It began five years ago as a comedy podcast, and now Comedy Bang! Bang! returns for its third televised season on IFC. We spoke to creator and star Scott Aukerman about the new season, and that famous episode of Between Two Ferns with President Obama. We also subjected him to the Same 10 Questions We Always Ask Everyone.
Photo: Kyle Christy/IFC
Did I read that it’s the fifth anniversary of the Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast?
Yeah! It’s so crazy. Where did you read that? In the trades?
It was on the cover of Variety today, obviously.
Any time you start doing something, you kind of assume you’ll do it for like three months. Like, when you took this job, were you like, “Eh, I’ll do this for three months and then start looking into other opportunities”? And then a year passes and you’re like, “I can’t believe I got to a year!” The first anniversary was really big. It’s pretty nuts to think I’ve been doing it for five years now and we’re in the third season of the TV shows. It’s bizarre how quickly it’s going, but it’s all still so fun and great.
The third season of the show starts very dramatically.
Thank you! We did our homage to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade with that one, where you see young Indiana Jones played by River Phoenix and you see how it all began. We, very unwisely, blew two days of our budget on one three-minute sketch with a car chase and stunt men and someone being dragged by a car. I’m glad you think it’s so dramatic because it cost so much money. We could not afford it.
Well, what’s the point of having a TV show if you can’t blow money on action sequences?
Oh boy, yeah. We have an episode coming up late in the season that is a pan to Back to the Future II and it’s the most complicated episode we’ve ever done. Usually we try to do the episodes in one and a half or two days. This one took three days. All I can really say is that it’s all about time travel and it’s just a mind-fuck where the director and I were constantly trying to keep track of which parallel universe we were in and which time traveler I was playing. It’s so complicated. But that’s the fun of doing Comedy Bang! Bang! Every single episode is different and we can do stuff like an episode all in black and white and set in the 1960s. We can do that every single week. I have a motto for this season, which is “Every episode, a masterpiece.” We are swinging for the fences every single episode trying to do something really unique and special.
The list of guest stars for this season is lengthy, too.
And the list you’ve seen is only for the first set of 10 episodes. There’s a whole other list for the second set. The goal for me with this show is not only do I get to have really current comedians who people really like, but I also get to have comedians I have grown up loving and really respected and made me want to get into the business. I’m slowly collecting all these people I admire and putting them on the show. By the end of the run I’ll hopefully have had anyone who has ever done comedy on the show. Please, no one in comedy die! I need to get you on the show before you do.
Photo: Kyle Christy/IFC
When you shot the episode of Between Two Ferns with President Obama did you ask him if he could stop by Comedy Bang! Bang! as well?
I wish I could be like that. There are some people who are totally shameless like that and I am professional to a fault. Yes, I would have loved to have said, “Barack, swing by the studio! You owe me now.” But I am never like that.
You seem interested in the idea of two people communicating, sometimes awkwardly, on both shows.
It’s interesting because I don’t have a formal improv background. It started out as a podcast that’s presented as a talk show but is really just an improv show. But it’s all about communication and telling stories and letting something evolve out of a human brain. It’s a unique style of improv because there’s not a lot of improv in an interview setting, but it’s one I’ve stumbled into and find really interesting and fun.
How much of Between Two Ferns is off the cuff?
It’s a combination. We feel out what’s going to be funny. Zach [Galifianakis] and I will usually get together to discuss our take and what’s going to make this particular one different. For instance, for Steve Carell we thought it would be funny if Steve was trying to turn the tables on Zach and insult him before Zach could insult him first. So we would come up with that take and then we would run it by Steve when we were actually shooting and work it out on its feet. We’ll usually work it out while it’s happening and try to come up with it while we’re doing it.
Is Between Two Ferns shot on a schedule or do they just happen when they happen?
They really just happen when they happen. We never are out there trying to get them done. In fact, every one we do we go, “Well, that might be the last one.” And then something will pop up, like the White House calls you and says, “Hey, come do another one.” At this point we have no plans to do another one but it wouldn’t surprise me if one popped up tomorrow. I was doing an interview the day before the President Obama one came out and everyone was asking me if there was another one coming out and I had to bite my tongue. Meanwhile, I knew that within 12 hours the biggest one we had ever done was going to be on the Internet. So I could be lying to you right now.
So one with the pope is coming out tomorrow?
Do you think the pope is bigger than Barack Obama? I was really wondering if the President Obama one was going to be bigger than the Justin Bieber one. I genuinely didn’t know. And it’s very reassuring to know that yes, President Obama is more popular than Justin Bieber.
Photo: Kyle Christy/IFC
AND NOW, THE SAME 10 QUESTIONS WE ALWAYS ASK EVERYONE!
What was the last thing you had to apologize for?
You know, I think when you get married you stop remembering the last thing you had to apologize for and your life becomes a constant apology. It’s almost a natural instinct to say “Sorry, sorry, sorry.” So I don’t even remember anymore.
What's your favorite curse word/phrase?
I don’t want to say anything too crazy because then you’ll print it and it will have my name next to it. I would say “butt.” On my show we say the word “butt” a lot and I think it’s really funny. Especially “little butt.” We always talk about someone having a little butt, which I think is a really funny combination of words.
What's the worst hangover you've ever had?
Number three. I think the third movie in the trilogy.
What was your first car?
I had a Mercury Lynx. It’s a car that doesn’t even exist anymore, that’s how shitty it was. I had stickers all over the back of it, like The Smiths. Music stickers. I strangely enough put a reggae sticker on it – this was the late ‘80s – and I would constantly get pulled over by the police. I was wondering why, and then one of the police guys was like, “So wait, you don’t have any drugs in your car? Why do you have that sticker?” I realized I needed to take that reggae sticker off the car.
Do you have a scar that tells a story?
I have a scar on my finger. It doesn’t talk, but I could tell a story about it. I was once playing poker at my friend’s house in his garage. He was telling me how he had made these stools in metal shop class. A few minutes later I started to fall off the stool and had my hand under the lip of the stool, and I jerked my hand away to cushion my fall and it ripped all the skin on my finger off. He’d made these stools but hadn’t put any kind of softened edge around them. The big lesson here is that if you’re going to make something in metal shop, round off the edges.
Do you have a party trick?
My party trick is usually having too many drinks in the first hour and then going home to sleep.
What's the biggest thing you've ever put in your mouth?
I tried to fit my entire fist in my mouth because I was trying to imitate Jon “Bowzer” Bauman from the band Sha Na Na, which is a modern reference that your readers will really enjoy. I was unable to do it. So if anything is the size of my fist or larger I won’t be able to put it in there, unfortunately.
What's the one thing to remember in a fistfight?
You see a lot of fistfights on TV and you go, “Oh, that’s probably a lot of fun.” But you can break your hand super easy or you could be the person who punches someone and shatters their entire face with just one punch and have to pay for their medical bills until the end of the time. So the best thing to remember in a fistfight is just not to get in one.
Who was the last person to see you naked?
The first person to see me naked and the last person to see me naked is always the same. It’s always my wife. I put a “no nudity” clause on my TV show, for which the viewers should thank me. I made the network sign a clause saying they would never ask me to be naked. It’s the opposite of NYPD Blue. Yet another modern reference for the readers.
Finish this sentence: If I ruled the world for a day, I would...
I would be a tyrant because that’s what happens to people who have absolute power. I would suddenly not be the cool dude that everyone knows and loves and I would start ordering people around and turn people into human slaves and start building pyramids. Everyone is so impressed with the pyramids, but we can build new pyramids, everyone. Let’s build them better so that people can go inside and play gigantic, awesome video games. That’s probably what I would do as the world leader.
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