bill bodkin sits in on an interview with the host of ifc’s sketch comedy series…
Imagine taking a successful podcast and turning that into a 30 minute television show and then taking that television show and turning it into a live show featuring a cast that changes each performance. It sounds like an absolutely daunting task.
Yet, for Scott Aukerman this is everyday life. His wildly popular podcast, Comedy Bang! Bang! has taken off allowing the former man-behind-the-scenes of such popular sketch comedies like Mr. Show with Bob and David and Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis (he’s still involved with this show), to become the new face of alt humor. His razor sharp wit combined with his penchant for creating absolutely outrageous situations between some of Hollywood’s biggest stars (watch this sketch he created for Will Arnett and Topher Grace for the IFC series), has made him the apple of every comedy nerds eye.
And if having a successful television show and podcast wasn’t enough, Aukerman, a seasoned vet of the improv scene, has taken the Comedy Bang! Bang! concept on the road. Tonight, August 7, he will be presenting two performances of the show at New York’s Highline Ballroom. Joining him onstage will be Tim Heidecker (of Tim & Eric fame) and Paul F. Tompkins (Tenacious D, BBC America’s Dr. Who specials) for a night of live and pre-recorded sketches.
Pop-Break’s Bill Bodkin recently hopped on a conference call in which Aukerman talked about the transition from podcast to TV to theater, his live cast and much more…
Moderator: Hello, everyone. Thanks so much for joining us for the conference in support of Comedy Bang! Bang! Live, which kicked off this past weekend in San Diego, California. On the line with us now is the star of Comedy Bang! Bang! Scott Aukerman, who will answer all of your tour and show questions. So with that, I’m going to turn it back over to Kathy and we can begin with the first question.
Scott Aukerman: Hello, everyone. I just wanted to say, hey. It’s Scott Aukerman here. I’ve never been called a star before. It’s fantastic to hear, but yes, I’m looking forward to taking your questions and hello to America and all the ships at sea.
Reporter 1: I was wondering if you thought that this television show would translate well to the stage and how long you had planned that for, or if you had planned it at all.
SA: Yes. I’ve been doing live performance for—I think this is my 15th year maybe. Wait, I started in ’95 – oh, 17. Oh, my God. So, yes, I’ve been doing stand up and theatrical comedy performances for 17 years. I’ve taken different versions of my show around to festivals and stuff like that before, but this is a really interesting tour because I’m going to try to combine all of the facets of the Comedy Bang! Bang! brand into one tour. Those facets are the TV show obviously, the weekly podcast that I do which is really popular, and I also have produced a live comedy show at the UCB Theater for the past ten years on Tuesday nights every week.
So, I’m going to try to bring all those together for this tour. Not only every comedian is going to do prepared material, but we’re also going to show stuff from the TV show and the last half of the show is going to be a totally improvised podcast-type recording entertainment experience. So, it’s going to be different in every single city.
We tested it out in San Diego on Sunday [July 15] and the balance of everything worked really well. So, we’re really excited to get out there.
Reporter 1: Great. So, it’s multimedia?
SA: Yes. There’s going to be at least two mediums or medias. How do you pluralize that – mediums, medias?
Reporter 1: I think it could go either way.
SA: You’re a journalist.
Reporter 1: I’d have to write it out and look at it a few times.
SA: So, there’s going to be two medias. We’re going to show video and we’re also going to be sculpting in clay. We’re going to pick one lucky audience member that we’re going to sculpt while the show goes on and they’ll get that at the end.
Reporter 2: You mentioned in May the possibility of a Between Two Ferns DVD release. Is that a certainty at this point or are you still working on it?
SA: Is it…did you say a certainty?
Reporter 2: Yes.
SA: Nothing in life is a certainty. We really want to get it out by the end of the year for Christmas. I mean what else would you want in your Christmas stocking but a Between Two Ferns DVD.
Reporter 2: Nothing.
SA: We really want to get it going. The only stumbling block is Zach is really busy right now and has a little bit on his mind. So, I’m hoping that come September after my tour ends and he’s sort of out of the woods a little bit, we can really hunker down and start working on what it’ll be, but I’m really excited about it. We’ve always wanted to put it out. It’ll be the Comedy Central special that we just did plus every short plus some new shorts plus deleted scenes and all sort of really interesting stuff – commentary, all that kind of stuff. So, we’re hoping to get that out for Christmas.
Reporter 2: Okay, great. And then, I wanted to ask about future podcast projects. Can you maybe tease anybody that you’re working with right now? I heard about a Brian Posehn show you guys were working on.
SA: Yes, we’re definitely working on that Brian Posehn podcast. We’ve done a few episodes already. We’re getting him and the group back in the studio in the next few weeks. So, hopefully that’ll … it’s been a little slow going because he has a very busy schedule. He was working on a TV show, writing a TV show for the past few months, so we put it on hold a little bit, but hopefully we’re going to bring that back.
And then, we have a couple of cool shows coming out soon, nothing I can really talk about. I hate to talk about new podcasts before they come out because I just love to like say, “This is what it is. Here, listen to it,” but there’s some cool stuff that we’re working on right now that hopefully people will see soon.
Reporter 3: I just wanted to ask a question in regards to the tone of Comedy Bang! Bang! and the brand and transferring that from a podcast to television to the live show. How was that process for the writers in order to keep a lot of that intact while getting away with a lot of the conventions of the podcast?
SA: It was interesting to try to transfer it from a podcast to a TV show. I mean I don’t have any writers on the podcast. It’s totally improvised to the extent where we do 90 minutes, barely even talking about what we’re going to talk about. So, that’s the podcast and it’s really meant to be a little more ephemeral than the TV show. For the TV show, we decided to try harder.
So, I mean the challenge is in adapting anything. I’ve been around…I mean I also am a screenwriter. So, I’ve seen people adapting books to movies. Actually, the film script I’m working on right now is an adaptation of a book. So, it’s always interesting because it’s that balance of how much of it do you need to keep in order to please the people who are the fans of this thing and who want to see it in a different medium while still making it work for that medium.
So, I knew going in that the TV show would have to be different because I would not want to watch just cameras pointed at me sitting there talking to people the entire time. So, I really want it to be a fun, visual show, but while still keeping inherently the same spirit of the podcast. From everyone thinks so far, I think that people feel like while they’re both very different, they like them just as much.
Reporter 3: Yes, absolutely; the live show as well. It sounds like it’s kind of…well, you said a balance between the two.
SA: Yes, the live show is going to try to be, yes, the best of each kind of facet of the Comedy Bang! Bang! Definitely the last half where we’re doing a total improvised show is the most terrifying for me.
Reporter 3: I can imagine.
SA: Especially to do 14 of them in a row. I have a heavy sense of dread hanging over me right now as the tour approaches, but I’m sure it will result in a fascinating experience for the audience.
Reporter 4: Very quick question for you; between doing the podcast, the TV show and now the live show all simultaneously, do you ever have any concerns about basically stretching the amount of material you have, keeping that same quality that fans come to expect from each of those and do you ever find yourself maybe holding back certain material from the TV and thinking that would be good for a live show or for the podcast or any combination thereof?
SA: I definitely had some fears about keeping everything going, especially while the TV show was in production. There was a period while we were shooting the TV show where I was shooting the TV show five days a week for 13 hours a day and then on the weekends, I would do the podcast and then also write my film scripts for a couple of days.
So, it was definitely difficult to do, but it’s certainly not as difficult as being a coal miner or anything like that. It’s relatively a nice career to have, but yes, I was a little worried about the quality of the podcast dip. I knew the TV show as going to be a great quality because I’m really, really proud of the shows. I was little worried about the podcasts taking a different quality, but we put one out every single week and people have been still really enjoying it. It’s more popular than ever. So, I think at this point we’re safe. I think we got away with it.
Reporter 4: Nice and then one quick follow-up about that live show just in terms of what you said, coming up with new material and things like that. Do you have any plans for each stop along the way to feature any local guests be it comedians, musicians, anything like that in the different cities you’re coming to?
SA: There’s definitely going to be some surprises along the way, some people who are in town along the way that we’re going to use. It really depends on the city, but yes, I hope to every place we go try to get something in there.
Reporter 5: So, you talked in the podcast [the last month] about how people might be able to buy the shows after or listen to them, the podcast recordings. Can you talk a little more about that?
SA: We’re setting up a sort of subscription service. We’re going to be selling the shows individually after we do them, but we’re also going to be setting up a subscription service where if you sign up to subscribe you’ll get all of them and you’ll get them either that night or the morning after. That way, people can feel like they’re following us on tour, a lot like if we were Phish or the Grateful Dead.
I mean I couldn’t hit every city that I wanted to hit. I had a pretty short window in which I could do this tour. So, I really want people to be able to hear at least part of the tour, but I should stress that that’s only part of the show that we’re going to have. So, I don’t think people can feel like they’re going to get the whole experience if they just sit there and listen to the last half of the show.
Reporter 5: Okay and since you brought up Phish, I’m curious; any more episodes of Analyze Phish going to happen?
SA: Oh, my gosh. We’ve talked about how do we do it. That last episode was so epic and barouche. I don’t know how we could top it. I mean we sort of were like, “Hey, let’s just do a palate cleanser episode,” but we may have—I’m trying to think of a more gentile way of saying “shot our wad,” but I can’t. So, there you go. We may have mined that concept for as much as we can mine it for.
Reporter 6: My question is do you get the sense that most live audience members are familiar with the podcast and kind of know what’s going on, or are there some crickets in the room sometimes, like is anyone confused or generally it’s a crowd of loyal fans?
SA: Well, I’m not sure who would spend money on a ticket called Comedy Bang! Bang! Starring Scott Aukerman if they didn’t know at least what one of those things was. But, I don’t know; maybe there are people just kind of trying to get in from out of the cold and buying a $25 ticket to get out of the rain. I don’t know.
We did the show at San Diego on Sunday and it was packed with fans of both the TV show and the podcast and it was really exciting to be out there with a group of people who knew what the tone was, knew what the show was about and were really excited to see everyone that was on stage. That’s a really great thing about doing a Podcast and a TV show is that you can get—people get to know you a little more so that it’s not like you don’t have a lot of audience members just going, “Oh, comedy. I’ll just go in to see this” and then not knowing what you’re talking about. It’s really like a great form and I don’t do it because of this, but it’s a great form of advertising.
Reporter 6: Great and quick question; is it implied that Reggie will be there, or is he not going to be…
SA: No, Reggie has his own tour going on. We hope to do a tour together if this one goes well. We hope to do a tour together later where we do a super tour, but I have to have a good time on this tour first.
Moderator: We will go next to Bill Bodkin with Pop-Break.com. Please go ahead.
Bill Bodkin:Hello, Scott. How’s it going?
SA: How are you doing, Bill?
BB: Doing good, man; thanks. I wanted to ask about the live show in terms of the cast that you’re bringing. Can you talk a little bit about who you’re bringing on the road with you and maybe some people that like might be newer that people might not know that they should be looking out for?
SA: Sure. We are having a rotating cast where we’re changing it up every few cities. Not every show is going to be the same and that’s really exciting to me because it’s not like doing a touring play where … it’s not like doing Westside Story in a touring company where you do the same thing every single night. So, it’s really exciting to me.
We’re going to be bringing out Paul F. Tompkins in some cities, one of the world’s great comedians; Matt Besser from the Upright Citizens Brigade, one of the founders – he’s coming out for a few dates – and Tim Heidecker from Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! He’ll be there for a few dates, and James Adomian who a lot of people, if they haven’t heard the podcast, they may not know him, but he’s an amazingly talented guy and I use him on the podcast a lot. He plays different characters. He’s an amazing impressionist and he plays a lot of different characters from Huell Howser to Jesse “The Body” Ventura. He’s going to be playing a different character every single stop of the tour.
What we hope to do with the tour is we hope to have a big spinning wheel where he spins what character he is going to do on that particular night and then he has to immediately go into it. So, we hope that that’s going to happen on the tour and I think people will enjoy that. Plus, there’s going to be a lot of surprises along the way. Like I said, in every stop, hopefully there will be someone in town who can join us.
BB: Excellent and there actually will be a spinning wheel that you’ll pick from?
SA: Well, what I’m looking into is a computerized spinning wheel that actually is random, but when I started thinking of this idea, I suddenly realized I don’t want to be carrying a very large spinning wheel on the plane with me. I would probably have to check it I would think.
BB: Yes, I think you would. Well, thanks very much, Scott.
Reporter 7: So, I want to preface this question by saying in my other life, I actually work in public access television. I get the sense, I’ve watched a lot of your stuff and the other things that you’ve worked on, that there’s some real public access kind of awkward conversation sensibility. I was curious; what inspires you to create your brand of humor and do you watch a lot of public access television?
SA: Well, I actually had a public access television show when I was 16 years old. That was meant to be sort of a show talking about stuff that was happening at my high school and I very quickly turned it into a David Letterman … where I was pretty much ripping off David Letterman at the time. That kind of gave me the love for the hosting a talk show format that I got into obviously with this show.
As far as the aesthetic of public access, yes, I mean I’ve always found it kind of really fascinating. I mean I worked on that show back when I was I my teens and then in my 20s, we taped a few things at a public access station when I was first of kind of breaking into comedy. It was a place you could do shows that they would pay to put the shows together. So, it was kind of interesting to see the behind the scenes element of the public access studios.
I love that they have like one black curtain and then they have a sparkly curtain whenever there’s a dancer who comes out.
Reporter 7: That’s exactly what we have.
SA: So, I really enjoy that and then when Zach Galifianakis asked me…I mean when we were talking about working together for Between Two Ferns, what ended up being Between Two Ferns, he has a love for that public access vibe as well and suggested the title. And then, we did a lot of research and kind of figured out exactly what the vibe and the look of it would be.
Yes, I really just kind of fell in love with the form of doing kind of talk show, no audience, kind of vaguely public access vibe type stuff. I think my show is meant to look better than Between Two Ferns. I mean Between Two Ferns there’s nothing there and we tape the mics to their chests, to their shirt, but my show is meant to look a little bit better and feel a little more like a talk show, but at the same time, it looks like it’s in a grandpa’s basement.
Reporter 8: I just want to know how much of the interviews you do on the show are actually scripted.
SA: All of the interviews are improv’ed actually. They’re not scripted at all. Any time I’m talking to the main guests, your Ed Helms who’s on this week or Amy Poehler or Zach Galifianakis, none of that is planned between us. And then, any time I’m talking to Reggie, all of that is improv’ed and then the character guests—sometimes we’ll have a really loose outline where I sort of know where they’re going or we have an endpoint or a point where I know when I’m going to throw to commercial, but yes, that part of the show is entirely improvised and the reality of that kind of hit me right as we started doing the show. I was like, “Wait a minute, I don’t feel like I’m prepared enough.”
I was sitting there in my chair as we were about to start filming the first show and I was like, “What if this doesn’t go well?” But, I think doing the podcast for so many years has really prepared me to make the best of improvisational conversations, which is an art form that I really enjoy participating in.
Reporter 9: Yes. My really important question for you; every episode of the TV show has a very specific title where it’s the guest name and the outfit that they wore. I’m just curious; do you have that dream guest and dream outfit that you hope for for an upcoming episode?
SA: Yes, I do. I think the title of that episode would be “President Barack Hussein Obama wears skimpy G-string and a Price Albert.”
Reporter 9: It rolls of the tongue.
SA: Well, that’s why you have the “Prince Albert” in there.
Reporter 9: Exactly. That sounds fantastic. Thanks.
SA: Okay, thanks. Boy, what a terrible question to end on; I mean not that the question was terrible, but what a terrible answer.