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Thursday, May 15th, 2014

Inside the Surreal, Absurd World of ‘Comedy Bang! Bang!’ with Scott Aukerman and Reggie Watts

IFC's Comedy Bang! Bang! returned to the airwaves last week, with a 20-episode third season that's set to feature appearances from a whole ton of famous people, including Fred Armisen, Alison Brie, Bob Odenkirk, "Weird Al" Yankovic, Craig Robinson, and tons more. Comedy Bang! Bang! earned a massive renewal for a fourth season earlier this year, before its third season even premiered, with IFC ordering a whopping 40 episodes for next season.

I recently visited the set of Comedy Bang! Bang! to chat with host Scott Aukerman and bandleader Reggie Watts about season three, why every episode of the show has a snake on it now, and the world of politics.

A lot of people are wondering what's going to be different about the new season. I want to know what's going to be the same.

Scott Aukerman: Well, let me answer your monotone question. [Laughs] Let the record reflect that Bradford has a monotone voice. Let's see, we're exactly the same. We haven't aged. We're stuck in a time loop. We've actually, in fact, regressed and gotten younger, so it's actually not the same. I was lying.

Reggie Watts: Well, it's the same couch. Same platform. Basically the same set.

Same keyboard.

Watts: Yep, same keyboard. Same effects pedals. A few different cables though.

Do you think the audience will stick with the show this season with the new cables?

Aukerman: You know, I wouldn't be surprised. Anything can set them off at this point. "There's two fuckin' different cables in there! I'm out! They sold out."

Watts: "He doesn't understand, man. Why's he using like mainstream cables?"

The show jumped the shark when Reggie got a couple new cables.

Aukerman: I'm hoping this year, everyone will have their own personal jump the shark moments with us and let us know when we did it.

Watts: "What's YOUR jump the shark moment?"

Aukerman: I will tell you what's different. Debbie, who just left IFC and was one of our executives, has a weird fear of snakes. We were not allowed to put snakes into any show because apprently she would get up and leave the room if watching a show that had snakes in it.

Watts: What? That's true?

Aukerman: Mmm-hmm.

Even if it's just snakes on TV?

Aukerman: Yes. So if she would ever see a show that had snakes on it, she would scream and leave the room. She's no longer with IFC, so we're able to put as many snakes in the show as we want. We have new snake freedom … I'm excited now we can have snakes in every single episode. We put a snake in every episode now. It's sort of like "Where's Waldo?" We called the snake "Wal-do," so it's a "Where's Wal-do?" situation.

Watts: Ahhhh. That's what you guys are always talking about. I was always like, "Oh, it's some weird inside joke." It is an inside joke it turns out, but it's also very public.

Aukerman: Now, it's public joke.

Watts: Now it's extra public.

Aukerman: If you see any snake during a show … if you can spot all 20 and take a screengrab, send all 20 screengrabs to me and I will read them and not give a shit.

Watts: That's an Aukerman guarantee.

I think the snakes in every episode are gonna be Debbie's jump the shark moment.

Aukerman: Mmm-hmm. She's no longer gonna watch the show. Debbie, if you're reading this, stop watching the show. Snakes in every episode. I understand she's the only person who reads this site.

Yep. We have one unique visitor, and it's her.

Aukerman: She is very unique though. She's so scared of snakes.

So, you guys are doing 40 episodes next season. What's that transition gonna be like?

Watts: I don't know how it's gonna work mechanically, but I guess we'll figure it out.

Aukerman: We're gonna get tune-ups on the old mechanics.

Watts: [Laughs] Yeah, yeah. Have a massage team on standby.

Aukerman: I mean, it's interesting. Basically, this only takes half the year to do from writing to finishing, so you can do twice as many in the year. The cool thing about it is IFC wanted it to be on every single week. 'Cause right now, with the situation we're in, we do 10 episodes and then we're off for three months, then we do 10 episodes. With 40 next year, we can be on every single Thursday at 10:30, even in reruns. We'll do 10 episodes, have three weeks in between, another 10, so it's like we're consistently on every single week on the network now, which is really cool. People can tune in and see it every single week, even if it's a rerun, but we're always there rather than vanishing for months and months. And we may as well get a bunch of them done before we're too old to get out of the chairs.

Watts: We have one, maybe two years left.

Aukerman: Every single time we do a scene where I have to get up off the ground, it's getting harder and harder.

Watts: [Laughs] That's why you're gonna see a few less on-the-ground scenes.

Aukerman: Basically, we do 10 episodes in May and then we're back in October, and once we're on in October, you're gonna see 50 episodes straight through to the end of next year, so I think it's really cool because the viewers will just get a long, uninterrupted dose of the show.

Was the bigger episode order IFC's idea, or was that something you pitched to them?

Aukerman: Well, IFC wanted to do it because I think once they figured out they could sell ads for it — but more importantly, I think it's a flagship show for them. It's a really important show for them. They like it on the air. Christine Lubrano over at IFC came up with the idea of having it be on the air every single week, rather than going away. I just think it's cool, every Thursday at 10:30, it'll be there. It's good to be on TV that much instead of going away and making people go, "What was that show again?" And then, every time you come back, people have to go, "Oh yeah! That thing that I used to like. Do I still like it now? I don't know."

Do you each have a favorite episode this season?

Watts: I think the time travel episode's going to be really amazing. It's highly technical and kind of maxes out the causality concept.

Aukerman: There's an episode based loosely on Back to the Future and Back to the Future II, and it's really complicated. That one, I think it was fun to shoot.

Watts: I mean, there's definitely some things where you're like [heavy sigh].

Aukerman: You're constantly trying to figure out where you are and which time traveler you are, which I think is really cool. That's one that totally breaks the form of the show. We do a black-and-white episode that's really fun. I get hit on the head, and I imagine I'm back in the 1960s doing an Ed Sullivan-type show. Once I'm there, I realize that Reggie's dad, who Reggie has told me about, got bumped from the show and never became a famous musician. I realize it's my job there to get him on the show, so I go ahead and have Reggie's dad, played by Reggie, on the show so he can become a famous musician. So, Reggie got to play his dad, who's sort of a Buddy Holly turning into a Jimi Hendrix-type guy, which I thought was really interesting. And I sort of Quantum Leap-style play an Ed Sullivan-type variety show host. So that was fun.

I was talking to our director, Ben Berman, when we were shooting the time travel episode. I was like, "Very special episode!" And he said, "Well, they all are." Which is kind of interesting. Every single episode we do, even if it's smaller in scope than the time travel one — our third episode this year is a murder mystery "whodunnit?" where Jason Alexander plays an inspector who comes and tries to figure out who murdered our studio tour guide. That, to us, is just a regular episode. That's actually one of the ones that isn't as complicated as the ones we normally do, but when you see it, it's insanely complicated and unique. It's different. That's sort of what we try to do with the show every year is try to make every episode unique and different so that we're not just going through the motions on one show. We're swinging for the fences every single show.

That's something that seems like it's happened gradually, where with the first season, there were a few episodes like that but now, like you said, most episodes are "very special episodes." How did that change come about?

Aukerman: Well, in the break in between the first season and the second season, we got some notes from IFC about the structure of the show. Some that were super technical (i.e. each show they do now, they do a cold open in every single episode, or each show is now four acts broken up). In addition to that, we also got a note about the storyline episodes that we did in the first season, viewers really liked those and perhaps we could have more continuing storylines over the course of an episode rather than being a little more schizophrenic, "sketch, sketch, sketch, sketch, sketch." With the second season, we started to do that, which I actually really like. I think they're super fun. Stuff like that, or we have an episode where an earthquake happens and the studio collapses and we're trapped inside of it and we're running out of air. That again is just a normal episode for us. But having a storyline like that every single episode is really fun for us.

You mentioned last year that Reggie's one suggestion last season was the he wanted to play a cop on the show. Reggie, did you have anything like that this season?

Watts: I basically said, "I like piloting spaceships."

Aukerman: Which you got to do. The one we're doing today, that was your idea.

Watts: Oh yeah, just one where I'm continually standing in a different place on the set. So I'm just behind the couch or on the couch or way far away. I just thought it would be stupid to just have a shot of the one-guest set-up where they're having the interview and you can see my torso and my equipment behind the person.

Aukerman: The time travel episode basically came about because our director, Ben Berman — we were having a meeting about the first 10 episodes we'd written, and he was kind of bummed like, "We don't have anything as complicated as the Sliding Doors episode we had last year." And Neil Campbell, our head writer and executive producer, we were in the meeting and were kind of like, "Well, I guess we can do a time travel episode where it starts at the end of the show and I got something wrong in the show and we travel back in time to try to fix it and it keeps messing everything up in the show." As we were saying it, we just sort of beat it out right in front of him. He was like, "That sounds good!" So we just ended up doing that. Sometimes, it's really fun just to come up with ideas of "What can you possibly do to push yourselves?"

Do you have any guests that you haven't been able to get on the show yet who you'd love to have on?

Aukerman: For me, David Letterman has always been the guest that I would love to have on the show. I would love to have him if he has more time. He's probably retiring because he wants to do less TV, but I would love to him on.

Watts: I always wanted Ian McKellen or Patrick Stewart.

Aukerman: Any of the X-Men. Actually, we do have Havok on this year. He plays the young me.

Watts: [Michael] Fassbender would be a great person.

Aukerman: That's it? Realy just three people?

Watts: Just three people. I know there's more.

Aukerman: Martin Short, he's my number one guy that I would love to have on. My goal with this show is actually to have every single comedian that was in a sketch group that inspired me or is great now or is a young UCB person who has promise … I'm slowly trying to get through everybody. This year, we had two more of the Kids in the Hall on.

Have you had all five on yet?

Aukerman: No, we've had three of the five. Last year, we had Dave Foley. This year, we have Kevin McDonald and Bruce McCulloch. I would love to get Scott [Thompson] and Mark [McKinney] on. It's sort of fun for me to be able to check off people. Like, "Oh good, I got that person because they mean so much to me." Dave Thomas from SCTV has been on three times now and he's so great, but at this point he still is the only SCTV person who has been on the show. I would love to have other people from there. Any of the Monty Python guys. But yeah, it's fun to get these people from shows that you really love. It's like being a collector in a way. It's like being a comic book collector for comedians, just being able to say, "This person was on the show" is like super…

Watts: It's like a talk show in that way.

Aukerman: In one way, it's like a talk show, but in no other way.

Watts: [Laughs] It's the only way.

That Paul Reubens episode last season was so cool to see since his influence is all over the show.

Aukerman: Yeah, it was really amazing. First of all, to have him say he thought the show was really funny in a private email to me was a big thrill, but just to have him agreeing to be on something, almost saying "I approve of this show," is really great.

Would you ever try to get Barack Obama on, now that you guys are—

Aukerman: Now that we're buds, best buds?

Watts: You played your Barack Obama card already.

Aukerman: I may have. I should just take the footage from Between Two Ferns and redub it with a really bad Barack Obama impersonator. [Obama voice] "Hello Scott." Yeah, Barack, if you're reading this, I'm sure you're Googling your name. A lot probably comes up for you, every single day. I would love to have you make a cameo on the show. I wouldn't make you sit in the chair if you didn't want to, but I would love to have you. Also, Hillary and whoever's on the other side of the aisle. I don't want to discount Republicans. If you're the Republican nominee… Ted Cruz. I would love to have Ted Cruz on.

Watts: What about Chuck Hagel?

Aukerman: Yeah. I would love to do some serious political discussion. That's what the show's missing. We actually, last year did a banter bit about tort reform, but neither of us knew really what it was. I did a little bit of research. Seth Reiss, who's now on the Seth Meyers show wrote it, but to whittle it down, just to edit it, I had to do research on tort reform just to figure out what it was so I wasn't cutting out something that was germane to the discussion. But somehow, that sparked some crazy political people to write to me on Twitter talking about how off-base I was on tort reform. The joke is just us having a serious discussion instead of the usual stupid banter we have, but somehow, that triggered some people. Some people out there are really crazy about politics, it seems.

I liked seeing you on Fox News last year. That was fun.

Aukerman: Yeah, I didn't even know what that show was. They were all pretty cool there. I like them. I didn't know what it was. Derrick Beckles, before the show, was like, "I play this really stupid liberal character." I was like, "Why do you get to play a character? I want to play a character." So I just played a dumb Republican character, but I didn't know you could do that on that show. Someone asked me to do it, I was like, "Yeah, sure. I'll talk about whatever."

Watts: What was the show?

Aukerman: Red Eye on Fox News. I did an episode where I was just playing super Republican and argumentative. It was fun for me and they liked it and want to have me back.

That's cool that stuff like that is happening on Fox News.

Aukerman: Yeah, it's on so late, I think, and they're all comedy fans there. It's an interesting show. I didn't really know about it, but I like it.

 

New episodes of Comedy Bang! Bang! air every Thursday at 10:30 on IFC.