In the sea of late night options, Comedy Bang! Bang! stands out, not because it is poking fun at the form, but because it has decided to simply do something different and embrace the weird.
Hosted by Scott Aukerman with sidekick, one man band, and comedian Reggie Watts, IFC’s off-the-wall late night entry found another gear last season, minimizing the more familiar late night talk show elements while maximizing the show’s reliance on more ambitious theme shows and narratives.
In this exclusive interview done on the eve of the season three premiere, Scott Aukerman talks to us about that transition and its limitless bounty, not repeating themselves, the move to 40 episodes for the already ordered season 4, and late night’s shifting landscape, institutional staleness, and lack of diversity.
Den of Geek: What’s different going into this season, what’s different than what we’ve seen going into the last two seasons?
Scott Aukerman: Well, I think midway through the last season we sort of figured out how to do the show in a way (laughs). The first season had a ton of ideas but we were still really trying to figure it out. And then the second season, we kind of came up with a new format and we really started figuring out how to do it and so this season we just really hit the ground running. We know how to do the show, we’re doing it really well, there are no spotty episodes. I sort of have a motto, “Every episode a masterpiece”, basically [that] is what we’re shooting for. We have a ton of just crazy out-there ideas this year, we’re doing a lot of theme episodes, we have a 1960s black and white episode, a murder mystery episode, an episode based on the movie The Last Starfighter, so really, every single episode is unique and different, so I would just say, everything is new this year.
Yeah, the two that I’ve seen are fantastic. I don’t want to spoil it, but the Nick Offerman one is a bit of a theme episode and it’s really really great.
Thanks, yeah almost every single episode is like that where we have a new interesting storyline and something interesting happening so I’m really excited about it.
What inspired that change, what made you want to do those kinds of shows as opposed to the off-the-wall talk shows? Because you’re kind of moving away from the talk show format, it seems.
Well, the first year, I think that we really were trying to establish a visual language for the show and what we chose to do was sort of do a lot of takes on talk show tropes. So we would come up with what other talk show were doing like, “Hey, talk shows do cooking segments, okay, what is our version of a cooking segment?”
By the end of the first year, I think we kind of ran out of those ideas and our final episode of the year was one that was sort of a theme episode where we revealed that the entire show has been shot on green screen the entire time and that we just add in all the guests and effects later. And that one was so much fun to do and the storyline was really interesting. I think in the second season, we just started getting into doing more narrative plots during the show, which, once you start doing those, it’s kind of unlimited in way, you know? If the show was just purely [about] doing satire of talk shows, I think it wouldn’t last all that long. Really, once you’re invested in the characters of me and Reggie and our friends on the show, then we can kind of go anywhere and do anything.
Talk to me, if you can, about the holiday shows that you have coming up and is there a desire to go back and re-explore any of these themes? Like, will there be another musical episode at some point?
We definitely have sort of a rule in the writers room of, we don’t want to repeat things necessarily. You know, sometimes the sequel to something are not as satisfying as the original thing. So there really hasn’t been a lot of desire to go back and do a second musical because, in a way, I kind of feel like we’ve said everything that we needed to say about it. That said, as far as holidays go, there’s so much to say about holiday specials that, this year we’re doing another different Halloween special and we’re doing a different Christmas episode and we’re also doing a Thanksgiving episode. But, you know, there are so many different varieties of stories told about the holidays that I think that it’s pretty easy to find different variations on them where it won’t feel like we’re totally repeating something that we’ve done before.
You’re transitioning next year from 20 to 40 episodes. Why the change and is the ultimate goal to continue pushing?
Well, the cool thing about expanding the order is that there is no down time for us now. It’s just kind of a full time job, you know? When you’re doing these kind of shorter cable shows, like when you’re doing a run of 10 episodes… even 20 episodes for us is a little shorter than a normal… like Parks and Recreation, for example. Our shows take less time to film so our season doesn’t last as long.
How long do they take to film, out of curiosity?
They take between two and three days, usually.
You guys get a lot done in that time, wow.
Yeah (laughs)… so the great thing for us is that, usually when you do these short cable runs, you end a season and then they air the season after you end it and then they compile the data and figure out how the ratings are and then they’ll let you know if you are picked up for another season and then you have to start budgeting and you have to start hiring new people because all of your old people left while you were waiting around, you know?
The great part about this third season is, right from the start, when we started writing the show for the third season, they let us know that they wanted a fourth season and they wanted it to be 40 episodes. So, we started really preparing for that, mentally, in the third season, and then we are also able to pick right back up where we left off. So, the third season is going to end and then two weeks later the fourth season starts and we’ll be on every single week. So it’s really… there’s a lot of continuity, which you don’t have a lot of times with these cable shows where you have to hire all new editors or you have to hire an all new crew or all new writers. It’s really kind of a blessing just to have a full time job and its secure. You have security.
So the fourth season is going to start production after the third season stops airing or the episodes are going to start running?
It will literally start airing two weeks after the Christmas episode.
Yeah, we’re going to be on Thursday’s at 10:30 from now until the end of time, I think. That’s our permanent home. If it’s not a new episode… I think at certain times we’ll be taking breaks in between, like batches of 10, but there will be repeats there. So, it’s really a show of confidence from IFC that they want this to be a staple on the network and they want everyone to know that every single Thursday at 10:30, that’s where you can find the show.
Now, taking on that much work, are you going to pull back on things like the podcast or directing and producing Between Two Ferns?
I don’t think so. The goal is to really figure out how to fit everything into the day. We’ve come up with a pretty good schedule for the fourth season that will allow me to do the things like doing podcasts and editing the show and having a “life”. So, it’s going to be a lot of work, but at the same time, I don’t really see any reason to pull back on doing the podcast because in some ways it’s just as popular as the TV show and they feed into each other really well.
People who have only experienced the TV show are surprised sometimes to hear that there is a podcast and then delighted when they see that there is such a big backlog of entertainment that they can go through and people who listen to the podcast hear about my experiences making the show and they’re more likely to tune into the show. So I think that they really feed into each other really well, so there is no reason to stop doing either of them.
With all of the changes going on in late night right now — with Craig Ferguson leaving, with David Letterman leaving, and with Stephen Colbert moving over — there are a lot of people who are clamoring for more diversity in late night. I just want to get your take on that and, as a follow-up, without Ferguson, there’s going to be a lack of intellectual diversity on the main network talk show, do you think that a Comedy Bang! Bang! could ever work on a network, even though you’re obviously very happy at IFC?
Well, I think in a way that’s two different questions. Yes, I would love to see more diversity on television in general. As far as late night talk shows go, yeah, I think that there could be more diversity. I think that it has to be the right person, obviously. Not everyone is suited to doing a talk show. Not all comedians are great at talking to people, so it really has to be the right person. But yes, I definitely would love to see a universe where there was more diversity behind the desk.
As far as Comedy Bang! Bang!, I mean, when we started the show, I kind of was doing what I thought was a regular talk show. I was doing comedy that was really influenced by Late Night with David Letterman and the kind of stuff that they would do on their show. It’s interesting when people kind of lump it in as, like a satire of a talk show or a parody of a talk show when really I’m just trying to do my version of a talk show. I guess, though, when it comes out of my brain, it becomes a little bit different than every other talk show. But, you know I think that there is a universe where on one of the major networks, yeah, I could host one of these shows. Because I… on Comedy Bang! Bang!, I do more of an ironic spin on the interviews but I can actually talk to a human being for a length of time — I’m doing it to you right now — and hold an interesting conversation, so I think I could do it.
Yeah. My hope is just for someone unexpected who is going to do something unexpected. I think right now, specifically on the networks, I don’t think we’re ever going to see a Conan or a Letterman again. Somebody from out of nowhere, basically.
Yeah, it’s too bad, in a sense. Even if it’s a person who is expected, it’s kind of too bad that the comedy in late night talk shows isn’t a little more daring and adventurous. I don’t know that we’ll ever see another Letterman or Conan in terms the style of comedy that they were doing. You know, I think that late night talk shows used to be a place where networks would go, “Hey, no one’s watching, so we may as well put something weird on”, and now [these shows] have become real estate that networks have to protect, so they’ve become more careful with their choices. I think that you’re going to see more of the type of adventurous comedy that you used to see in late night on places like IFC or Adult Swim where the fringes are kind of going to there right now, because you know, people need weird comedy and they need to have the envelope be pushed, you know? So that’s what our show is trying to service. People who are kind of fed up with the staleness of what the format is right now.
Comedy Bang! Bang! airs Thursday nights at 10:30PM on IFC. You can catch Scott Aukerman, Reggie Watts, and special guest Patton Oswalt on the season 3 premiere tonight.