There's no two ways about it, Comedy Bang! Bang!, the bizarre multi-platform world created by comedian Scott Aukerman, is batshit insane. If you've yet to be introduced to this So-Cal-radio-show-turned-podcast-turned-IFC-series, do yourself a favor and give in. Blindly embrace Aukerman's improv-fueled lunacy and, like so many other comedy fans before you, allow yourself to get thoroughly addicted.
Though only recently has his talent been appreciated on a mainstream level, Scott Aukerman is an absolute force to be reckoned with in the world of comedy. For years, his contributions were mainly behind the scenes, most notably writing for HBO's cult hit, Mr. Show with Bob and David. But then in 2002, after co-writing Mr. Show's spin-off film, the underrated Run Ronnie Run, Aukerman took to the stage. At Hollywood's Upright Citizen's Brigade theater, Comedy Bang! Bang!—initially titled Comedy Death-Ray—was born. Alongside fellow Mr. Show writer B.J. Porter, Aukerman launched Death-Ray as an alternative comedy showcase. But ever since that fateful night more than a decade ago, the brand, comedy's hilarious mutant octopus, grew into so much more.
Most people who know Comedy Bang! Bang! are fans from catching the IFC series, which kicks off its 20-episode third season on May 8, but the audible insanity that is the Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast has existed far longer. These days every comedian in the world seems to have their own podcast—including Pete Holmes, Dan Soder, Neal Brennan, Joe Rogan, and Chelsea Peretti, to name a handful. But whether he stumbled into the genre or had the foresight to predict its impending popularity, Aukerman embraced the podcast revolution prior to so many others.
The weekly series, which is hosted by the Earwolf network, recently celebrated its fifth anniversary. And though it's been available for half a decade, just recently has it been showered with mainstream adulation. Not only does the show constantly top the iTunes charts, Bang! Bang! has also been called essential listening by Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, and AV Club.
If you're ever on a subway or a train and happen to catch someone hysterically laughing to themselves to the point of tears, there's a solid chance that they're not actually a crazed serial killer, but instead listening to CBB. Here's the general formula: Aukerman, of course, acts as the host. Then, after inexplicably delivering the Comedy Bang! Bang! weather report, the guests filter in. Recent celebs to enter the Auckerman's comedy maze include Community's Gillian Jacobs, Patton Oswalt, and The League's Jason Mantzoukas, a longtime CBB regular who always knocks it out of the park. Then, after 20 minutes or so of completely unrehearsed one-on-one hilarity, business picks up.
The second guest is always a character, regularly played by some of the greatest improvisers in the entertainment world. One such character is Traci Reardon, played to perfection by Orange Is the New Black's Lauren Lapkus. Throughout her many Bang! Bang! appearances, we've learned that Traci is madly in love with Aukerman, only has one ear, and recently had her ass cheeks pierced together. Then there's Horatio Sanz's Shelly Driftwood, a promiscuous bisexual L.A. business owner whose claim to fame is his friendship with '80s stand-up comic Brett Butler. Also, there's the incredible James Adomian, who does the single best Jesse "The Body" Ventura impression on the planet. However, whenever Paul F. Tompkins is on the bill, that's when the podcast is at its absolute finest. Genuinely, Tompkins' Comedy Bang! Bang! performances are pure, uncut comedic perfection. His regular characters, of which there are many, include Alan Thicke, Buddy "Cake Boss" Valastro, and Broadway legend Andrew Lloyd Webber.
With a light shone on Comedy Bang! Bang! now more than ever before, it'd come as no surprise if Tompkins wound up with his own series sooner rather than later. His characters on this podcast may be the most under-appreciated aspect of today’s comedy scene.
And whereas Auckerman's podcast is improv boot camp, utterly unrehearsed and unscripted in the best of ways, the popular IFC series is an entirely different beast. It's like if Pee-wee's Playhouse had a one-night stand with Saturday Night Live —but then when the demon seed of that tryst was born it ate a ton of acid at Burning Man. Where the podcast thrives on impromptu, spur-of-the-moment riffing, the television show relies on eccentric alternative sketches that'd make any fan of The State, Stella, or the aforementioned Mr. Show proud.
One of the main factors to distinguish the podcast from the series is Reggie Watts, who's a perfect fit as Auckerman's right-hand man and bandleader. Watts, an afro-sporting alt comic who now lives in New York by way of Seattle, is famous for his on-the-spot musical improv. His unique style of comedy is literally incomparable, making him the best possible yin to Auckerman's purposefully awkward yang. Many times the German-born comic actually says very little, but in the case of Watts, he absolutely maximizes his minutes. With little more than an uncomfortable look, a misplaced strangely-sweet smile and a long pause, Watts often steals the show from the massive names who act as Bang! Bang!'s studio guests.
And these studio guests are usually some of the comedy world's most sought after stars. Names scheduled for the show's impending third season include Fred Armisen, Nick Offerman, "Weird" Al Yankovic, Zach Galifianakis, Craig Robinson, Alison Brie, Paul Scheer, Fred Willard, Taran Killam, Ben Schwartz, and George Costanza himself, Jason Alexander. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Season three is jam-packed with some of the funniest people in the world.
IFC should be commended for taking a chance and carving out a distinct niche for itself. While rebranding themselves and adopting the motto of "Slightly Off, Always On," the network has consistently given a home to countless deserving performers who may otherwise be television's unfortunate outcasts. From Marc Maron's eponymous Maron to the never-disappointing Portlandia to Funny or Die's overlooked miniseries, the simply crazy Spoils of Babylon, IFC has slowly but surely programmed destination TV. And leading the pack is Scott Aukerman's Comedy Bang! Bang!, a testament to hard work, to consistent hilarity, and to sticking to your guns—no pun intended.
But Scott Auckerman never seems content to rest on his laurels. As previously mentioned, the Bang! Bang! brand has evolved from a small radio show to a weekly star-studded television series.
Is a movie next? We should all hope so.
Peter Hoare is a contributing writer who wrote a movie about killing David Hasselhoff. He tweets here.