The Incredible Chemistry of ‘Comedy Bang Bang’
For fans of podcasts, since 2009 Scott Aukerman’s Comedy Bang Bang has been at the center of the auditory comedy universe. And while there have been many offshoots and knockoffs of its brand of entertainment, it has never been replicated.
Why is that? With so many podcasts to listen to (amongst many, many other entertainment options), why is Comedy Bang Bang such a unique and relevant source of fun and absurdity?
There are many reasons, none the least of which are the incredible improvisational talents of many of the guests. But the one that holds the core of the show and the secret to its success is the incredible relationships Aukerman has with his frequent collaborators. And, even more than that, the specific and unique chemistry he has with so many different people allows the show to be completely different and yet familiar all at once.
Comedy is certainly about jokes, which CBB has plenty of, but the truly enduring comedic programs are as much about relationships as anything else, and it is in this area where the show presents its true genius. Ask yourself this question — with whom does Aukerman have the best chemistry? You could come up with many different answers, and have a convincing argument for each.
Paul F. Tompkins
Tompkins, the Babe Ruth of podcasting, has an incredible rapport with Aukerman, which makes sense since he has over twice as many appearances as any other guest. He is an outlier in some ways from the others on this list, in that he rarely appears as himself outside of the annual year-ending “Best of” episodes. And yet, despite the myriad characters he plays, the underlying sense of camaraderie always shines through.
With so many episodes together, Tompkins and Aukerman have a lot of familiar ground to cover, and the pair have an impressive, bordering on savant-like, ability to keep track of an incredible amount of storylines, inside jokes, and references. As a listener, it adds a layer of creative tension as you wait to see if they will be able to keep track of a particular narrative thread from the past (knowing full well a wealth of internet commenters will be certain to let them know if they misstep at any point), but they pull it off flawlessly.
More than with most guests (save another person we’ll get to in a minute), Aukerman and Tompkins will ride a bit until the bitter end (their obsession with the Star Wars cantina music comes to mind), which is the wrong hands would seem interminable, but because they are so committed it becomes a joy.
The pair are also nothing short of fearless. Listen to them start down the path of creating a mnemonic device in the first episode featuring Bobby Moynihan’s Fourvel character, “Time Bobby” (starting around 1:50).
Lesser comedians would immediately abandon this premise, given the degree of difficulty of trying to call back to it later. But they plunge ahead with it unfazed, with hilarious results.
Best recurring joke: Nearly every Tompkins character is a treasure, but repeating “Cake Boss” any time someone says his name somehow never gets old.
Best episode: It’s almost impossible to sift through the hundreds of hours of greatness to come up with one individual selection, but the aforementioned “Time Bobby” episode is hilarious insanity from start to finish.
Jason Mantzoukas, aka, Jeffrey Characterwheaties, is a frequent co-host and crowd favorite. His episodes typically take on an aggressively macho vibe, and often delve into sexual topics (we’re all still awaiting the debut of his podcast “Talkin’ Tang”).
One recurring feature of their relationship is Aukerman’s predilection for telling, shall we say, terrible jokes. He does this ironically — he knows they are bad and it’s part of the fun. Mantzoukas, for his part, refuses to play along, and in fact will often hector Aukerman for subjecting the audience to such foolishness. In general, though Mantzoukas is a wonderful improviser, he will often go against the grain and break the fourth wall to call out when the show has become an absurdity — which it does constantly.
Best recurring joke: So many to choose from, but the title-holder has to be the birth of “Hey Nongman” from episode 356.
Best episode: You could choose any number of them since Mantzoukas and Aukerman play off each other so well, but for my money one of the finest moments in the intervention the two do for Andy Daly, who constantly seems to play depressed characters with suicidal tendencies. Suffice to say, suicide has rarely been so funny.
Scott has only appeared on CBB proper 10 times, but the two Scotts established such a unique dynamic it soon led to a separate stand-alone podcast, U Talking U2 To Me, detailing their love of (you guessed it) U2. If you only know (Adam) Scott from his many acting roles, you’d never know his talents for improvisation, but they come alive when matched with his Scott counterpart (Scotterpart?). Topics rarely hold when the two are together, as each seizes on any opportunity to riff on something the other said, giving their conversations an almost jazz-like rhythm.
Best recurring joke: The podcasts-within-a-podcast premise used in U Talking U2 To Me is a gift that keeps on giving.
Best episode: Scott worked on Parks and Recreation for several years alongside Chelsea Peretti and Harris Wittels, and they joined forces with Aukerman for a set of some of the most beloved episodes in show history. For my money, “Farts and Procreation I” will always rise above the rest.
Schwartz, aka Benny Schwaz, has appeared 19 times on Comedy Bang Bang, mostly in the traditional guest/character episode format. That wasn’t enough to contain the silliness of the Aukerman-Schwartz dynamic, and so for the past few years they’ve broken out of the traditional structure for the (in)famous Solo Bolo series, which has provided the two essentially a blank canvas to be as silly and absurd as possible.
Aukerman is a fan of music and singing, and while he indulges a bit with a guest like Tompkins, when with Schwartz it ratchets up a notch or hundred. It’s as if they started the Solo Bolo series as a way to indulge their singing jones without any interruptions. In fact, that’s almost certainly why they did it.
Aukerman has a deep, abiding love of silliness. Mantzoukas will typically reject those forays into absurdity, and though Tompkins plays along, he will just as often joyfully point out the ridiculousness of a particular bit or riff. With Schwartz though, there is nothing but support, as evidenced by their frequent scene-ending phrase “And…ten more minutes.”
Best recurring joke: Aukerman consistently getting the name of Schwartz’s Showtime series House of Lies wrong never fails to get a laugh.
Best episode: Some have a love/hate relationship with the Solo Bolos, but all joking a salad, the second installation “Solo Bolo: Dos Lo” is the best of the three so far.
Wittels was a masterful comedian and a true original. And yet as funny as he was (Wittels died tragically in 2015), his interplay with Aukerman always smacked of a younger brother trying to impress his skeptical older one.
This was readily apparent in Wittels’ amazing “Foam Corner” segments, where he’d trot out his not-ready-for-prime-time material for his ever-disappointed host. Aukerman loved to needle the always-chillin’ but still occasionally angry Wittels, and knew how to press his buttons to great comedic effect.
Wittels is another guest whose connection with Aukerman spawned a different stand-alone podcast, in their case the hilarious trip through the cosmos that was Analyze Phish. It’s hard to talk about Wittels without acknowledging the tragic nature of his passing, and it’s difficult at times to listen back to some of their various collaborations given the very casual nature in which his drug use is referenced. However, particularly in Analyze Phish, you really felt like you got a chance to know them on a personal level, and now that he’s gone those episodes stand as a legacy to his comedic sensibilities.
Best recurring joke: Harris’s Foam Corner.
Best episode: Farts and Pro I was already picked for Adam Scott, so I’ll choose Farts and Pro II for Wittels, if for no other reason than the hilarity of his character Rodney Ogg, aka Rod Ogg.
With Comedy Bang Bang several years into a television run as well, one wonders how much longer Aukerman can sustain the energy, let alone the time, needed to create a bi-weekly podcast. Yet with so many tremendous partnerships with those on this list and more (Gillian Jacobs, Lauren Lapkus, and Thomas Middleditch come to mind), it almost seems like asking someone how much longer they plan on talking to their mother or children.
Still, all good things must come to an end, and while hopefully the show goes on a lot longer, let’s just say about the legacy it has already established — it’s been a real treat.