Pod-Canon is an ongoing tribute to the greatest individual comedy-related podcast episodes of all time.
For pretty much any other podcast, having an annual “Best Of” that lasts longer than two and a half hours would seem incredibly self-indulgent. For Comedy Bang Bang, however, a two and a half hour-long “Best Of” represents nothing more than a beginning. Yes, the very first installment in the 2017 Comedy Bang Bang best-of runs over two and a half hours long, and there are three more similarly lengthy installments to go.
All told, the four installments of the 2017 Comedy Bang Bang best-of run somewhere between ten and twelve hours long, if not longer. I would be more specific, and accurate, but I am really bad at math. Needless to say, hosts Scott Aukerman and Paul F. Tompkins do not rush their way through this exceedingly leisurely exploration of 2017’s creative highs.
Heck, the first clip, Paul Rust resurrecting his “New No Nos” routine, doesn’t even arrive until over forty-five minutes of the kibitzing, riffing, and joking that are as important to these countdowns, if not more important than, the actual clips themselves. The year-end Comedy Bang Bang countdown is a tribute to the magic and chemistry of Scott Aukerman and Paul F. Tompkins sitting down in a studio and talking as much as it is a tribute to Comedy Bang Bang. Aukerman and PFT are so funny riffing on the weird trend of secret celebrity cameos in Star Wars, for example, and everything from the titles of Joe Walsh solo albums to Paul F. Tompkins “hauling cases” for Aimee Mann as her roadie when they toured together (which totally makes me want a roadie-centric podcast hosted by Tompkins called Haulin’ Cases, or at least a With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus episode with that premise) that it almost seems like a shame that their banter has to be so regularly interrupted by clips from what listeners determined are the sixteen greatest 2017 Comedy Bang Bang bits.
The very idea of a Comedy Bang Bang best-of is a little curious, since context is so important on a podcast like this. This isn’t like Dr. Demento, where a host is playing individual songs – these comedy bits require a fair amount of setup and explanation. At times, these specials resemble the comedy podcast equivalent of audio commentaries, with Aukerman dropping fascinating insider info on how segments that made the countdown came to be, how they took the barest of comic conceits (like, for example, the idea of “horse promoters”), and spun them into comic gold. Some of the bits included in the best-of barely make sense even within context. Some of them require a fair amount of explanation just to make a lick of sense. Aukerman can’t just drop listeners into the deep end and assume they’ll be familiar with the cavalcade of kooky characters that stride through the Comedy Bang Bang open door, but there’s also a danger of killing comedy by over-explaining it.
On these four episodes, Aukerman does the unglamorous work of contextualizing these wild, freewheeling bursts of improvisation from his funny friends and colleagues for the benefit of both new listeners and longtime fans, but that only takes up a very small percentage of its marathon running time, and Aukerman finds a way to make everything funny. The beauty of these specials is that it affords Tompkins an opportunity to drop the crazy cartoon accents and wild characters and be his greatest, deepest, and truest character: Paul F. Tompkins, raconteur, wit, world-class improviser, and God among men who went from having mere “mustache aspirations” as a child (to borrow one of Aukerman’s many indelible turns of phrase over the course of the specials) to being a mustache master. These specials are a delight because PFT is a delight, particularly in aggressively silly conversation with Aukerman, who clearly enjoys his company to an almost unseemly degree.
Sure, it’s nice to hear the Comedy Bang Bang all-stars in fine form, to revisit the masterful work of beloved staples like Andy Daly, Lauren Lapkus, Paul Rust, Thomas Middleditch, and Ben Schwartz, whose hip-hop freestyling (a strangely non-terrible fixture of the podcast) is transformed into a shockingly catchy hip-hop song by a listener. But the main appeal of these compilations lies in the banter and chemistry and magic of its two hosts.
Relatively early in this marathon, Aukerman relays a somewhat odd compliment he received from guest Neil Patrick Harris, who apparently started listening after reading about the 500th episode in The New York Times. Harris told Aukerman that he liked how long Comedy Bang Bang was. It’s understandable as to why Aukerman might feel confused as well as flattered. “Wow, this is very long!” is seldom intended as a compliment. It’s more likely to be a criticism, but then the Comedy Bang Bang best-of is long. It’s very long. It’s very, very, very long, to the point where its excessive length becomes part of the gag.
And you know what? I like how long all four parts of the epic Comedy Bang Bang best-of are, individually and collectively. I appreciate that PFT and Scotty Aukerman take their time. They get into not just a good groove but a seemingly endless series of good grooves. They jam. They connect. They take the leisurely, rambling route and invite us along for the ride.
Somewhere, I suspect Harris Wittels heartily approves.
Nathan Rabin is a father, the author of 5 books, a columnist and the proprietor, owner, Editor-in-Chief and sole writer for Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place, which can be found at nathanrabin.com.