Fans of comedian Scott Aukerman have until this point had more of a chance to get familiar with his voice than with his screen presence. A writer for “Mr. Show” and the creator of viral web phenom “Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis,” Aukerman’s best known as the host of the hugely popular radio show-turned-podcast “Comedy Bang! Bang!,” in which he interviews celebrity guests real and impersonated and involves them in improv game segments. But tonight, fans will finely get a good look at the guy.
The new TV incarnation of “Comedy Bang! Bang!” premieres on IFC Friday, June 8, at 10 pm, as an absurdist talk show during which Aukerman and his bandleader Reggie Watts banter between guest interviews (Galifianakis and Amy Poehler are among those to make appearances) and excellently surreal asides — one of the highlights of the first episode finds Aukerman stepping outside to put more money in his parking meter in what’s revealed to be a post-apocalyptic landscape.
Indiewire talked with Aukerman about the power of podcasts and what it’s been like translating his comedy to the small screen.
Tell me a little bit about how the show ended up on IFC.
They were fans of the podcast I started three years ago. It started out as a radio show and became a podcast when I realized that no one listens to the radio anymore. They had a really interesting idea about doing interstitials between reruns of comedy shows they had recently acquired, so I did those for a year and got comfortable doing them. We had a good process going, and they were fun and easy to do. They saw the level of talent I could get to participate in them and had the idea to turn it into a half-hour talk show.
How has the show changed in these different incarnations from radio to podcast to interstitials to TV series?
The podcast has evolved drastically since I started doing it. I thought it would be an interview show, akin to what “WTF with Marc Maron” did — they came after me. It quickly evolved into a comedy show. People who listen sometimes aren’t used to it because they think podcasts are more interview shows. Mine is in the guise of a radio show, but we force in a bunch of comedy.
The podcast evolved into me talking to fake people and comedians doing characters. When I started thinking about the TV version, it was always the baseline I would come back to — having really funny comedians doing characters in a talk show format. So that’s the ground floor. We expanded it with whatever we could come up with and turned the TV show into a crazy, visual half-hour that’s sort of like the podcast… but isn’t like the podcast.
How would you describe your hosting style on the show?
I play a character called “Scott Aukerman” — I’m straddling the line between playing myself and reacting how I would in whatever situation, and a more obnoxious version of myself. On the show, I’m more sarcastic, a little dumber, a little more mean.
I’m not really as mean as Zach [Galifianakis] would be on the [“Between Two Ferns”] videos. We wanted to keep that to the stuff that he does playing pranks on celebrities. I don’t get mean on the show in terms of insulting careers. I’m a bizarro version of my real personality.
Between “Comedy Bang! Bang! and “Between Two Ferns,” you seem to have made a real art of interviews going awry and awkward silences.
Up until that point in my career, I had just been doing TV and sketch shows that would have live audience or laugh tracks on them. We made the first “Between Two Ferns” short and started showing it around the office before we showed it to a live audience, and I noticed it played better with the silence on it, without having the audience laughing.
Once we posted it online, we really got into the freedom of improv mixed with a little bit of structure, of editing it down into something really tight. I got pretty good at it. That way, when I started doing interstitials for IFC, I came in with a lot of confidence, even though it wasn’t Zach on camera — it was me. I know how they go together now because I have a lot of experience doing them. It’s one of my strengths now to do an improvisational interview and figure it out in editing.
How much prep would you do with guests on “Between Two Ferns” and “Comedy Bang! Bang!” Is it all pretty much on the fly?
We don’t do any prep with the guests on “Between Two Ferns.” I’ll do more on the TV show. A lot of times, people will come in with their own bits. Michael Cera came in with the bit he wanted to do on studying ornithology, which is in the show. That’s great. But about a third of the show is improv — the conversations we do with celebrity guests, those are all improv.
We don’t have a ton of prep on it. The guests are funny. I was really lucky with the ten guests who I managed to get to be the main guests on the show. They are all able to make a ten-minute improv conversation really funny. I know that if I ever ask Paul Rudd a question, he’ll turn it into something hilarious in 90 seconds. So I felt comfortable about it being relatively unprepared.
How did you end up bringing Reggie Watts in to be your musical accompaniment and co-host of sorts?
When we were talking about the show in theory, we had a lot of things to figure out — is there a desk? what does the rug look like? I’m not relegating Reggie to that inconsequential of a decision. [laughs] But every decision was a huge one, and that was one of the biggest ones — what do you do in terms of bandleader, and also sidekick?
When IFC and I were talking about options, Reggie was a natural first choice because he does the theme song to my podcast, and is an amazing musician. We realized he could also serve as the sidekick as well, because he’s such an amazing improvisational performer. We really clicked. It was a surprise to me, how great our relationship worked. Our improv styles are really similar.
As a podcast host and the co-founder of the Earwolf podcast network, what do you think the future of the medium is going to be? It still seems difficult to monetize.
I don’t think I would own a podcasting company if I didn’t think it was viable and if the future didn’t look very bright for people getting into it. With Earwolf, we’ve always made money or broke even, actually, because we don’t pay ourselves anything. [laughs] But we’re finally turning the corner with sponsorships, where advertisers are really paying attention to podcasts. Money, to me, isn’t a reason why you get into podcasting.
You get into podcasting because of the pure essence of expression that you’re allowed. In podcasting you don’t have a boss, you don’t have someone telling you what’s funny and what’s not funny. It’s the most pure expression of whatever’s on your mind. Anyone can do it and anyone can put it up and get it into iTunes. I did it just for fun. But I think the residual benefits that you get from podcasting are that you’re putting yourself out there, you’re building a fan base, you’re creating something, and good things will come out of that.