Bang! Bang! Goes the Comedy: Scott Aukerman's Show Comes to San Francisco
Scott Aukerman, television host and comedy taste-haver, took a Los Angeles radio show, turned it into an extremely successful free comedy podcast, turned that into a successful IFC television show currently in its second season, and now, he's helped turn that TV show into a nationally touring live comedy show.
Aukerman got his big start in comedy writing for HBO's Mr. Show with Bob and David, generally accepted as one of the all-time greatest sketch TV shows of all time. Aukerman's currently best known as the host of the Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast and television show, which are similar, he says, but also different, he says.
Bang! Bang! the podcast, which predates the TV show, has Aukerman in long-form conversation with all types of comics, some in character, some just playing themselves. The television version is a bit tighter -- the characters may come out in full costume, but their acts don't last as long, there are more sketches throughout the show, and musician Reggie Watts is featured in every episode as the bandleader/co-host.
Comedy Bang! Bang! Live! is coming to San Francisco's Palace of Fine Arts this weekend, and Aukerman says the show will be a combo of the podcast format and television show format, and it will feature guest Paul F. Tompkins and opening act sketch group The Birthday Boys. He recommends the show to anyone who's a fan of sketch and improvisational comedy, and to anyone who's on a hot first date.
Why a tour this year?
We did the tour last year and it was so much fun, I grew up romanticizing bands that go on tour. I have some friends who are in bands, and it seemed like a fun thing to do, traveling from city to city. So we tried it out last year as sort of an experiment, and it was so much fun that we said we had to do another one this year. First of all, just meeting everyone after the show is so much fun, meeting these people that really like your stuff, who maybe contact you on social media, and you can finally put a face to the name. The shows themselves, it's different every night, and I think we get really sharp and really good doing it that much, that many nights in a row, sometimes we'll do two shows a night, and I think the more we do it, the better we get. I'm just really looking forward to getting out there and having a lot of fun.
Are you traveling on a bus?
We are not doing a bus, the opening act is doing a van I believe. But Paul F. Tompkins and I are older gentlemen who want to be treated a little better. We're mainly taking planes, and a couple of trains along the way.
How would you describe the live show to someone who's uninitiated?
It's a combination between the podcast version of Comedy Bang! Bang! and the TV version of Comedy Bang! Bang!. So there will be a lot of sketches, a lot of bits, we'll show some previews from the upcoming season, and then we do an entirely improvised, long-form comedy interview-style show. Where Paul F. Tompkins will be doing a different character every single stop of the tour. It's basically me talking to a bunch of crazy people.
So this started as a radio show, then it was a podcast, now it's a TV show and a live show as well. How has it evolved? Had you had that evolution in mind since the beginning?
The minute I started as a radio show, I said to myself, You know what? This is going to be a TV show in a couple years. No I'm kidding. I don't think anyone can plan for it, this has been such a bizarre circumstance, where the network (IFC) was a big fan of the podcast and basically just offered me a TV show. I think as a kid when you're thinking of getting into show business, you imagine it that way, like, People are just going to give me a TV show. But the more you work in the business, the more you realize that doesn't happen very often. So it was a really wonderful surprise, and I think it's worked out great for the network and for me, so I couldn't be happier.
How do you maintain the flavor of the show as you adapt it for all these different media?
I kind of think it's all bound together by just my sense of humor. They are different, the podcast is longer, we have 75-minute conversations with these crazy characters. I'm a little bit darker on the podcast. I think the TV show is a little more fun, and we have fans that are not only young kids, but even really young kids, as young as like two years old, so we try to keep it a little more light and a little more fun. But I just think that it's whatever I find funny makes it in there, and I really like variety so that's why I have different people on the show every week. I like that every week you can hear something new that's different but is still bound together by my tastes.
Do you have a favorite? Is it more fun to make the TV show or the podcast?
A lot of people said, when I started doing the TV show, does that mean you're going to stop doing the podcast? Because everyone expects TV to be inherently worth more than a podcast, but I don't believe that. I mean the whole reason I have a TV show is because of the podcast, because it's such a great expression of what we do and it's different every week. I never thought about quitting the podcast. So I think they're both different, and I think they're both fun. I love making TV, I love writing sketches, doing sketches, so that's really fun, and I don't get to do that on the podcast. But on the podcast I get to just relax, improv, and be me. So I like both of them.
Your podcast has been very successful for a long time. What made you want to do it initially?
I started out as a performer and a writer. I started as a comedian in 1995, and I was performing a lot. Then when I got onto the writing staff of "Mr. Show" in the '90s, I wasn't performing as much, because writing is a lot of hard work, and you're in the writers' room all day and then sometimes the last thing you want to do is go out and perform after you're writing all day. So I kind of got out of performing as much as I used to, and I just missed it. I had a friend who had a radio show on Indie 103.1, and he did the morning show, and I used to call in and do characters. I started really enjoying performing again. So when they offered me my own show, I thought it would be a really fun way to have fun. I never thought anything would come of it, I never had a plan in mind.
I'm sure a lot of podcast fans have migrated with you to watch your TV show. Are you trying to grow your audience with the TV show or do you not care about that so much?
I go back and forth between, I'd love it if more people watched the show, and I definitely am trying to get people to watch it, and you have to balance that between, trying to write your material for everyone, which I think is a bad thing to do when you're a comedian. Comedy shows have to be really specific to the performers' sense of humor, and comedy, not to sound too much like a professor, but when it's really specific, it can be universal. So a lot of times we'll make jokes on the show, and the network will be kind of like, Are you sure people are going to get this? And I don't really care about that. I think if I get it, then someone else will get it. And you know, I remember being a young comedy fan and watching things like SCTV and Monty Python, and not knowing what they're talking about, but I knew they were being really funny. And I would go look up the reference they made. I think that yeah, I want more people to see it, and I would love it if it became something as popular as even Mr. Show, which wasn't all that popular when it came out. I would love it if more people watched it, but we're not going to change the show at all to try to make that happen.
So do you have everything you ever wanted? Or are you getting bigger and better ideas the more you do?
Each season we really just try to blow it out and do everything we want to do in that season, and we say You know what? If we never do another episode of TV I want this to be everything that we want to do. So this season on the show, we do a musical episode, we are doing a Christmas episode with Santa, a Halloween episode with Pee-Wee Herman, we're doing all these crazy ideas in the show, just really trying to make the most of having a TV show. So I think that's it for me. I think once the very last episode airs, that'll be the end. I'll finally retire.
So the live show, is it a good place to take a date?
It's a great place to take a date because there's going to be a lot of laughing people around you and that actually makes for a good time. A bad place for a date would be, say, the Holocaust museum or something. So that'll be really good. And you can also see what kind of sense of humor your date has. If they're angry and shaking their fist at the stage, they're probably not a great catch. It's a great test for people. Also, the show starts I think by 8 o'clock, and it's over by 10, so you're not going to be too tired to have a lot of sex afterwards, so that's a nice hour to end the show on. It may be 10:30, if it's going really well. And we do give a lot of sex tips during the show, it's a really wonderful place to take a date, because you'll learn some new positions. That's a really lengthy, 45-minute chunk of the show, where we have a slideshow, diagrams about how to make love to your partner, so I think it's a wonderful place to take a date.
Are you working on anything else right now?
We're just finishing the second season of the TV show today, and I've been writing a new TV show. I don't know if it's secret. It's a show with James Adomian, a fine comedian, and we're writing a show for him to star in, and it's come out really funny. So I'm hoping that will be on the air sometime in the next foreseeable future.
What inspires you the most?
I think watching other people do great work inspires me. Watching great comedians, I was feeling a little burnt-out the other day so I put on the movie Stepbrothers, which I hadn't seen since it came out, and I just sat there laughing for two hours, laughing my head off. I felt really great coming out of that, I was like you know, comedy's pretty good. The people I work with really inspire me. I was texting with all of the writers the other day, kind of a private in-joke that we had, and they all texted me back, it was really funny and it made me feel really good about what we had done. So those are the two things that inspire me. And also, anything that's on HBO pretty much. Boardwalk Empire. I think a tree is very inspiring. An evergreen tree, not a -- dia-diadulous? Am I saying that correctly? I think that a tiny child, who's fallen on his head, is inspiring. There's so much in nature. A cinnamon bun, right before bedtime.
Comedy Bang! Bang! Live! happens Sunday night at the Palace of Fine Arts, 3601 Lyon St., S.F. at 8 p.m. Tickets are $27.50. 567-6642 or palaceoffinearts.org. There are ten more episodes of season 2 of Comedy Bang! Bang! beginning in October on IFC.