Scott Aukerman on ‘Comedy Bang! Bang!’ Season 4 and Saying Goodbye to Reggie

The one thing we do know about Reggie Watts’ replacement on IFC’s Comedy Bang! Bang! is the new sidekick will be a human being.

That is all the offbeat talk show’s host and creator Scott Aukerman is willing to divulge in the wake of news that Watts, Comedy Bang! Bang!’s bandleader for the past three seasons, is leaving in March to become bandleader of the new Late Late Show with James Corden on CBS.

We’ll still have plenty of Watts and Aukerman’s hilariously awkward banter to enjoy in the first half of Comedy Bang! Bang! season 4, which premiered last week. And Aukerman promises a remarkable mid-season sendoff.

After that, who knows what’s in store? Worry not, however, as fans of the both the television show and Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast know Aukerman is consistently funny no matter who he’s working with.

I recently had the chance to chat with Aukerman about season 4, Watts’ departure, and why he decided to end his live standup show.

What can you tell me is new with season 4?

What I can tell you is they’re all new episodes for season 4. We decided to shoot all new ones for season four instead of just re-airing the early ones which cost more but we said our fans mean a lot to us and we don’t want them just watching the old episodes. I will say that much like Pinter’s Betrayal, every episode is backwards chronologically.

What is Pinter’s Betrayal?

Well, you could just look it up after the interview is over or you could just ask me right now and I’ll give you a long boring answer. Which do you choose?

Can you just give me a short answer?

It’s a play.

Are you doing anything different thematically with the show or is it pretty much the same format?

The good thing about this season, and I really think it’s the best season so far that we’ve done, is we have a little more money to do it which is great because it keeps the quality increasing. We’re better at it than we ever have been. Season 3 was hurt a little bit because we had budgetary problems that we haven’t had yet in season 4.

I saw the trailer for the new season. Was that Paul Dooley I saw?

That’s Paul Dooley, yes, from Breaking Away. The master.

I love that guy.

That’s the one person you’re excited by? You’re the only guy who watched that trailer and was like, “They got Paul Dooley!”

[laughs] Well Breaking Away is one of my all-time favorites. I may not know Pinter’s Betrayal but I do know Breaking Away. It’s not often you see Paul Dooley on a comedy show these days and I think I recognized George Wendt in the trailer as well. I just kind of wondered how you go about getting guys like that on the show?

A lot of times if it’s someone we don’t know – and I had never met Paul or George…You know what?  I had met George once before when I was pretty young. I went to see a production of David Mamet’s Lakeboat, and before you ask, that’s a play.

[laughs]

I was with someone who knew someone in the cast and I got to meet everyone who was in the cast, which included Ed O’Neill and all these Chicago Mamet guys. I went to a bar with the cast afterwards and George Wendt came into the bar and everyone screamed, “Norm!” and someone just slid a beer to him and he sat down at the bar. So I’d met him once before but of course he didn’t remember who I was because I was a young kid excited just to be talking to him. But with most of the people we don’t know we reach out to our booking person and say, “Hey I think this person would be really great for the role that we have in mind” or “I’d really like to do something with George Wendt so let’s think of something to do with him.” Then you hope he says yes. It’s pretty much you just offer the role to someone. For the most part we don’t do auditions unless it’s for a tiny part for someone we don’t know. We just offer roles to people and actors love just being offered roles. Actors hate auditioning and so if you want a good actor to be in something just offer them the part and that’s a good trick if you have a TV show.

Do you write the roles with them in mind?  

Sometimes. Sometimes it will be where we’re like, “Oh man we have this such and such part and it needs this type of an actor.” To use Paul Dooley as an example we’ll say, “We need a Paul Dooley type of an actor” and then we’ll say, “Well then lets get Paul Dooley.” We reach out to them first and then if that person doesn’t say yes we cast the net about and pick someone we respect. That’s the really cool thing about working on the show. I’ve gotten to work with such great people. A lot of times it’s because they really respond to the material. You know we had Jason Alexander in season 3, he’s a huge star from Seinfeld, and I don’t know him and I don’t know anyone who does know him, and he told us that he just loved the script, same thing with Henry Winkler. Usually we’ll just send a script to them and see if they respond. He loved the script so much that he decided to do it. That’s always really rewarding. Not only do you get to work with someone that you respect and admire but they are doing the show because they really like the material.

Your show is unique in that most of your guests aren’t really plugging anything when they’re on. Does it make for a better show that way?  

I think the show is better in that we’re not plugging things. Originally when IFC came to me and said, “Hey do you want to do a talk show?” I thought they were talking about doing something five nights a week. So in my mind I was thinking, “oh okay, it will be a little bit more like the podcast.”  Then when they said “no we’re thinking of only doing ten episodes and airing only once a week” well then I thought, “How do you do a talk show with only one episode a week for ten episodes and have it be interesting at all?” If we ever mention a project it’s because it ties into a comedy bit we’re doing. We’ll time the week out of the release of the episode so that it will remind people they have something coming out or we’ll do an off-hand reference to something they have coming out. I think it really makes the show evergreen. There’s a reason why people are watching episodes of it on Netflix and not going, “Why would I watch a talk show from a year a go where they’re talking about a movie that already came out and stank?” So I really think it keeps it fresh.

The show is played really deadpan, so for you, what’s your barometer for a good show? Outside of YouTube views, retweets, and stuff like that. Can you tell when you have a particularly good episode?

I will check in with the directors and producers after the interview portion of the show, which is only about a quarter of the episode, “Was that good?  Was it funny?” Hearing the people dying laughing on the crew or whatever that’s always nice but what makes a good interview is how much fun we’re having, how much unexpected character we get into, with character guests if they can surprise me and I’m laughing then I love that. If something unexpected happens that wasn’t covered on the beat sheet or I they had something I had no idea they were going to bring in, you know I really love that sort of thing. Sometimes I’ll think, “Uh, I don’t know if that went OK?” But then we’ll get into the editing room and I’ll see it really was funny.

You don’t do a whole lot of prep when you do the interviews, right? It feels very off the cuff.  

Well we don’t prep the actors about what we’re going to talk about. So many talk shows do pre-interviews and you know every single beat of what you’re going to talk about when you go out there. We try to condition them into “this isn’t going to be a normal interview, we’re just going to goof around and have fun.” Most celebrities are appreciative of the fact that they don’t have to do an interview where they talk about a character they just played. They want to just have some fun. So there’s not much prep that happens beforehand except for a few lines we’ll go over in the script.

As the host and producer is it ever nerve-wracking for you to have someone new on who maybe you’re not as familiar with and you don’t really know their ability to improv with you?  

Yeah there’s a level of comfort with people that I know. I know this interview is going to go great. You know if Andy Richter is on, or Dax Shepard is on season 4 and I’ve known him for almost 20 years now. You just know that this person gets it and we’re just going to do bits and there’s not a lot of explanation that needs to happen and we’re going to be on the same wavelengths and we’ll just use whatever works, which is what Woody Allen did in his film starring Larry David. But there is something exhilarating about having someone that I’ve never met before on the show and finding a common ground. There were things that have happened with those people that I’m not too familiar with like Schoolboy Q or Kid Cudi that were so fantastic. I was really nervous when in the second season I had to branch out and work with people I didn’t really know that well or with someone I had never met and I think it’s really opened up the show in a great way. You’ll get to see these people do unexpected things that you would never see them do on any other show.

We have to address the elephant in the room. Reggie is gone…

There’s an elephant in the room?

Yeah that was my totally unique way of introducing a question. So there’s no more Reggie but I imagine you have all the episodes taped with him and that won’t be an issue for this season?

Well, we’re halfway through filming season 4, and we filmed all the episodes with Reggie until his departure because he starts The Late Late Show in March. We’ll start filming the back half of the season in February. He’s in the first half of the year and it’s great, I think we figured out a really satisfying exit for him. I’m really proud of the episode that we wrote when he leaves and in one way it’s a bummer that the show has to change at all and part of me… there’s an unspoken rule that I didn’t want anything to change on the show and I wanted the set to be exactly the same. People would come up to me and say, “Can we update the set?” and I would say, “No I want it to be exactly the same” or they would say, “Can we change the way you’re dressing?” [laughs] The wardrobe department really wanted to change my shoes mainly because they were having a hard time finding those particular brand of Converse or they just wanted to try new things and I was just very resistant to it because I wanted the show to have this quality of being trapped in amber in a way so that any episode could be from any season. So if you were watching an episode from season 4 next to an episode from season 2 you would not be able to tell a which year was which.

When it became apparent that Reggie was definitely going to leave and take this amazing opportunity I just started thinking about the show differently. There’s no reason why it can’t change and become this other thing. I think what’s important about the show is the format, which is really unique and no other show on TV has. Like Saturday Night Live, they came up with a great format for a show so that the performers can drift in and out and change over the years. You know, people thought SNL would get canceled when Chevy left. So we have someone new coming in and they’re going to be awesome and it’s really opened my eyes that for the long term success of the show – and I’m hoping the show goes on many more seasons – things have to change for it. Who knows, maybe eventually way down the road someone else could host it if I can’t do it anymore. What’s important about it is the format and the wonderful people who pass through it, and not necessarily myself or even Reggie.

Can you give us any inkling of who’s going to be replacing him?

I think it’s going to be a human being.

That’s all I was looking for.

But I’m not totally settled on it yet.

Can you say if it’s a human being who plays music?

Possibly, I can’t even go that far. It could be a newborn baby. We’re scouring the hospitals right now looking at newborn babies – “Do you have any star charisma?”

Baby Geniuses?

Oh the Baby Geniuses, how old are they now?  I wonder if they’re still geniuses. They should make a reboot of that movie or at least a sequel where it’s just adult geniuses and it’s adults all wearing the same sunglasses on the poster, and they’re all still in diapers as well.

This dovetails perfectly in to my next question – you are a tremendous improviser, and is that something you feel that developed over the years or is that something that just came pretty easy to you? I’ve talked to other comedians who said you’re one of the best around.

Well that’s nice to hear, but I don’t know that I necessarily agree with it. I think I’m a good conversational improviser and I’m good at improvising when I’m acting as well. I can usually improvise in scenes that have a script. I don’t know – well I do know that I’m not good enough where I could do an actual improv show. I don’t know if I’m good at stuff like that but I do know I’m good at giving a reality to whatever it is we’re doing here on Comedy Bang! Bang! per the scene going into interesting places. When I hear someone say something like I’m a really good improviser I wince a little bit because I know the people out there – like the best around like Matt Besser who I think is the best improviser I’ve ever seen, or Amy Poehler or Horatio Sanz or Ben Schwartz.

Fine, we’ll limit it to conversational improviser. Now we’re detracting from you. You’re not that great Scott but conversationally you’re really good.  

Well thank you. Was there a question? I can’t remember.

Was improv something that developed over the years or is it something that just came pretty easy to you?

I think definitely I’ve always been good in conversation. Backstage at the show I produced for ten years I did bits with the comedians and certainly a lot of the writing for Mr. Show was improvising in the room and putting yourself in the character voices and coming up with dumb shit for the person to say. It’s always been something I’ve done, as far as the actual skill of improvising while hosting is something I definitely developed doing the podcast. And you know, it’s something where I’m much better now at figuring out how to lead something down a particular avenue that interests me at the very least and seems to interest fans of the show as well. That was something that was nurtured a lot and I feel I’ve gotten better and better at it. On the TV show a lot of it was figuring it out through trial and error – figuring out what worked on camera for me. I think while shooting the second season we had to edit while the second season was still being shot and I was able to look at some of my performance and I thought, “Oh I know how to make that better.” A lot of it was just like sit up straight, talk faster, and act goofier – more exaggerated. I think my performance on the TV show has really grown to where I’m pretty super comfortable on camera now even though it’s uncomfortable to be on camera because I have to sit up so straight.

I want to ask about the Comedy Death Ray and Bang! Bang! live show – When was the last show? 2012?  

It would’ve been December of 2012.

Do you miss producing it? Introducing so many new standups?

The only thing I miss about it is being at the theatre and having a connection to it and the people who work there. The reason I don’t really miss doing the actual show anymore is because for a long time what I really liked doing about the show was it gave me a chance once a week to hang out with all these really funny people and I’m doing that now. I’m doing so many podcasts and this TV show and I’m hanging out with these funny people all the time and so I don’t really miss that anymore.

As far as artfully putting the show together – in the last couple of years of it even though it was as popular as it ever was because we were still breaking new comedians – I didn’t feel as connected to it artistically because I didn’t have enough time to do the crazy huge big ideas that I used to do early on. Things like doing the Halloween maze, which the first year I did it about half way through producing that show I was like “oh man I have this really crazy idea and I put a lot of work in to it” but I was there all day taping up black plastic bags for the walls and by the end of the run it was like, “Oh shit the Halloween week is coming up. Well can the UCB get a bunch of interns to do this for me?” It wasn’t as fun, and the show itself by the end of it I felt like I was a little bit on autopilot. It was like, “Just fill in the slots. I know I need seven comedians. Two have to be big headliners, two have to be new, two have to be great solid middle people, and I need one host.” I just felt like it was a formula I was plugging people in to. It became administrative in a way. It became almost like putting together a mixed CD for people. Like having your job be put mixed CDs together. I don’t really miss the show and being there every single Tuesday every night of my life, but I definitely do miss hanging around the theatre.

What drew you to doing a standup show in the first place?  

Well you know, when it started it wasn’t necessarily a standup show but at the time when it started I was doing a lot of standup and met a lot of really good people like T.J. Miller, B.J Novak, Dan Mintz, and Morgan Murphy. I met a lot of really good standups and there was really no good place for us to perform of any real quality. Also what I loved doing about the show was putting together a mixture of standup and sketch and characters, a lot of what we do on the TV show and podcast now. It wasn’t just a normal standup show and honestly that’s why I stopped doing it by the end. I saw that it became to me just another standup show. I didn’t want it to become this dinosaur. The reason I started doing the show was because I looked at all these other dinosaur shows that young comics couldn’t get booked on and I was like “fuck that, I’m going to do a show where the people I know are funny are going to get on it no matter how much experience they have.” By the end of the run I was like, “I don’t know, I might be the dinosaur show.” I thought maybe it was time for young comedians who were like, “Fuck that show, I can’t get on it”, it’s time for them to do their show.

Can you tell me anything about the Mr. Show reunion that’s starting to make its way around the internet?

It not really something I can talk about because Mr. Show is really Bob [Odenkirk] and David [Cross] and they’re probably going to decide when they want to talk about what is happening. That said I would also say they’re not that canny about how to hype people up about stuff. They have no marketing plan in place about when they roll out information. I’m so used to having this TV show and working with Earwolf when we carefully plan out when stuff is announced and those guys have no idea or no interest in that kind of thing. Paul [Tompkins] took that picture at the meeting and Bob was like, “Tweet that” and we’re like, “Yeah, we’ll retweet it.” There was no care about when we could get people excited or whatever. I’m glad Paul waited a little bit and tweeted it when he did because he can get people really excited. I don’t necessarily think it’s my announcement to make. Those guys should be in charge of their own press. I would just say that 1995 is the first time Mr. Show was on the air so it’s the 20th anniversary and hopefully something really cool is going to come out to commemorate that.

Everything is still going well with Earwolf?

For the first few years it occupied so much of my time and it was such a struggle to get it off the ground and even more than me it took up Jeff Ullrich’s time way more. But I think now we have such a great staff in place I’m really able to concentrate on the TV show and they’re able to run with it a lot more. But it’s going really great and it’s fantastic how Earwolf and Midroll, the same company, really figured out not only how to create podcasts that people are really interested in and be a destination for comedians who want to express something with no hassle, but we also found a great way to monetize a lot of the podcasts. It can only get bigger and better as far as I’m concerned. I don’t think the bubble is going to burst necessarily. I think the same way when radio burst and people went to TV, well the same people just moved over to TV. I think it’s going fantastically and I’m excited with what we have planned for the coming year.

Comedy Bang! Bang! airs Fridays at 11:00pm on IFC.

Phil Davidson writes about, performs and produces comedy.

Scott Aukerman on ‘Comedy Bang! Bang!’ Season 4 and […]