanted to do with it, me and the other writers. That was kind of what we came up with of, it will give you the information you need but it will also give you information you don’t really need, which is a combination of what the show does.

It’s just another aspect that is innovative and different, same with the title credits as well. It’s something you don’t see often, having the same format for titles.

Thanks. Yeah, we really do think a lot about the show. I think it’s kind of an easy show to watch, everything is really short and everything’s kind of crazy. I think a lot of people don’t really realize how much thought actually goes into an episode and how many drafts we do of every single thing that you see; sometimes twelve different drafts of an episode or the sketch within the episode. It’s nice to hear that some of that work is appreciated!

It is, very much so! What is the Comedy Bang! Bang! weather report today?

You know what, it was freezing this morning. I am currently looking outside the window and blue skies have returned. It seems to be a nice 66° here in New York City. Hope that helps you [laughs] Hope my weather report helps whoever is reading this on Splitsider, in whatever town in which you reside, on whatever day this comes out!

Comedy Bang! Bang! premieres this Friday October 17th on IFC. Seasons 1 and 2 are currently on Netflix available on DVD.

Kaitlynn E-A Smith is a writer, MA fashion grad and (mostly) creative mind. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram to hear her ramblings and see her cats.