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Scott Aukerman talks about bringing 'Comedy Bang! Bang!' to TV

June 1, 2012 | 11:15 am

Scott aukerman comedy bang bang

Scott Aukerman’s popular podcast, “Comedy Bang! Bang!” has turned the traditional celebrity interview on its head, with zany musical numbers and improv-style games. Aukerman, who also wrote for the cult comedy show “Mr. Show With Bob and David” and co-created the Web series “Between Two Ferns With Zach Galifianakis,” talks about the future of comedy and the TV version of “Comedy Bang! Bang!” premiering on IFC at 10 p.m. Friday.

“Comedy Bang! Bang!” is part of a new wave of podcasts-turned-TV shows, including Chris Hardwick’s “Nerdist” on BBC America and Marc Maron’s new show, inspired by his “WTF” podcast, which has been green-lit by IFC. Is this the future of comedy development?

I do think that podcasts are a great training ground for people to kind of figure out their voice. There’s no network or person saying, ‘Don’t say this, don’t do that.’ You can pretty much do them in your house ... so they’re a really great place for comedians to figure out what they want to do.

Did your podcast lose anything in the translation to a more mainstream and controlled medium? 

The cool thing about my show is that IFC is a great network for people who want artistic freedom. I’ve been able to do what I want on my show, in the same way that I do it on my podcast. They’ve been really, really supportive.  And a big part of that is because they’re all fans of the podcast. The whole reason they offered me this show is because they all love the podcast.

How did the TV show come about in the first place?

It really was the easiest TV show sale I’ve ever made. Usually I have to  go into a network and beg and plead. But they literally called me up one day and said ‘Hey, we’re thinking of making a TV show out of your podcast.’ [I said]: ‘Oh, OK.’ And that was it.  

I’d been doing a series of interstitials with the network where I interviewed people like Seth Rogen or Danny McBride in between shows for a couple minutes at a time. So they knew me as a host and someone who could have a relatively engaging conversation.  So, yeah, they just offered it to me. And we developed it.  And it’s been the best experience of my professional career.

How does the TV version of “Comedy Bang! Bang!” differ from the podcast?

The sensibility is exactly the same, which is my sensibility. The differences would be that on the podcast we get to stretch out and be a little more languid with it. The podcast lasts for an hour, an hour and 15 minutes every week. The TV show is 22 minutes and very fast-paced. Maybe the most fast-paced show on television! Fans of the podcast are gonna love it. But I really wanted to make a show that wasn’t just for fans of the podcast, that was [also for] people interested in seeing something totally bizarre and funny.

We had to take a look at every element of what I do on the podcast and figure out how to do it --- or if I could even do it -- in a short-form environment. Some of the games we play, like ‘Would You Rather’ last 25 minutes, which is more time than we have on the actual show. The network really wanted me to do stuff like that.  In the development process, they’d say, “Hey could you please play ‘Would You Rather?’”  So I had to sort of figure out ‘can I play that in 2-1/2 minutes,’ which is about how long any segment lasts on the TV show.  It’s been an interesting process in figuring out how to simplify what we’re doing, while still making it hilarious and special.

How does “Comedy Bang! Bang!” take the traditional celebrity interview in a new direction?

When celebrities go on talk shows, usually they’re there for very specific reasons — to promote a film or TV show or comedy special that they’re in that week. We made a rule very early on that no one was going to promote anything on the show. And then we made a similar rule that no one was ever going to have a real conversation on the show or talk about anything based in reality. So the interviews are very, very comedy-heavy, they’re a lot like the work I do on “Between Two Ferns” where the interviews are there just to be funny.

A lot of times when you watch a talk show they’re all about wasting time. A traditional talk show that’s on five nights a week has a studio audience that applauds for at least a quarter of the show while the host sits there looking into the camera waiting for the applause to die down. The interviews are there to fill time in between the comedy bits.  My show doesn’t have any time to waste.  I got the chance to be on TV and I wanna take the opportunity to use every single second of the show to be funny. The show that you’re gonna see is 22-1/2 minutes jampacked with the most jokes that I could fit. 

You’ve had huge guests on your podcast – everyone from Zach Galifianakis to Jon Hamm and “Weird Al” Yankovic. For the TV show, who --

Who’s turned me down?  I was trying so hard to get Will Ferrell and Pee-wee Herman and both of them couldn’t fit it into their schedules. But season two….  

 Who can we expect to see in the first season on IFC?

Every single show has the most amount of really funny and really famous people that I could put into it. So the first episode has Zach Galifianakis, Tom Lennon, Will Forte, Gillian Jacobs from “Community” ... and every episode is just a ton of funny people. So even though Seth Rogen may be the main guest, it’ll cut over to the side of the stage and Will Arnett and Topher Grace are there getting into an argument for 60 seconds.

With almost 50,000 Twitter followers and a hugely popular podcast, do you and the network go into something like this assuming  your followers and the social media will ensure good ratings? 

I really think the listeners of the podcast will follow over. I think networks are seeing [podcasts] as ‘Oh, wow, they already have this huge audience.’ [But] let’s be frank; the disparity of audience between podcasts and TV shows in order to be successful -- there’s still quite a bit of difference. Even Marc Maron couldn’t get the numbers he gets on his podcast and still expect to keep a TV show, if only those numbers were [factored in].  But it’s getting bigger and bigger, and I think people are taking notice.

You have a network of podcasts called Earwolf Network. Will that change with the addition of a TV show?

The Earwolf company is one of the producers on the TV show –- this is the first of many, I hope. This is the first official Earwolf television production. There are definitely plans to do new shows, as well as trying to adapt some of the shows we already have into other mediums. But nothing specific I can really talk about now. But, yeah, that’s a big part of the transition from being a podcast network into becoming more of a content provider.

Was that part of the original vision when you founded Earwolf?

No. When we first started it, it was nothing more than, ‘Let’s get a bunch of people who put out podcasts to band together to try to get noticed more and to try to get advertising.’ You know, there’s strength in numbers. So really, we had no plans when we first started other than, ‘Hey, let’s put out a whole bunch of great shows.’  Now that podcasts are successful and people are turning them into things, there’s definitely more media companies coming around and looking at what we do and trying to figure out if they can capitalize on it or translate this stuff to other mediums.

Would you compare Earwolf to Chris Hardwick’s Nerdist – also a network of podcasts within which his own podcast was spun into TV specials for BBC America?

Chris and I have always had similar inclinations. Originally, when we both first started, we talked about doing stuff together.  Right now he’s going down the YouTube avenue and trying to figure that out; and this is our first TV show and we’re looking at some other TV opportunities. But, yeah, it’s very similar: people trying to band together and get noticed in what’s becoming kind of a crowded podcast space.

What other podcasts do you listen to, and what would you like to see developed for TV? 

My favorite [podcast] -- and one of the reasons that I started doing my show -- was “Never Not Funny,” Jimmy Pardo’s podcast.  I love being on that show and I love listening to that show. I think one of the shows we produce, “improv4humans with Matt Besser,” is such a great, unique podcast.  “Who Charted?,” hosted by Howard Kremer and my wife Kulap Vilaysack, would be a really good TV show. One other show I wrote, “Mike Detective,” might make a really good TV show or cartoon. A sort of ‘40s serialized radio drama.

 You’ve had a number of unproduced pilots. Is it gratifying to finally get this on TV?

Ever since I got done with “Mr. Show,” it’s been a roller-coaster ride of things that get close to getting made or movies that I’ve worked on that aren’t quite great that do get made. And I’d kind of given up on being the host of something or being on camera a while ago. And just kind of thought I’d end up being a writer and a producer for the rest of my career. So for this opportunity to just come out of nowhere – and be something that I’m so proud of– it really is the most gratifying thing that I’ve done in my career.

“Comedy Bang! Bang!” was a live comedy show turned radio show turned podcast turned TV show. What other incarnations can you imagine?

Well, I’m hoping for a Broadway musical. Why not? They’re making Broadway musicals out of anything these days.  I can sing. Come on!


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 -- Deborah Vankin

Photo: Comedy Bang! Bang! host Scott Aukerman and musical cohort Reggie Watts. Credit: Chris Ragazzo/IFC.