In explaining his new IFC show to me via telephone, host Scott Aukerman veers toward the pedantic. “I’m giving you as much detail as possible because I assume scholars will be studying this hundreds of years from now,” he says. They might be, actually. Not just because he has a potential hit on his hands with Comedy Bang! Bang!, a new TV series in which he plays a clueless talk-show host who asks dumb questions of real-life celebrities and comedians playing characters, but because it successfully crosses multiple platforms. It is also a live, weekly stand-up showcase at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in L.A. and a podcast. “We sell T-shirts as well,” Aukerman says. “I don’t want to let those go underrepresented.” A touring version of the IFC show, Comedy Bang! Bang! LIVE!, hits Chicago Monday 30.
Aukerman, 42, is perhaps most recognizable (at least to comedy nerds) for his work as a writer and performer on the seminal HBO cult favorite Mr. Show with Bob and David and also as cocreator of FunnyorDie hit Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis. When Mr. Show ended in 1998, he and frequent collaborator BJ Porter turned toward writing projects but kept performance in the back of their minds. “We really missed it,” Aukerman says. “I knew a lot of great new comedians who were complaining they couldn’t get a lot of stage time because L.A. only had one or two shows going on.” They launched Comedy Death-Ray in 2002 as an “alt-comedy” showcase at a bar and moved it to UCB in 2005.
In 2009, Aukerman debuted a radio version on Southern California’s Indie 103.1 but switched to a podcast format one year later. (In 2011 both podcast and live show were renamed Comedy Bang! Bang!) It was here that Aukerman stumbled upon a winning formula: interview comedians impersonating fake people. “I asked [Andy Daly and Paul F. Tompkins] to play characters, and they’re such ingenious improvisers that they could do the show as the character and riff off the cuff for an entire hour,” he says. “I really started enjoying that kind of long-form of talking to comedians as other people.”
In September 2011, the show surpassed the 10-million download mark and some of the biggest names in comedy—Sarah Silverman, Aziz Ansari, Ben Stiller—have all been guests. It’s also helped bring wider fame to emerging comedians like James Adomian, Nick Kroll and Harris Wittels, who have appeared on the show as characters. “It’s been really interesting to see the effect the podcast has had on comedy,” Aukerman says.
Whereas the UCB show is stand-up oriented and the podcast a talk show format, the new IFC version is yet another departure. It’s also a talk show, but more structured, more scripted and confined to a half hour. With the help of band leader Reggie Watts, Aukerman plays a fool who asks real celebrities (Michael Cera, Amy Poehler) and fake ones idiotic questions punctuated by constant segues (like interviewing Jon Hamm with an Italian accent or turning the segment over to a guest director). “Most of these comedians I’m having on the show are friends of mine, and when we have real conversations we pepper it with bits,” Aukerman says. “So that’s what we decided to do, just have the celebrity interviewer be me kind of as a clueless interviewer guy asking stupid questions.”
With its fourth-wall-busting format and constant poking fun at talk-show tropes, Aukerman pays tribute to the genre while also dismantling it. It mostly works and it should; Aukerman’s been perfecting the mold for a decade—even longer. “Starting at about 15, I thought that was something I wanted to do with my life,” he says. “When I started performing actual comedy I was like, ‘That’s too bad. I will probably never get a talk show.’ It’s been a surprise to have one.”
Comedy Bang! Bang! LIVE! plays the Logan Square Auditorium Monday 30.