Podcast of the Week: COMEDY BANG! BANG!
Over the last several months, Scott Aukerman, the host of COMEDY BANG! BANG!, co-creator of BETWEEN TWO FERNS, and former MR. SHOW scribe, has taken to calling his zany improv podcast “the show where we talk to interesting people.” As far as elevator pitches are concerned, I think Aukerman’s pitch fails to capture just how ludicrous both the talks themselves and the people involved can be.
Celebrating its 500th episode this past week, COMEDY BANG! BANG! has provided an outlet for some of the silliest character development in the podcast world. Every improv podcast on the market owes something to Aukerman’s groundbreaking endeavor, which began back in May of 2009 and has seen hundreds of actors, musicians, and comedians pass through.
But none of this really addresses WHAT COMEDY BANG! BANG! is, and summarizing it is hard to put into words. The roughly 90-minute episodes (mostly) follow a very specific structure: introduce a guest or guests, often times someone playing themselves, and interview them for about 20 minutes before later introducing fictional characters as guests on the show. In short: imagine THE TONIGHT SHOW, but Fallon is interviewing not just MAD MEN star Jon Hamm, but also JW Stillwater, a crime-fighting vigilante from Cumberbatch County, Florida, who exclusively drives fan boats.
COMEDY BANG! BANG! isn’t the easiest show to break into. Naturally, after 500 episodes, there are intricately created recurring characters who return time and time again to reveal more of their own personal back stories. Take JW Stillwater, whom I mentioned above. Played by renowned comedian Paul F. Tompkins, Stillwater’s 12 appearances on the show have revealed things like the decade-plus of cooking classes he’s taken, his father’s last words to him: “Take it sleazy, catch you on the flip flop… Now go on outta here and don’t watch me die, and if you hear the door open and close it’s just my soul,” and he has never done drugs, unless you count oxycontin (which he has prescriptions for in three different names).
In spite of the intimidating character work, Aukerman’s ability to host is what sets COMEDY BANG! BANG! above other improv comedy podcasts. Even as the show seemingly goes off the rails, his ability to legitimately interview guests as wild as Stillwater is amazing. Even in shows where backstory is necessary, Aukerman and the improvisers themselves tend to be held in check by the other guests on the show, forcing themselves to explain and recommunicate old jokes and ideas from previous episodes so no one is lost. Aukerman treats all characters and guests the same, so whether it’s people like Edgar Wright, Haley Joel Osment, the band Electric Guest, and Jane Lynch, or characters like The Time Keeper (played by Neil Campbell), a 32-year-old observer and celebrator of time, or John Lennon (played by Mike Hanford), the deceased founding member of The Beatles, everyone is treated to an earnest, albeit often ridiculous, conversation.
COMEDY BANG! BANG! is in a league of its own, offering guaranteed laughs—a rarity in the world of comedy podcasts. Though it might seem a tad annoying to hear Aukerman and the guys from emo outfit American Football dissect the relationship between a very wealthy woman named Gwendolyn Speck (Mary Holland) and her non-sexual relationship with an 18-year-old named Jonathan Woodley (Tim Baltz), the show’s ever-changing improv forces vulnerability onto its real life guests, exposing their ability to (hopefully) roll with conversation in the midst of unending shtick and relentless wit. While it is a show where Aukerman is able to talk to interesting people, COMEDY BANG! BANG! is so much more than that, delivering legitimately earned laughs on a week by week basis.
Given the strange nature of CB!B!’s structure, it can help to have a guide of great introductory episodes. Here are five essential episodes that are available right now and are in front of the paywall.
- 481: Thomas Middleditch, Kumail Nanjiani, Martin Starr
- 484: Jason Mantzoukas, Jon Gabrus, Paul F. Tompkins
- 486: Ron Funches, Nick Thune, Jon Daly, Jordan Black
- 489: Kulap Vilaysack, Paul F. Tompkins, Tim Baltz, Dan Ahdoot, Mandell Maughan, Eugene Cordero, Tawny Newsome, Drew Tarver
- 495: Jason Mantzoukas, Mary Holland, Tim Baltz