Pod-Canon is an ongoing tribute to the greatest individual comedy-related podcast episodes of all time.
A giddy appreciation of childhood innocence and man-child goofiness is at the core of Comedy Bang Bang, both the podcast and the TV show. The show owes as much to Pee-Wee’s Playhouse as it does Mr. Show and many of the podcast’s most beloved, popular and ubiquitous regulars have an unmistakably child-like essence.
This is true of folks like Paul Rust, whose “New No Nos” persona suggests what Bill Maher might be like if he were an ebulliently ridiculous middle-schooler instead of a smug, pompous middle-aged man convinced he knows everything and no one else knows anything. It’s also true of Rust’s Don’t Stop Or We’ll Die bandmate, the late Harris Wittels, who clearly never lost touch with his inner child and was able to access him every time he appeared on the podcast.
Andy Daly, meanwhile, specializes in characters that are innocent and chipper on the outside and completely unhinged internally. Neil Campbell’s characters are invariably big, child-like goofs. Campbell’s most famous character on the podcast might be The Time Keeper, but Campbell himself seems wonderfully stuck somewhere in the childhood stage of emotional development.
Hell, Comedy Bang Bang didn’t just gleefully pervert that wholesome childhood favorite “The Monster Mash” as “The Monster Fuck”; they gave us multiple nearly identical versions of a song that’s like “The Monster Mash” if it were re-conceived by Lars Von Trier. Not even Christmas is free from the podcast’s inspired combination of innocence and utter depravity. In the podcast’s universe, Santa Claus curses like a sailor and naughty elf Ho Ho is a Yuletide sociopath.
So there was ample precedence when fan favorite Lauren Lapkus (who counts Ho Ho among her many popular characters) and Silicon Valley’s Thomas Middleditch decided to introduce Kid Detectives J.J (Middleditch) and Murphy (Lapkus) O’Malaman, a pre-pubescent, brother and sister team of pint-sized gumshoes in the tradition of Encyclopedia Brown, Scooby Doo and the Mystery Gang, and The Manson Family. Actually, they have far more in common with the Manson family than fictional gumshoes who actually solve crimes, in no small part because they’re considerably less interested in solving crimes than in committing them. They may be children, but their crimes and perversions are of a decidedly adult nature.
In that respect, the instant-classic podcast resembles the cult comedy Mystery Team, another riff on the weirdly deathless childhood-and-teen-detective sub-genre. But where the overmatched kid detectives of Mystery Team were exemplars of 1950s-style sunny innocence in a nasty and degraded modern world, J.J and Murphy have the sunny exteriors and upbeat voices of wholesome youngsters but, if anything, are infinitely more deranged and depraved than the sick modern world they inhabit.
It doesn’t take long for the junior shamuses’ facade of goofy childhood innocence to give way to something deeply disturbing. Without ever losing the smiles in their voices, these pint-sized sickos recount pouring salt onto the skinned body of their mother after discovering that she, and several of her peers, were similarly flayed alive by someone who was probably their dad.
It just gets sicker from there, as these tiny little creeps recount how they like to hop atop the skinned and flayed bodies of brutally mutilated women and ride them as if they were a horse or cow. This corpse desecration quickly takes on a queasily incestuous dimension when it’s discovered the boy detective likes to hold onto his sister’s breasts while they’re riding these horribly abused bodies.
This is far from the only incestuous element of their relationship. The kids talk gingerly of finger-banging and hand jobs while promoting the beyond dubious message, “Kids gotta get it on!” (No, they don’t.) But these young people get off on more than riding skinned human bodies like horsies and gleefully experimenting with incest. The little miss of the duo recounts how much she loves watching footage of the Challenger exploding over and over and over again.
And just when it seems like these pre-teen sociopaths can’t get any more disturbing, we learn that J.J has developed disturbing, Scanners-style telekinetic powers that allow him to do things like split animals in half using only his mind. “I broke a dog once!” he gingerly enthuses.
Yes, this episode is full of the kind of disturbing sexual and violent imagery that would give the devil nightmares, and would put the fear of God into Don Dimello. There is very little sleuthing on display, however, and what little there is all seems to come back to the White House and a creepily over-sexualized version of President Obama.
This podcast just keeps getting more and more unhinged, and the incongruous juxtaposition of giddy childhood enthusiasm and curiosity and beyond-sick depravity never stops being hilarious. This isn’t just genius improvisation; it’s weird, casual, in-the-moment world-building and by the end of the podcast, Middleditch and Lapkus have created such a bizarre and disturbing little universe that it begs to be returned to, which is just what they’ve done in a recent episode of Comedy Bang Bang.
Comedy Bang Bang has repeatedly mined the deep vein of innocence hopelessly corrupted for big laughs, but seldom with results that are as funny, dark and unforgettable as this guffaw-inducing wallow through the depths of human degradation, which is all the more unnerving and hilarious for centering on two very dysfunctional children.
Nathan Rabin is the former head writer of The A.V. Club and the author of four books, including Weird Al: The Book (with “Weird Al” Yankovic) and, most recently, You Don’t Know Me But You Don’t Like Me.