Comedy Bang! Bang!
Fridays beginning July 12
IFC, 10pm ET/PT
Maybe it was the Ghoulies joke.
I’ll admit to having largely missed out on the first season of Comedy Bang! Bang!, IFC’s free-form send-up of the talk-show genre. Then when I put in the screeners for two episodes of Season 2, with guest stars Andy Samberg and Aziz Ansari, I sat there for a while not too impressed, finding the endless stream of improvised gags feeling at times like a laborious outtake reel — you know, like those ones for Judd Apatow or Will Ferrell movies where you’re shocked at how much lame material they have to get through before finding the gems. But somewhere along the way, it all started to grow on me.
A reference to the obscure (right?) 1985 Gremlins ripoff went a long way to getting me on the wavelength with host Scott Aukerman and the one-man band Reggie Watts. More surreal than Fernwood 2 Night, less scathing than Between Two Ferns, Comedy Bang! Bang! expertly and affectionately punctures the phoniness and pomposity of late-night talk shows while clocking in at a short enough runtime so as not to overstay its welcome. No, not all the jokes work, but the show feels far more like it’s out to please than just being merely pleased with itself, so any misfires are quickly forgotten in lieu of the ones that hit the mark.
One of the ironies in the show’s setup is that despite the fact that it’s purposely absurd and largely improv, Aukerman (Mr. Show) insists that Comedy Bang! Bang! is actually more genuine than the shows it parodies.
“Real talk shows are way more scripted than my show is,” Aukerman says. “The interviews in real talk shows are all heavily determined by a pre-interview, and the host always knows exactly what question they’re going to ask and the guest knows what they’re going to be asked, and they have preplanned talk show stories. So my show is in a way more real conversation than a lot of talk shows that are out there.”
This is how the show can produce moments like Aukerman chatting with Samberg when they both suddenly go off on a riff inspired by A Beautiful Mind that involves putting in post-production graphics later on. Aukerman is also adamant that guests participate in the madness as much as possible, going so far as to give them a pep talk beforehand to tell them that they can’t possibly interrupt too much.
He’s taken the same attitude with his writers, literally telling them that any idea they have, whether it be a fake movie trailer, or even a sketch featuring three guys talking in 1920s lingo, will somehow find its way onto the show.
“I went through the first season and I was extremely confident and I was saying to myself that this is going to be the best first season of a TV show ever, and we know what we’re doing it right,” he says. “Now I look back on it and see all the mistakes that we made and all the things we could’ve done better. Those are the things we’ve tried to fix for Season 2. I think for Season 2, we adjusted and it’s even better than Season 1. I feel really great. We took it up at least one notch. Maybe two notches.”
The guest list has definitely notched up a bit, with this season scoring the likes on not only Samberg and Ansari but Jessica Alba, David Cross, Jim Gaffigan, Zach Galifianakis, Bill Hader, Pee-wee Herman, Gillian Jacobs, Rashida Jones, Anna Kendrick, Andy Richter, Zoe Saldana, Jason Schwartzman, Sarah Silverman, Cobie Smulders, Casey Wilson, Adam Scott … you get the idea, right? Lots and lots of funny people wanting to stop by and goof off for a bit.
Aukerman says that Christopher Meloni told them while they were filming the Law & Order: SVU star’s bit that he says the Comedy Bang! Bang! script he was sent was “the stupidest thing I ever read.” (And this is a man who has both talked to a can of mixed vegetables and humped a fridge on film.) Meloni then immediately turned to his wife and said he had to do it.
The method to booking guests in Season 1 was basically just calling in Aukerman’s friends from the world of comedy to come in and trust him that this TV version of his podcast wouldn’t make them look bad. But now that people have seen the show he and Watts were able to attract a broader scope of guests, including Pee-wee Herman, whom Aukerman credits — along with David Letterman — as being the main influences of the show.
Aukerman definitely notices a difference between when he’s interviewing a friend and someone outside his comfort zone.
“I’m basically trying to impress that person at that point and I’m trying to make them laugh,” he says. “So when I have a Jessica Alba or a Zoe Saldana on the show, and I’ve never met them before, when one of my questions makes them break and makes them laugh, it’s really exciting in a way that is not so much when I make Andy Richter laugh, who I’ve known for a long time. There’s definitely a challenge to it, but it’s a really exciting challenge.”
The guests and sketches aside, the heart of the show is in the interaction between Aukerman and Watts, with Aukerman serving as a slightly off-kilter straight man to the wholly unpredictable and eminently watchable Watts. The two knew each other from the previous occasional gig, but Aukerman wasn’t sure what a steady working relationship between the two of them would be like. It quickly became a case where his banter with Watts became his favorite part of many episodes.
“He is the rock and the anchor in a show a lot of times,” Aukerman says. “If we’re ever in trouble during an interview and I’m like, ‘Is this funny enough?’ we go, ‘Let’s cut to Reggie.’ And we’ll cut to Reggie who is invariably making a really funny face. We always try to get him involved in the show as much as we can. That’s really why I love the improv nature of the show is when everyone gets involved and everyone pitches in — from Reggie to the guests — it really is a kind of magic that you won’t see on any other show.”
Photo: Credit: IFC