Stephen Prevenas is a Lazy Geeks Contributor
Comedy Bang! Bang! host and creator Scott Aukerman has a pretty lengthy history in the comedy scene, even if you don’t recognize his name. He most notably wrote on the superlatively awesome Mr. Show in the 1990’s, in addition to being responsible for the Comedy Death-Ray stand-up show in LA that served as the basis for a podcast of the same name, which became Bang! Bang! In the podcasting community, he is known for founding the Earwolf podcasting network, home to such shows as How Did This Get Made?, Who Charted?, and Sklarbro County, in addition to his own (kinda have to wonder if the Sklars were pressured to add punctuation to their show’s title, don’t you?)
As a host, Aukerman is solid. He doesn’t have overwhelming host-y gravitas, but he doesn’t often need it – the humor in Comedy Bang! Bang! isn’t dependent upon his particular personality (though he has enough to carry it). Rather, he serves as an ideas man – cajoling his guests into funny directions, playing off their energy and picking his comedic spots. More than any show of its popularity, Bang! Bang! is about ideas and jokes more than personalities.
The show includes two distinct elements: those that focus on guest(s) alone, and those that include characters. Within these, there are endless permutations –games (many with hilariously arbitrary rules), philosophical waxing, and plugs galore (you’d be amazed how many things imaginary characters have to promote).
The guest-only segments have the kind of tone that you get from any interview show, but the lead set by Aukerman allows segments slant towards the absurd, the hilarious, and the not even remotely true (Tim Heidecker recently talked about appearing in Woody Allen’s next film, a silent B&W affair titled Ching Chang Matinee). Episodes establish tone during this introductory section, depending on how hard the guest is willing to work on any given prompt, how well the guest and Aukerman know each other, and their chemistry. Sometimes it’s clear that Aukerman will bear the majority of the comedic weight, and other times he will serve as little more than a moderator, throwing in odd comments as part of a shit storm of improvised ridiculosity. Both can be successful, and both can be meh.
The character segments are more unpredictable. There is a cast of regular characters that appear on the show (voiced by the likes of Paul F. Tompkins, Matt Besser, and James Adomian), with whom the host (as well as some regular guests) has a ‘relationship’ that colors the direction and tone of the conversation. Other characters are more like improv caricatures, often with personality quirks consistent with a topic already focused upon in an episode.
The character-based segments can be challenging, but offer high reward when they hit. A good guest coupled with a well-conceived character can lead improv that is some of the funniest stuff coming out of any medium in entertainment, but only if you’re willing to pay attention. If you only half listen, it will not be funny. Granted, sometimes the sketch just misses, and doesn’t seem funny because it’s not—but when it hits, it destroys. Needless to say, Comedy Bang! Bang! is not background fare – at least not if you want to get the most out of it.
The Above in Fewer Words: Comedy Bang! Bang! can be the best comedy podcast out there and it can be downright mediocre, depending on a number of factors. If you grew up a comedy fan, you will appreciate that basically every kind of comedy that can be executed in an audio-only format will show up at some point. The downside, of course, is that sometimes, it just falls flat. Bang! Bang! is not a sure thing every week, and it’s not for a disengaged listener. Those who are willing to commit, however, will be handsomely rewarded on the regular.
Starting Point: Episode 141 featuring Greg Proops, as well as Paul F. Tompkins and James Adomian visiting as characters, is as good as improv gets. Episode 109 with Andy Samberg and Adam Pally as Aukerman’s weed guy is also fantastic, featuring great in-character jokes in addition to a surprisingly eloquent and serious conversation with Samberg about his work with Lonely Island and SNL.
Recent Guests: Sarah Silverman, Allison Brie (Community, Mad Men), Bobcat Goldthwait
Comedy Bang! Bang!: The Podcast is available on iTunes and at Earwolf. Comedy Bang! Bang!: The Television Show premieres this Friday, June 8th, at 10 pm eastern on IFC. Neither IFC nor Earwolf has paid for this advert, but they are welcome to do $o.