Scott Aukerman has turned his humble Comedy Bang! Bang! property into an industry. The podcast version has amassed nearly 500 episodes in a weekly format and the subversive IFC variety TV show is set to clear the big 100-episode hurdle in its upcoming fifth season. The off-kilter faux talk show has helped IFC establish its brand and welcome in a collection of edgy sketch comedy programming.
Comedy Bang! Bang! has undergone a few facelifts throughout the years. Most notably, Scott’s stalwart bandleader and co-host, Reggie Watts, exited the program, with Kid Cudi stepping in to fill his shoes. Now Cudi is gone and will be replaced for season five with the one and only Weird Al Yankovic. With the new season of Comedy Bang! Bang! primed to be its most exciting yet, we touched base with Aukerman about getting the show to this point, and where this juggernaut is headed next.
DEN OF GEEK: You’re returning from a 40-episode season and still doing the weekly/bi-weekly podcast that it’s based on. That’s a lot of Bang Bang and a lot of work you do to keep things feeling fresh. How have you noticed the TV show changing or evolving?
SCOTT AUKERMAN: The TV show—the first year—we kind of didn’t know what we were doing. We were just throwing a lot of ideas against the wall. A lot of those ideas were based on talk show tropes, or to be more specific, tropes for shows that had a host; be it Mr. Rogers, Jerry Springer, or Letterman and the like. We would sort of do an absurdist—or our version—of what that trope would be.
The tenth episode was our green screen episode, which was a storyline where you find out that we tape every episode in green bodysuits in front of a green screen and we put the environment and the guests in later. Then the green screen breaks in the middle of the episode and we have to fix it. I remember wanting to do that episode a little earlier in the run, like episode five, and the network said, “You know what? Establish your template first before you deviate from it,” which I think was good advice.
That ended up being more of the template for season two and beyond where we had storylines that would be established in the cold open—that was another change. Starting with season two, we were mandated to have a cold open. That became what I was a little more interested in doing, and then when we learning that we were doing 20 more next year we knew we had to have plotlines because we had run out of TV tropes to mess around with. It became more a narrative show mixed with a talk show.
This season you have Weird Al as your bandleader, which is very exciting and feels like a natural fit for the show. Does switching bandleaders continue to keep things exciting, and how does Weird Al fill this role differently than say a Reggie or a Kid Cudi?
Yeah, you know, it’s really interesting. When Reggie wanted to leave I got very nervous because I kind of just envisioned the show being the same for every single episode. I didn’t want the sets to change. I didn’t want the people to change. I just wanted it to be trapped in amber, which did not work for Jurassic Park, so I don’t know why I thought of that. And then when it became final that Reggie was going to leave—I have to say—I miss Reggie, but it gave us an opportunity to get a kick in the ass creatively. We got to do a goodbye episode, which is such a TV trope.
I got to do a beloved character says goodbye episode, and we got to figure out how to make a character’s goodbye emotionally impactful, which was such a challenge and I’m so glad that we got to do. And then we got to do a new character replacing that character, like Woody did on Cheers. I got to figure that out and I thought we did a great job with that. It’s all of these little cool challenges that became very freeing. I think it’s been really interesting and a way for the audience to get excited about a new season. “I wonder what Al is going to do on the show this year?” I think it’s great. As far as the second part of your question goes–and let’s be honest, it’s two different questions.
This is true.
I think Al’s been great. The difference is that he’s definitely a different human being than those two. Reggie is very laconic, and very wry, and understated. Actually Al is more like Cudi, where Cudi is very energetic and boisterous, and I think Al is very much like that. So it doesn’t feel that much different to me. I think the transition from Reggie to Cudi was a more different and interesting one because Cudi is such a different performer than Reggie. I actually feel like Al and Cudi share a lot of the same performer DNA in the same way.
This season has you celebrating your 100th episode. You must have something big planned for that, I imagine.
It’s interesting to go through these milestones when every episode is kind of different. What do you do for—I kind of took the pressure off myself to top myself. Does that make sense?
To take away the pomp and circumstance of a “100th episode” can be very liberating and instead just do a good, regular episode.
I think some shows get too big at some points. They lose the connection that they had to what was working in a way. They get too ambitious. “We’re going to do a crazy episode!” You look at something like the funny sequel to a comedy movie will have too many cameos because all of those people that were fans of the first movie want to do it. And you’re thinking, “Well if I got this famous singer to do this role, I can’t cut his part down…” You end up with bloated movies that are too ambitious in a way. I don’t want to do that.
So we were talking about the 100th episode and we always approach the show from a very intellectual level first. What are we talking abut with the theme? What do we want to say? What’s clever? We talked about the number “100” a lot. I don’t even think that number plays into it anymore, but I definitely thought about it, at least. For the 100th episode we have Zach Galifianakis as our guest. It’s an interesting episode. I didn’t want to make it a huge blow out. I will tell you that one of our ideas was 100 guests for 100 episodes… I then realized that that was insane and didn’t want to do it. So I think it’s a more really interesting normal episode that breaks the format, but doesn’t do it in such a way where we’re like, “This is the biggest, greatest thing ever!”
With how long the show’s been on and the wealth of people it’s introduced, have you ever considered a spinoff, or focusing on a certain character for a prolonged period of time?
You know back right before the fourth season—I guess as the third season was starting up. We were talking about it right as we were filming the third season, and IFC originally came to me about doing 20 episodes of the show again, but also 20 episodes of a spinoff. And I started thinking about that and starting planning that out a bit. But then they came back and said, “Can you instead just do 40 episodes of the regular show?” So we decided to do that instead. But there are definitely some things we could do. The great thing about Comedy Bang! Bang! is that I own the brand so I could do a spinoff wherever I wanted, it wouldn’t even have to be on IFC. There are some interesting things that I think we could do with the brand down the line. We’ll see if we want to do that. That said, in season five we do an episode like that that I don’t want to spoil, but we focus on one character.
That’s exciting. Along those lines, you’ve done Comedy Bang! Bang! as a podcast, television show, live tour. Have you ever considered some sort of movie iteration? Does that interest you? Do you even know what that would look like?
I’ve thought about it. I will say that it’s something that Reggie would talk about a lot. He would really like to do a movie. I’m sure Al would, too. It’s definitely something that I’ve thought about. I was watching the new Pee-Wee movie and just going, “You know, I really would like to do a Comedy Bang! Bang! movie!” Will it happen? Who knows? I think people need to keep watching it! Keep watching it on the TV and the ol’ Netflix as well.
Comedy Bang! Bang!’s 20-episode fifth season returns to IFC this summer. Season 4 can currently be seen on IFC’s website and Netflix.