I’ve heard of humanity’s podcast, but humanity’s book? After 14 years and hundos of episodes, Comedy Bang! Bang! now exists in book form as Comedy Bang! Bang! The Podcast: The Book. Somehow, host Scott Aukerman has managed to take the show’s freewheeling “open-door policy” of spontaneous, silly character interactions and channel it into print. Contributors like Andy Daly, Jon Gabrus, Carl Tart, Tim Baltz, Paul F. Tompkins, Ego Nwodim, Lauren Lapkus, Shaun Diston, and Drew Tarver prove that their characters are just as funny on paper as they are in your ear canals with new material. Heck, Aukerman even got some of his more famous fans like Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeffrey Characterwheaties involved. The comedian recently chatted about how he and his collaborators pulled off this massive group project and explained why the podcast just might never end.
The book is full of things like fake advertisements and board games. How did you come up with the more high-concept sections?
When we started envisioning the book, I knew I wanted it to be like a sketch show. You want to have a whole bunch of different tones and looks. I’d reach out to our collaborators, and I would figure out their most popular characters, and I would pitch them an idea. Then either they would go off and write it themselves, or they would do it in collaboration with me. We were doing it right down to the wire, literally to the last day.
Did you try to strike a balance between older classic characters and the new ones?
There’s such a long lead time with a book, so I made the publisher promise that we could get pieces in up to the last minute. At this point, Dr. Sweetchat (Gil Ozeri) is a year and a couple months old. The Minksalmon Brothers are now officially a year old. But there are still people I would have liked to have had involved who just didn’t make the cutoff of nine months or so ago, when we had to officially close everything down. People like Lisa Gilroy. If there’s ever a second book, it would be great to get people like that involved.
Can you talk about working with Harris Wittels’s sister and brother-in-law on the “Harris’s Foam Corner” section?
Harris was such an integral part of the show. I knew I wanted to do something with him, but I couldn’t figure out a “Farts and Procreation” thing for the book, since he’s no longer with us. Then, we were thinking about “Foam Corner,” and such a big part of that was just him jotting down ideas in his Notes app on his phone. And I knew Stephanie Wittels Wachs had his phone but didn’t really want to go through it. I kind of gingerly made the request, and she had her husband go through it, because she didn’t really feel like doing it, understandably.
And one day, I got this email with a ton of JPEGs of all of his Notes app stuff. That was really special. So then I took it upon myself to go through it and clean it up. Because stand-up is so ephemeral, and he never recorded a special, I really wanted to make a definitive place where you could go for his joke writing. But I left some other stuff in there where I have no idea what he was talking about. I think that’s where one of the only typos in the book is, which I think he would find funny: The word “titties” was misspelled as “kitties.” [Laughs.]
In the acknowledgments, you have a very sweet tribute to your daughter. What was it like getting this book to print as you were becoming a father?
I basically wrote those acknowledgments in Riverside while we were waiting for her to be born. I’m glad that we were able to get it in there, because it is so strange. I’m sure it will be odd for her, having an older father. She’ll just have heard about these things that he did decades prior to her being born. This is a physical artifact that she can look at and go, I don’t understand it, but I know that he was up to something.
When Ego Nwodim does her weirder character comedy on Saturday Night Live, it feels like CBB’s sensibility breaking out into the wider world. Where do you see the podcast’s influence at this point on comedy at large?
Our podcast is so dependent upon people like Ego coming on it with their brilliance. I feel like I’m the deliverer of people’s sensibilities more so than the creator of a sensibility. So it’s great that Ego gets to do weird stuff on SNL, because that’s her point of view, and she’s so funny. There are less barriers to being weird on Comedy Bang! Bang! than there are in mainstream media. I think there are people who grew up listening to the show who became comedians or artists, so maybe it’s had some effect on their point of view.
Lately I’ve been surprised by people telling me about their children listening to it. I’ve had a couple of people tell me that in the last couple of days, like, “My 14-year-old loves the show and listens to it all the time.” I get it — because when I was 13, 14, I loved Monty Python and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. But I’m always kind of shocked that anything I’m doing would have any interest to the young people. But it’s great.
Part of that has to be that there aren’t many spaces out there for character comedy like CBB. Character bits don’t have to be topical humor or satire or reference-based, necessarily.
I think funny voices in general are really appealing to kids. That’s how I started being interested in comedy. I grew up in the era of SNL with very broad characters, like Billy Crystal doing Fernando. And you could work out your own Fernando impression, and it kind of was like, Oh, wow, I’m sort of funny because I’m doing an impression of this person who’s actually funny!
The spirit of being funny in the moment is what I really think people should take away from Comedy Bang! Bang! And I hope it’s inspiring to people, because so much of entertainment these days is so pre-scripted.
One of the last times I did a network talk show, I had three pre-interviews with the producers, and then right before I went on, they went through exactly the order of what I was going to talk about. Hearing people be joyful in the moment and making each other laugh and surprising each other is something that I wish there was more of in media. And I’m glad that there are podcasts, because otherwise there would be none of it.
You launched a new podcasting hub, CBB World, in 2021, for CBB and newer podcasts. Do you think that paid-subscription model is where the industry is heading?
CBB World is not me trying to stay ahead of trends or anything like that. It’s truly me trying to empower artists to do what they want to do. Podcasting got a little bit restrictive in a way, because the bar is now so high in order to make money in terms of how much listenership you have to have. People either had to do a free podcast that a lot of people could listen to, but they had to get even more people to listen to it in order to make money. Or they had to be behind paywalls where no one would listen to it, but they would get paid to do it.
I felt like we could really split the difference. CBB has an established listenership that’s pretty large that will pay for a subscription service, so people can have the best of both worlds. They can have a lot of people listen to their show, and I’ll pay them well. The more I started doing the math on it, I started realizing that it could work. It’s fun to let people do whatever they want without someone hovering over their shoulder. Podcasting, for me, should be about freedom, because they’re not expensive to make. You can get it out there to people, but how do you get paid for it? That’s what we’re trying to do.
In the acknowledgments of the book, you have a little parenthetical where you say, “Here’s to another fourteen years! (Okay, maybe three.)” Do you mean it? Three years is too short.
Three sounds short to you? You try doing something for … How long have you worked for Vulture?
There’s just not much in the culture that’s stayed this consistently good, year over year, minute by minute.
Thank you. 60 Minutes, they have a good 40. The other 20 is garbage.
We’ve always had ups and downs. The first year I ever did the TV show, I didn’t plan my time all that well, so I was doing the podcast on my off days, and people thought that I sounded tired. But that was ten years ago now. New people discover it, and then old people dip out, and you never know how it’s being received. But I do feel like the past few years, it’s been at a really good quality level. I’m probably the hardest on myself about that. So I worry about suddenly getting into a big slump. I’m worried about overstaying the welcome.
But then I kind of think, Well, why should we ever end? I’ve done things in the past where I’ve stopped having fun and still did them for an extra year. But if we’re having fun, then there’s no reason to get off the stage at a round number, like 20 years or 1,000 episodes or what have you. But I’m not envisioning it right now. I’m more worried about, like, dying one day, and the last episode that I put out is a shitty one. I’d prefer to die after a nice, good anniversary episode or something, so that would be the last one people hear. The whole “three years” thing is kind of a joke, but at this point, I don’t see any reason to stop.
You have fans who are in it for the long haul.
I hope they’re invested. There are long, overarching stories with a lot of the characters, but I don’t think they’re ever going to resolve like Succession will. I wonder what the end could possibly be. I hope people stick it out, but I understand people start having different priorities in life than listening to people being silly.
Would you ever do a Comedy Bang! Bang! musical?
Look, I’ll just be honest: I’m talking to someone about doing a musical right now, and it’s just a lot of work. There is a thing I’m conceptualizing right now, but it wouldn’t be a Comedy Bang! Bang! thing. The passion that Samantha [Weiner, the book’s editor] had for doing the book really inspired me, and the fact that it’s selling so well and so many of the fans are buying it is very gratifying, and that’s what motivates me, honestly.
Some people ask, “Why don’t you do a Comedy Bang! Bang! movie based on the TV show?” And I’m like, “Well, no one watched the TV show.” People not watching something makes you not want to do something, you know what I mean? You have to feel like there’s an audience for it that’s going to be receptive. So, for a musical, I don’t think enough people are interested enough to justify working on one.
You always have to believe that something’s going to be the most popular thing in the world, even if it’s not, because that’s what drives me. I’m not driven by money or fame, mainly because I’m not famous, but I’m really driven by people enjoying something. Like the most excited I get is like when Gil Ozeri sends me his Sparkalonius musical, and I know it’s scheduled to come out in a week, but I just can’t wait for people to hear it. That’s what motivates me to work more than anything. That’s what this book was.
This interview has been edited and condensed.