The Future Of Talk, With Scott Aukerman

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Handsomely dressed in jeans, a crisp white button-down, dark blue suit jacket, and a healthy head of dusty brown hair, Scott Aukerman looks every part the prime time talk show host you could see delivering family friendly monologues on this week’s politics on any major network. The show he actually hosts though, Comedy Bang! Bang! on IFC, is nothing of the sort and could be considered part of the recent late-night revolution that is shaking up the existing old school format.

Having honed his comedic skills at the short-lived-but-much-loved HBO sketch show Mr. Show, along with alumni including well-respected working comedians such as David Cross, Bob Odenkirk, Paul F. Thompkins, and Brian Posehn, Aukerman then took his talents to the stage creating a show with friend B.J. Porter called Comedy Death Ray which became so successful it made its way to radio on L.A.’s 103.3. Radio was just the start however; Scott brought his wacky brand of improvisational interviews to the Wild West of podcasting at that time and was able to launch a whole network (called Earwolf) on the back of its success. Now he’s returned to the small screen with the Comedy Bang! Bang! TV show on IFC, which he hosts with help from serenading sidekick Reggie Watts, already in its third season.

Your theme song is by far one of the catchiest out there. How did you and Reggie Watts find each other?
My wife used to produce a comedy show in L.A. called Garage Comedy, and a lot of people talked about Reggie in the scene. I saw him a few times, but I’ll be honest…I didn’t get it. He did my podcast a few times and just happened to be on the episode where I was changing the name from Comedy Death Ray to Comedy Bang! Bang! I needed a new theme song, and he improvised off the top of his head three very unique and amazing songs, one of which has become our theme song. It’s incredibly catchy. So when we were thinking of who we wanted to use as a bandleader, or a person to banter with, we brought up Reggie as just one of the names. I didn’t know that he would show himself to be such a great comic actor and how great we would get along.

What happens when you have someone on the show and they’re not good at improv?
The character I’m doing when I’m on the show is completely clueless; he gets facts wrong and asks questions that he doesn’t want to hear the answers to. If someone isn’t in tune with that, I certainly wouldn’t blame them. You never know what kind of rapport you are going to have with people on the show. That’s what’s happened in the past, I’ll invite Ben Schwartz, Gillian Jacobs, or Jason Mantzoukas on just to promote their own stuff, but we’ll end up clicking. I’m constantly trying to get new people involved though, because as soon as I really develop a relationship with someone they get their own shows, and suddenly they’re way too busy. Nick Kroll was on constantly, but now he’s got two or three TV shows that he’s doing.

You have a podcast with Adam Scott from Parks and Recreation called U Talking U2 To Me, and it’s kind of catching on. Where did the idea come from?
During episode 80 of Comedy Bang! Bang! Adam and I just ended up in a conversation about U2. Years passed, and he wrote me an email saying he wanted to start a podcast where he talks about the band with me. But to be perfectly honest, the true reason is he is married, and his wife is sick of him talking about U2. So we were just desperate to talk to somebody about this band that we love, and there’s really no one.

It’s a pretty wacky show.
I was prepared for it to be a serious discussion show, but from the second the mics came on we were on the floors laughing, so that went out the window immediately.

You guys talk about getting Bono on the show, and it seems like Adam keeps getting opportunities to approach him. Why’s he dropping the ball?
It’s confusing to me because he says he believes that we can get Bono on the show, but every opportunity he has, he passes on it! Since we started doing the show, he’s actually met Bono face-to-face, and he failed to bring it up. It’s bizarre. I don’t know how he expects him to be on the show; it’s so strange. I know he wants to play it cool, but the first time he met him he clammed up.

Is getting Bono still a goal?
We’re still shooting for it. The issue is we thought it was going to be a six episode show where on the sixth episode we talked about the new record. But after we had done three of them they postponed the CD release, and we had to slow it way, way down. Now we’re just killing time, I think we’re going to end up doing a full episode on Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark. We’re just grasping at straws at this point.

How has the Comedy Bang! Bang! TV show evolved since you started?
We got our episode order doubled, and we tried to figure out how we could make that work. The format changed a little bit, as well, due to a request from the network after they had tested the show with audiences. We found the attention span of the audience does not stay through having three guests. We used to have one celebrity guest and two character guests. Now we’ve figured out how to do the show. There’s no learning curve anymore. I have a motto that I live by, that is “Every show a masterpiece.” Most shows are fine having some good ones and some bad ones.

This season, every single episode is a theme episode. For example, the second episode Reggie goes to space and fights aliens. The third episode is a whodunit mystery episode where Jason Alexander plays a detective. The fourth episode is a late-night wars spoof where Fred Armisen and I pretend we’re up for the same gig. We’re keeping it interesting with the programming, like airing the finale episode before the season ends, just for fun.

With the changes that are going on in the late night landscape, what are your thoughts? Have you ever aspired to be the host of The Late Show, or do you think it’s too much of a challenge at this point?
When I was growing up, David Letterman started his show, and that was really important to me. Our show is very influenced by his show, and we do the kind of comedy that he used to do when they were first starting out. I think our show is as weird as his show used to be and actually a lot of his old writers have watched it and have told me it’s the show that they used to work on. In my head, I have always been doing this “fake” version of a talk show for a while, and maybe I’ll be part of the conversation when there is a changeover. Now, the changeover has happened way before anyone really cares about me over there. I went to the Seth Meyers show a little bit ago just to see how it is going, and I realized that when I wanted to do the Letterman show all those years ago, what I really wanted was to be a comedy delivery person. All I cared about was the bits that Letterman was doing, and I cared much less about the interviews that were happening in between. Do I really want to be the person that is stuck talking to Wendy Williams three times a night and trying to do comedy between that? Nowadays the real estate in late-night is so valuable to these big networks that they don’t really want to take the risk with weird comedy. The audience is going elsewhere to find it, and they’re succeeding. So when the announcement first went out, I’ll be honest, I was bumming out: ‘Aw man, I thought I would get there’. But now I’ve kind of realized that the show that I’m doing is the show that I like better.

You started Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis years ago, and now you just did one with the President. Where can you go next?
We never had any plans when it came to Between Two Ferns. We did the Michael Cera one as a gag in a pilot that I was pitching. Then, we got asked to do a second one by Jimmy Kimmel, and to be honest, we hadn’t considered ever doing one again but we said, “Alright, one more then we’re done.” Then, Jon Hamm asked to do one, and we weren’t going to say no to Don Draper. That one we had a lot of fun with. Zach and I decided that we could have a good time doing more of them when the time was right. Each time we do one we expect it’s going to be the last. After we did the Christmas one, we had a conversation about that being the last. It was so last-minute and hurried; I don’t really like how it came out. Then, the White House called and asked if we’d like to do one, and the answer was, “Well, I guess we could do one more…”. We get sent a lot of requests, but we only want to do it if there’s an angle.