IFC late-night spoof Comedy Bang! Bang! returns July 9 and host/creator Scott Aukerman will have Michael Cera as his guest and welcome Kid Cudi, hip-hop star and actor, as his new sidekick.
But despite the impressive roster of celebs who have dropped by over the show’s first few seasons, he’s tending the flame for the ultimate guest, someone with a bit more availability lately: David Letterman. It was Letterman who first inspired Aukerman to take up comedy. His off-kilter reinvention of the talk show is the biggest influence on Bang! Bang!. But even though Letterman recently signed off as a latenight host, a hopeful Aukerman is, one might say, realistic about his possibilities of finding his idol across from him for a chat. “There is no chance in hell he would ever do it,” says Aukerman, who adds that Letterman is the biggest” influence on the show. “That is the great white whale of guests.”
From the Stage to the Screen
Much like Letterman’s evolving show, Comedy Bang! Bang! went through a few different versions on its way to television, first starting as a weekly showcase for stand-ups and sketch performers at Los Angeles’ UCB theater; it was then called “Comedy Death-Ray.”
A friend of Aukerman’s who worked as a DJ at a radio station told him they were looking for someone to do a show. It was there Aukerman established the format of what Comedy Bang! Bang! would become—one celebrity, plus another comedian playing a character, all set up as a fake talk show.
“There is something very interesting and unique about the reaction between a celebrity and a comedian playing a fake character,” he says. “I thought it would be really funny.”
Aukerman then turned it into a podcast as part of his Earwolf podcast network he cofounded in 2010—his wife and fellow comedian Kulap Vilaysack cohosts the film-centric “Who Charted?” podcast on Earwolf. IFC became interested in 2011 and turned it into a TV show.
Christine Lubrano, IFC senior VP of original programming, says that Aukerman and Comedy Bang! Bang! fit right in with the network’s off-kilter sensibilities. “[The guests] come to have fun in a way that you can’t do on a traditional talk show,” she says. “That environment is entirely created by Scott.”
That environment will change a bit with the departure of Aukerman’s sidekick, Reggie Watts, now bandleader for James Corden on CBS’ The Late Late Show. “I was first a little bummed,” says Aukerman. “I wanted the show to go on forever with the same people.” But he sees Cudi as a good replacement. “He doesn’t really have to do this show,” jokes Aukerman, who likes that Cudi brings a different style than Watts, who was known for his dry wit and deadpan responses. “He’s not the accomplished comedian Reggie Watts is,” says Aukerman, but his energy will bring something different.
Now Aukerman is hoping the show will have a different vibe when it returns, to go along with its new set and theme song. “When Reggie left I kind of viewed it as a real cool opportunity to almost reboot the show.”
A Comedic Turn
Like many comedians, Aukerman initially didn’t think he would able to hack it trying to make others laugh. “I had always grown up loving comedy but never really thought I could do it professionally,” he says. “It just seemed like this incredible hurdle to attempt.”
After a brief stint as a musical theater actor, he moved back to Los Angeles—he grew up in Orange County—to try writing. Through a mutual friend, Aukerman landed a spot on a comedy show (along with his friend and frequent collaborator B.J. Porter) that was being put on by Mary Lynn Rajskub. The second night he performed, Bob Odenkirk—who was busy with his HBO sketch comedy show Mr. Show With Bob and David—was in the audience. This would eventually lead to Aukerman and Porter being hired as writers and occasional performers on the Odenkirk/David Cross sketch comedy series. “He sort of mentored me,” Aukerman says of Odenkirk.
Aukerman remembers those years on Mr. Show as hectic. “When you’re doing sketch comedy, it’s a lot like the show business that you dream about when you’re young,” he says, noting how there are people constantly wearing costumes. Remembering one specific moment, he says: “There was a mule, and five people dressed like Hitler, and one guy dressed like a Buddhist monk.”
When Aukerman was first hired, he figured he would be the quiet guy, but soon found his voice. “I became sort of a loudmouth,” he says. “They’re not only paying for your voice and your writing, they’re paying for your ideas and opinions.”
And now that Odenkirk and Cross are reuniting for a new sketch comedy series on Netflix, the old Mr. Show crew got back together for one more ride, though Aukerman isn’t sure that it is totally a good thing.
“I had forgotten how stressful it is to be in that situation,” he says with a laugh. “I started having bad dreams about work.”