‘Comedy Bang Bang': Behind Scott Aukerman and Reggie Watts’ Spastic Anti-Talk Show
'It's not going to be like watching 'The Tonight Show' where probably 15 minutes of the hour is people applauding.'
More is more and still not nearly enough on Scott Aukerman’s Comedy Bang Bang, the IFC network’s first venture in to the ever-crowded talk show arena. Premiering tonight at 10 p.m., EST, nearly every overstuffed on-screen second has a gag shoved in there somewhere. Some of these bits are absurd jokes pushed past the brink of reason (someone gets crushed to death by a credit scroll), some of them are jokes pitched at deliberately awkward rhythms (Reno 911‘s Thomas Lennon interrupts the proceedings to suggest multiple wine pairings), and some of them are actually informative, such as the onscreen pronunciation guide that lets you know the correct way to say host Scott Aukerman’s name. In case you’re curious, it rhymes with “Stop Tacoman.”
“That’s what the people look for on TV,” says Aukerman from his Los Angeles home. “About 20 famous people and one really un-famous person.” In conversation, Aukerman loves to point out how incredibly not-famous he is for a talk show host. But this isn’t a problem, because he’s not really hosting a talk show. Sure, famous people like Amy Poehler, Seth Rogan and Weird Al drop by, but they’re quickly interrupted by a crazy person explaining why he landed a plane on a mall. “It’s kind of a cross between a real talk show and a fake talk show. I mean, the conversations we’re having are definitely real,” says Aukerman. “I try to cut all the fat out of talk shows. It’s not going to be like watching The Tonight Show where probably, if I had to guess, 15 minutes of the hour is people applauding. We are going to really try our best to entertain you for the entire 30 minutes that we’re on the air.”
Like the best parody artists, Aukerman’s talk show skewering comes from a place of love. A teenage David Letterman fanatic, he hosted a cable access show through his Orange County high school (“I think it was called Cyprus Highlights“), the highlight of which was “a super bold rip-off of David Letterman style, doing a very sarcastic faux-news piece — almost like something you’d see on The Daily Show now — about the world’s most trivial subject: how this stupid town we all grew up in got its name. Doing it like a hard-hitting news piece.”
For years, Aukerman thought hard about how to address every trope of the standard chat fest. In a move akin to recruiting The Guy Under The Seats to be both Andy Richter and The Roots, Aukerman asked his friend (and SPIN’s Best New Comedian of 2010) Reggie Watts provide music and the off-kilter banner. “We have a similar sense of humor,” says Watts over tea near his Brooklyn apartment, noting their shared love of “doing too much of something to make it absurd” and puns. “I’m probably doing puns more than anything in my life. It’s like we’re sitting in the studio and we’re just going back, and someone’s like, ‘Can you pass the salt?’ And you’re like, ‘Well, you don’t wanna salt your day, do ya?’ It makes no sense. But in the delivery and absurdity of it, we know what each other is talking about.”
Both Aukerman and Watts are entertainment industry veterans who hit a wall, and then used emerging technology to reboot their careers. Aukerman got his start writing for a seminal comedy breeding ground Mr. Show after Bob Odenkirk caught his performance at the Comedy Store. This led to a lot of writing opportunities. And a lot of frustration. “I remember when I first started, the first movie I wrote that didn’t get made I was aghast. ‘Wait a minute, that’s not how this is supposed to work. You write a move and it gets made!'” Aukerman says. “I think I’ve written 20 film scripts and 10 TV shows. How many of those have actually gotten made? Let’s see: one and a half film scripts and this is my first show I’ve created that’s actually gotten ordered. It’s very difficult to explain to one’s family how one makes a living when there’s no tangible evidence.”
Though tantalizing projects like a Patton Oswalt sitcom were passed on, Aukerman can list on his resume the 2004 animated romp Shark Tale. “I have something called ‘additional dialogue,’ he says. That came about because I was writing the sequel while the first one was in production and the sequel never got made.” Not to mention helping create the notorious direct-to-DVD Mr. Show film Run Ronnie Run. Says Aukerman, “I can’t watch that movie. There’s a funny script out there, but it just got kind of watered down. Unfortunately, we didn’t have what the Monty Python guys had, which was a rich Beatle giving them all the money for the movie.”
In need of a creative outlet, Aukerman started doing interviews and comedy bits for the Los Angeles radio station Indie 103.1, which had recently switched from a terrestrial station to an internet-only portal, and needed material to fill the air. “The station took it upon themselves to put it out as a podcast for the first couple of weeks. And I quickly figured out that more people paid attention to podcasting than do pay attention to internet-only radio stations.”
That podcast was originally named Comedy Death Ray after a comedy night he was hosting before he changed it to Comedy Bang Bang. The mix of bits and chats became one of the most popular comedy podcasts on the internet, and led to both Aukerman producing the Funny Or Die cringefest Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis and interview segments on IFC in which he would talk to the stars of Undeclared and Arrested Development in-between late night reruns. “I think it made IFC comfortable with the fact that I could be on camera. Because when you turn to someone from either radio or podcasting, what kind of gargoyle are you going to get?”
The music on the podcast was provided by Watts, a frequent guest and, like Aukerman, someone who had undergone a system upgrade in the past few years. Watts got his start fronting a crunch-funk Seattle band MakTub who’s 2003 new wave soul album didn’t make much of an impact. After moving to New York, Watts started experimenting with loop pedals and samplers, and hanging out at comedy impresario Eugene Mirman’s influential Invite Them Up showcase. He eventually hit upon his thrillingly unique live show, which sees him beat-boxing, singing melodies, looping them and singing about whatever random things pop in to his head. Watts has been a particularly busy multitasker recently: filming an appearance in Steven Soderbergh’s film The Bitter Pill, releasing the live CD/DVD A Live At Central Park and launching a headlining U.S. tour. He was almost too busy to do the show.
Luckily, he found the time and the result is the twisted brainchild of a simpatico pair of oddballs, each capable of being the Weird Guy and The Guy The Weird Guy Plays Off Of. Personable and just dry enough, Aukerman is a suitably skewed host; all those years of studying the form seem to have paid off. “When I was younger I definitely had more of a dream, as they say on American Idol, that I would have my own show. I always thought that that was something that would happen, that eventually I would just get my own show because anyone who wants their own show should get their own show. But then my career took a really different turn, and I sort of assumed at some point in my career that it wasn’t going to happen anymore.
“So that’s why this is such kind of a wonderful surprise that IFC took a chance on a person who’s not famous. I mean, how often do you hear about that on TV nowadays? Giving someone who’s not famous a TV show.”