Scott Aukerman on 'Comedy Bang! Bang!,' jamming with Fred Armisen
Fans of whimsically funny television, rejoice! Scott Aukerman’s untethered late-night talk show Comedy Bang! Bang! returns for a third season at 10:30 p.m. ET on IFC tonight. The premiere features Aukerman and his musical sidekick Reggie Watts welcoming guest Patton Oswalt to their sofa for a delightfully odd half-hour — we liked it so much we decided we wanted to chat with Scott ourselves. Read on for our interview with the increasingly ubiquitous podcast/TV/improv/sketch/musical star who’s proven himself to be such an essential part of the cool-kid comedy scene that he can count even President Obama as a collaborator.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So you just finished taping this season, right? How’d it go?
SCOTT AUKERMAN: This season was great. Patton Oswalt’s the first guest. That one’s really good, but it gets crazier and crazier as we go. It’s pretty nuts.
What are some of the nuttier things we should look forward to?
Well, the cool thing about this show is that every single episode is unique and different. We don’t do the same thing twice in any of the episodes. So in the second episode, Reggie goes off into outer space and starts fighting space aliens. The third episode, Jason Alexander plays an inspector who’s investigating a murder in the studio. In the fourth episode, Fred Armisen and I, in sort of our homage to the late-night talk show wars, we go up against each other for the same talk show. We compete for it.
Interesting, since he’s actually on a talk show now.
[Laughs] Yeah, he is. He got that job, like, the day before we filmed it.
And then the season starts to get really super weird because we air our series finale — not season finale, but series — as the fifth episode out of the 20 that we’re doing this year. We say, “Hey, so… we’ve already taped it years and years down the line, but here’s our series finale!” So we’ll air it, and we’ll show how the show wraps up years down the line.
Will that affect the mythology of the show going forward?
We are slowly working backwards towards that. [Laughs] We included several things that won’t have happened yet. So sharp-eyed viewers will notice things that we do during this season and beyond that sort of march toward that finality.
Tell me about the rest of the season.
Yeah, well, after the finale, we have 15 more episodes for this year. We’re doing a cool, 1960s-style, Ed Sullivan-inspired black-and-white episode. We’re doing a countdown episode of the 10 best Comedy Bang! Bang! moments — but they all actually end up being from the same episode. We’re doing a crazy time-travel episode at the end of the season that’s gonna blow people’s minds and make them very confused, I think.
To what time will you travel?
It’s uh… it all takes place within a relatively short amount of time. But it gets very complicated and confusing.
But then we’re also doing a lot of holiday episodes. We have a Halloween episode with Wayne Coyne from the Flaming Lips, who’s covered in blood. And a Thanksgiving episode, a Christmas episode. So I kinda have a theme for the season, and it’s “Every Episode Is a Masterpiece.” Every single episode, I want it to be crazy and unique and fun and something that people haven’t seen us do before.
Are you bringing old friends back?
You may see the final fate of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Well, I want to remind you that we’re showing the series finale!
And there are a few other friends who drop by along the way. I get tricked at one point and someone from the past season pops up unexpectedly. But fans of the show will know that on our Thanksgiving episode, our hungriest guest ever pops up, and I think people will be happy to see him.
Thanksgiving may get a little stabby!
Any chances of Barack Obama, since you were able to get him on Between Two Ferns? Or any of the other members of the First Family?
Well, you know, that’s part of the deal that we made with Barack: If you’re gonna be on Between Two Ferns, you’re gonna have to be on my tiny talk show as well. I mean, why wouldn’t he be? It’s more fun! You’re not treated like a jerk like Zach Galifianakis treats you. I’ll treat you with respect. So, yeah, I hope he can come on the show at some point.
But you haven’t made the overture yet?
I’m expecting to soon. I hope every sitting president will appear on Comedy Bang! Bang! at some point.
You’ve got so many projects these days: Your podcast empire, your TV show, Between Two Ferns, who knows what else. How’ve you managed your busy schedule?
Yeah, back when I was screenwriting and just at home writing screenplays alone, it was more calm. But I really like to work and keep busy. Of course, it gets a little complicated during the filming of the show — and next year we’re gonna do 40 episodes instead of 20.
How’s that going to work out for you, time-wise?
We’re just going to start earlier. The good thing about it is they actually ordered it really early. Instead of waiting for the show to air and then seeing how the ratings go and then waiting six months, they ordered it while we were still in production on season 3. So basically we wrapped on a Thursday and then we go back in the week right after to start on season 4.
Is that daunting, mentally?
I mean, I like it. It helps you prepare, you know? It helps you figure out what you’re going to do. Instead of sitting around for six months going, “Well, if we get picked up, then maybe I’ll do this, but if we don’t get picked up, maybe I’ll do this.” That takes up so much mental space. It’s so much easier just to go, “Oh, hey, when I wrap up season three in a couple weeks, I’ll be back for season 4.” It’s like having a full time job. It’s just like a year-round job, which makes it a lot easier. I was really happy when the network did it [the renewal] so early.
Will it affect your podcast schedule?
People wondered that when I did the first season of the show, when it was just 10 episodes. Then when it got doubled to 20 episodes. People were like, “You’re gonna take a break, right?” And instead I just increased the output and started doing more episodes.
I really don’t want it to affect the podcast schedule because the podcast is so much fun to do, and the podcast is such a great complement to the show. They work off of each other so well. So I don’t plan on stopping the podcast, and I don’t see it getting in the way.
You’ve mentioned before that growing up, you watched Letterman and dreamed of being on your own talk show. Do you consider that dream achieved?
I was thinking about this, because over the past couple years, all the recent drama with not only The Tonight Show, but now with David Letterman stepping down. My original plan with the show when I started doing it was, hey, maybe if I do this well enough and long enough and successfully enough, maybe when one of these guys steps down, I’ll be a proven talent by then and, you know, I’ll get to move over into one of those slots…
And so when it all kind of happened before I was ready for it, it was kind of a bummer. That being said, there are new talk shows all the time. I will say that I think late-night talk shows are different now than they were when Letterman first started — the show that I fell in love with. It used to be a place you would go to see weird comedy. Now that real estate on a network is very important to the network, and they’re very conscious of ratings, and they don’t take as many chances in late night as they used to. So I was kind of struck while I was watching some of these tapings, thinking, “I don’t want to do a talk show where I interview Wendy Williams.” As nice as she may be, that’s kind of like filler to me. I really wanted to do a talk show because I wanted it to be a comedy delivery system — and have it be real comedy. And that’s what I’m getting to do right now. So it’s almost better that I’m doing this show rather than doing a late-night talk show, because I just get to do every weird crazy idea that I have and not have to worry about filling up five hours of the week with chitchat.
But that said, if there were a spot open, like, say, Craig Ferguson’s…
Oh yeah, I’d take that in a minute! Are you kidding? Do you know how much they get paid? [Laughs] No, I mean, my show is a talk show done in a different way, where the questions that I ask are really just excuses for us to go into comedic bits. That said, I can hold an interesting interview and I can actually do a straight interview pretty well. It’s just not something I actually do on the TV show or on the podcast all that much anymore.
It does feel like the landscape has gotten safer, and people have had to migrate over to places like IFC or Adult Swim to get their fix of weird comedy.
Have you ever considered turning another one of the podcasts from the Earwolf stable into a show as well? Topics, perhaps?
We definitely have some irons in the fire in that regard. Another thing that I do is I also have a production company, Comedy Bang Bang productions, and we have shows at IFC and Comedy Central and HBO in development. So there’s also… I would love to turn some Earwolf shows into TV shows as well. I think it has to be the right situation and the right translation. But I think podcasts are great because they forge an Internet relationship with an audience that would then be predisposed to following them into watching their TV show. It’s not different than basing a movie on a book or a toy. You hopefully have a built-in audience that will follow you. So it doesn’t really surprise me that there are a few TV shows that are being made out of podcasts. I think it would surprise me if there weren’t more of them, because it seems like a great idea.
Yeah, it does seem like podcasts have cemented themselves as the new farm for TV to find talent, almost up there with the old improv-comedy scenes in Chicago or whatnot.
A lot of times TV shows are all about finding a voice. It used to be the farm was go to the improv and see who was headlining and then base a sitcom around that voice, and hopefully the comedian behind the mike has the unique voice that you could figure out a way to tell that story. Tim Allen, okay, he’s a family guy and he works on power tools. Here’s a sitcom idea! It’s all about finding comedians who have a developed voice. That’s why Louie’s show is so successful. And a great way for comedians to find a voice is to regularly put out a podcast. I think it’s a great place to find new voices. And the podcast audiences are bigger a lot of times than the audiences for TV shows. I think if companies were smart, they would start looking around at podcasts for places to start their new seasons with.
One of the other podcasts you host with Adam Scott is You Talkin’ U2 to Me? You guys have said you plan to run the show until Bono joins as a guest or the band breaks up. Has there been any progress in terms of getting Bono?
I think there’s been more progress in getting the band to break up! But yes, we’re going to do the show until Bono is on the show. And literally since we’ve said that, Adam has actually met Bono and did not ask him to be on the show! He literally… his co-worker everyday on Parks and Rec, Amy Poehler, made out with Bono on live TV — and he didn’t use that as an in to get Bono on the show! I don’t know what Adam’s commitment is to getting Bono on the show, but he is really lacking it.
Are you gonna fire him for his insubordination?
It drives me up the wall!
Would you accept The Edge if you can’t get Bono?
Anyone from the band! They just have to come on — and bring the T-shirts. That’s really why we’re doing it — we want the T-shirts! All we ask from The Edge or from Bono or anyone from U2 is 90 minutes to two hours of their time. I would say two hours minimum, though we may go three — and bring some f—ing T-shirts with you! Look, Bono, you have a direct pipeline to all the U2 T-shirts! Who better than you to call up your merch guy and go, “Give me some T-shirts.” And don’t sign them — don’t ruin the T-shirts. We want pristine U2 concert T-shirts. Bring ‘em by. Two to three hours of your time, and at least two T-shirts. Quite frankly, if you just bring two, it’s a little insulting, so I hope you bring more. And that’s all we ask, as U2 superfans.
What size or sizes should they bring?
That’s why I want more than two T-shirts. I tend to vacillate between sizes, and go ping-ponging back and forth from medium to large. I want to cover my bases, Bono. What if I ever need an extra-large? Should the day come, I want to be prepared! I’m sure he has a Google alert for his name, so I’m sure he’s reading this. Although I’m sure he’s also getting a lot of alerts related to the company Bonobos. [laughs] I’d love to see Bono at home, and he’s entering his name in a Google search, and it says: “Did you mean Bononbos?”
You yourself have a musical background. Do you still get to play as much as you’d like?
Yeah, my wife got me a guitar recently for my birthday. And then when I was in New York a month ago for the IFC upfront, I got a request from Fred Armisen that he wanted myself and Marc Maron and the Birthday Boys to form a supergroup and play some old punk songs. So he let us know what the songs were — it was going to be the Clash’s “Train in Vain,” a Damned song I can’t recall the title of, and then Generation X’s “Dancing with Myself.” So I said, “Yeah, sure, as long as you have a guitar for me there, I’ll play. But what key are the songs in, so I can learn them? I don’t want to learn them by ear, in case I get the wrong key.” And I was told, “Oh, Fred, will take care of all of that. He’ll teach you the songs at rehearsal before the event.” Cut to rehearsal, and the whole band is up there — and Fred never shows up! We get word he’s coming, and then we get word he’s not coming — we’re just gonna do the gig, and that’s it. So we kind of taught ourselves how to play them a little bit by ear, hoping we got the right key. And I think Fred’s whole motto is “Everything will work out” — and it does! He finally showed up, and we knew how to play two of the three songs, and he was like [impeccable Fred Armisen impression]: “Oh, okay! I’ll just play the third one myself — all by myself!” So he did this virtuoso thing where he played the song on guitar and then looped the guitar and started accompanying himself on drums. And I was like, this is what Fred actually wanted to do! He didn’t want us backing him up!
But so yeah, occasionally I get to play music, which is the long answer to your short question.
Have you considered actually starting a band for real?
Every once in a rare while, I’ll go like, “Hey! Let’s actually join a band!” There’s not a lot of time in the day to do it, but I still would like to. Those guys in the Birthday Boys, they play backyard parties a lot — and in like Weezer cover bands and stuff like that. Which I’m always very jealous of! Matt Besser [of UCB] and I, on my birthday I got my guitar and he brought his guitar to my party, so we just kind of jammed together for a while. That was a lot of fun.
Any other projects in the pipeline we should be looking out for?
I have a book deal I’m trying to write that I hope will come out at some point. And I’m excited about the shows that I’m producing — hopefully one of them will actually get made, and you’ll be seeing them on TV at some point. But yeah, I’m mainly, mostly looking forward to the series finale of You Talkin’ U2 to Me, during which Bono brings the f—ing T-shirts!
Comedy Bang! Bang! returns tonight at 10:30 p.m. ET on IFC.
Comedy Bang! Bang!