Catching Up With Scott Aukerman

TV Features Scott Aukerman

Last week, Scott Aukerman not only ended the first season of his new IFC show Comedy Bang! Bang!, but he also wrapped up the final dates on the Comedy Bang! Bang! tour. In addition, his year included hosting the incredibly popular Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast, running his own Earwolf podcast network and directing the instantly viral “Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis” videos. We spoke with Aukerman about his packed 2012, balancing his brand and the possibility of a Comedy Bang! Bang! space movie.

Paste: So the Comedy Bang Bang brand has gone from stage, radio, podcast, now onto TV and a tour. Are there any elements that you want to transfer from one to the other or do you see each of these as kind of separate ventures with a similar aesthetic?
Scott Aukerman: Yeah, I sort of see it as separate things with a similar aesthetic, I mean what I’m trying to do with the tour is trying to do a combination of the live show, the TV show and the podcast. So basically for the tour, half of it is going to be sort of like the shows I do at the UCB Theatre in LA where the performers and I will be doing sort of prepared, more polished material. We’re going to show some stuff from the TV show, I may do kind of a bit based on the TV show, and then the last half of the show is going to be totally improvised show akin to the podcast. So I’m really just trying to hit all the bases of what people like about the brand for this tour right now.

As far as bringing stuff over, well it’s an interesting thing adapting the podcast into a TV show, there was a little discussion at one point, I was like, “okay, is it going to be called something totally different, is it going to be called ‘The Scott Aukerman Totally Rocks Show,’ or should I call it ‘Comedy Bang! Bang!’?” So basically what I was doing was I was just making a TV show that I wanted to make that sort of was inspired by the podcast. So when we finished the pilot and I took a look at it and I kind of made that decision, you know what, this is similar enough to the podcast, it has the same basic premise, which is me talking to celebrities and also talking to comedians who are playing fake people. That’s similar enough that I think it should be called Comedy Bang! Bang!

So you know that’s an interesting process, on the flip side it’s given me a lot more press, people are really interested in it as a talking point in interviews, what’s it like translating the podcast into a TV show?, because it already exists, it gives people something to talk about, as Bonnie Raitt once said. But you know the flip side of that is the expectation is maybe that it would be a bit more like the podcast, but it really is just me wanting to do the TV show that I’ve wanted to do ever since I was a kid and having it be kind of what you said, similar with the same aesthetic but sort of different from each other as well.

Paste: So when you were creating the show, where did the inspiration come from? Like to me it feels like Mr. Show and a lot like Letterman, the bits he used to do. Was that kind of what you were going for or were there other inspirations?
Aukerman: Yeah, I was a huge Letterman acolyte growing up. He was my biggest influence, he’s really like, when I was in high school, I based my entire personality on him to the delight of everyone around me. No one likes anyone better than a sarcastic grump. But no, I was a huge fan of his, I was definitely inspired by him and that sensibility, the more surreal sensibility that his late night show had back in the early 80s is a huge influence for me. A lot of what we tried to do on the show was we were just trying to take anything that had a host, any type of show that had a host, we were trying to do some sort of take on it, so from Letterman, Leno, Conan, everybody, to what other shows that had a host that we talked about, to Dick Cavett, Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, to Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. Anything that had a personality at the center of it, we tried it, Jerry Springer, we tried a Jerry Springer thing, The Henry Rollins Show, you know? We were trying to do takes on all of these types of things and the cool part of the format for me is the fact that it’s a talk show with a host is the through line that makes everything hold together.

Paste: Now when you do the podcast and the TV show and the tour, how do you decide which guests go together, or is it just like a scheduling thing or are you just like, Andy Richter and Cake Boss would be great together?
Aukerman: It’s a certain weird alchemy that is difficult to figure out. I mean, what people should know about the podcast is that I’m really just playing it by ear, and they’re getting scheduled at the last minute. I mean, sometimes I’m just throwing together whoever is around and hoping that they have a certain type of chemistry. What’s great is when that chemistry is fantastic, like the episode, I had three disparate people, Jessica St. Clair, Paul Rust and Jerrod Carmichael, neither of the other two had met Jerrod before, and Paul and Jessica sort of know each other, but don’t really work together. But I somehow had a feeling like those three would be really good together and yeah they were great together. Then there’s the show’s where you put people together in a room and it’s like oil and water and it doesn’t really come off that well. But you know every single podcast that we do is an experiment and it’s not planned out, it’s totally improvised, so you know I think that’s kind of the thrill to it for some listeners is they know that that is what is happening and so if one doesn’t exactly come off right, it’s an interesting experiment at the least.

For the TV show, I tried to put people together that I thought would be, we put a little more care into it and tried to put people together that we thought would work together really well. For instance, with Ed Helms, we had a couple of guests that he started doing comedy with, we had Seth Morris doing Bob Ducca, those guys work together really well, we had Owen Burke doing Evel Knievel, and those guys have known each other for a million years. There’s just a certain sense of comfort when all the people have worked together and there’s a lot of trust that made that show really special. The same kind of thing with Jon Hamm and El Chupacabra, we knew those guys had a really great chemistry from the podcast, so we made sure they were both on the same show for the TV show.

Paste: You said it was improvised on the podcast, how about on the TV show? How much of that is decided beforehand and how much is spur of the moment?
Aukerman: The TV show, it’s about 50/50 and a lot of people might think that the film pieces are improv, but no, let me tell you it’s hard to do improvisational film shorts. But no, anytime we’re in the studio its pretty improv. Occasionally if it ever goes into a like sketch piece, for instance the Jon Hamm: Guest Director piece, those are pretty much scripted. But the stuff around them is all improvisational. Anytime I’m talking to Reggie, that’s all improv, anytime I’m talking to our first guest on the couch, you know your Jon Hamms, your Amy Poehlers, your Zach Galifianakis, we have no idea what we are going to talk about when we start. And then the character guests, you know the Huell Howsers or the Bob Duccas, sometimes I’ll have a very loose outline or I’ll have an endpoint that I know I’m going to, but for the most part it was just like, okay, we’ve done this before, let’s just start.

Paste: Yeah especially with the Paul F. Tompkins episode, he got his whole idea of what Cake Boss is out there and made it work really well.
Aukerman: Yeah, that’s been a really interesting challenge of how you do say who these people are in the short amount of time that we have. So sometimes we’ll do several takes and try to get them shorter and shorter until the last take is just like, okay let’s just cut out all the extraneous information and just do the shortest possible version that we have, so that we have that that we can cut around to some of the different, fatter versions that we have, you know, for more of the fun.

Paste: How did the idea of the tour come up? Was it the success of the Portlandia tour or was it something that you had wanted to do for a while?
Aukerman: I’ve always wanted to tour, I mean I have friends in bands, like my friends in The Vandals and the touring lifestyle has kind of fascinated me. I have a feeling at the end of it, it will no longer fascinate me. But yeah, it’s always something that I’ve wanted to do and now that the show is on the air, I really wanted to kind of use the show to promote the tour and use the tour to promote the show and hopefully at the end of it, you know, more people will know about both of them.

Paste: What kind of podcasts inspire you in your podcasting? I’d say the closest thing is Nerdist, since that is a podcast network like Earwolf.
Aukerman: I don’t listen to a ton of podcasts that aren’t outside of my network, but I will say the podcast that really inspired me was Jimmy Pardo’s Never Not Funny. I was a guest on that, I’ve been the only person who has been a guest on every season of that show. They are in their eleventh now and I’ve been a guest on every single season and I think I was even inspired to start doing it from that show. I love Jimmy and I love talking with him and we’re old friends and I love the camaraderie and I originally thought my show was going to be a little more like that show, where’s it’s just guys hanging out, or like the “bro out” episodes I’ll sometimes do. But kind of quickly I changed the show into being more of a show where we’re doing comedy rather than just talking about it like WTF or just kind of hanging out like Never Not Funny.

Paste: So with the Between Two Ferns half hour special you did…
Aukerman: What?! Oh no! I blacked out for the last three months!

Paste: Would you like to direct more TV, like more episodes of the show if it picks up for a second season or is that something you’d be interested in doing more of?
Aukerman: Yeah I definitely want to direct more, I hope to do more with “Between Two Ferns” in the future. It would be a little hard for me to direct my own show, mainly because of the budget that we have. We have to really fly and shoot a lot of stuff for the TV show and there would just be no way that I could be directing it while changing clothes and preparing what I’m going to say and all that kind of stuff. I mean we had a great director, Ben Berman, really took care of us on the show. But I definitely would like to get a little more into directing, you know hopefully there will be some stuff coming down the pike. I had a great time on the Between Two Ferns special. It was a little like, “oh no a half-hour special, is this too big for me to do?” But I think I did a really good job with it and everyone was cool and everyone was happy with it, so yeah I definitely want to do more of that in the future.

Paste: With the podcast or the TV show, who would be your dream guest, character-wise or just actual celebrities?
Aukerman: You know, for the longest time I was trying to get Pee-Wee Herman on the podcast, for two years I was bugging his publicist all the time, and I feel like they finally said yes just to shut me up. But that was a huge thrill for me to have Paul Reubens on the show and would love to have him on the TV show. Got a great message from him when the TV show started congratulating me, so that was really cool and a big thrill for me. But I’d love to have him, I would love to have Chris Elliott on the show, I tried to get him for a while, he’s a big influence for me. I would love to have David Letterman on the show, talk about the greatest influence. He will never, ever do it, but it’s out there. If he wants to. Dave, I’m your biggest fan. You know, President Barack Hussein Obama.

Paste: Where would you like to see Comedy Bang Bang! and Earwolf go from here? Movies? Space?
Aukerman: I hope to do space movies. Comedy Bang! Bang!, I would love to continue doing the TV show. Could it be a movie? Of course it could. Anything can be a movie. Would anyone see that movie? At this point, probably not. But I’m going to keep up hope that we do a movie. But yeah, as far as Earwolf goes, I think there’s a lot of exciting things coming down the pike that we are dipping our toes into and…that’s two metaphors in one sentence. “We’re dipping our toes into things coming down the pike.” The interesting thing about entertainment and not only podcasting but internet entertainment in general is there’s always new stuff coming up, so we’re hoping to capitalize on that and the great thing about Earwolf is like we have the funniest people out here in the world and doing shows with us and we just hope to continue putting out more of what we have and more new stuff as well.

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