The First-Ever Episode of ‘Comedy Death-Ray’ Is an Embryonic Look at a Future Comedy Institution
Pod-Canon is an ongoing tribute to the greatest individual comedy-related podcast episodes of all time.
Comedy Bang Bang recently celebrated its 500th episode with a star-studded extravaganza befitting such an auspicious milestone. Over the course of 500 episodes, host Scott Aukerman and his guests have created a sprawling universe of in-jokes, running jokes, crazy characters and beloved guests who are so essential to the show that they’re more like family.
During that duration, Comedy Bang Bang has left radio, changed its name (it began life as Comedy Death-Ray), spawned a cult classic faux-talk show of the same name that enjoyed five robust seasons on IFC, inspired a number of live tours with Aukerman joined by essential collaborators like Lauren Lapkus and Paul F. Tompkins, and witnessed the death of beloved friends and fixtures like Harris Wittels.
Yes, Comedy Bang Bang has come a long way over the course of the last eight years, so I thought it would be interesting to hop inside the old Wayback machine and listen to the first-ever episode, which debuted a universe ago on May 1st, 2009. A man named Barack Hussein Obamacare inspired a nation with his stirring rhetoric and striking good looks. Teens flocked to a new social media site called Twitter, and a rancid orange-colored ghoul Donald Trump occupied his rightful place in society as the host of a sleazy reality competition called The Apprentice.
Yes, it was a more innocent era, where the worst we had to worry about was the death of superstar Danny Gans, who died the morning the podcast was recorded, leading cohost Rob Huebel to call for a moment of silence for the Vegas fixture and for Aukerman to very dryly point out that silence (whether in honor of the dead or otherwise) does not generally make for good radio.
Comedy Death-Ray gets off to an adorably awkward start, with Soulja Boy’s “Turn My Swag On” followed by the audibly nervous host thanking Soulja Boy for writing and recording the Comedy Death-Ray theme song. Aukerman is funny off the bat, but it’s a dry, low-energy, arch, absurdist kind of funny.
Speaking of low-energy, co-host Huebel concedes that he’s painfully hungover after attending a Clinton Foundation event the night before, which betrays how little he had invested in his appearance on some goofy internet radio/podcast thing that was just starting up.
Aukerman stumblingly announces early on that Comedy Death-Ray will be “focusing on comedy and comedic personas,” which suggests Aukerman had only a vague sense of what he wanted to do going in. In this earliest incarnation of the show, Aukerman played a fair amount of comedy music, including Dragon Boy Suede (AKA Howard Kremer, who would eventually have his own Earwolf podcast with Scott’s wife Kulap), New Wave goof R.O. Mance (whose deeply problematic “Ladyboy” gets a spin) and Cracked Out performing a song that is literally just numbers and counting.
A call from Doug Benson where he’ll review the new Wolverine spin-off is teased throughout the episode and Huebel and Aukerman give listeners relationship advice via Twitter, but the first episode of the podcast that would eventually morph into Comedy Bang Bang is devoted primarily to funny people, whose affection for each other is both palpable and infectious, shooting the shit and making each other laugh.
Thomas Lennon tells tales of decadence and rock star excess from The State’s historic run and, in the podcast’s big announcement, breaks the news that the cult TV series will finally be released on DVD. Huebel talks shitting himself during the live, 24-hour Human Giant marathon on MTV and says, of Human Giant’s future, “We’ve got solo projects and we’re all getting addicted to heroin.”
The gents talk about what a delightful human being future Comedy Bang Bang sidekick/band-leader “Weird Al” Yankovic is and discuss a singularly depressing Back to the Future convention where Aukerman ran into trouble for trying to take a picture of Rip Taylor without buying a headshot.
The core of Comedy Bang Bang was present in its debut—Aukerman riffing with his comedy friends, creating sometimes awkward, sometimes transcendently silly comedy in the moment—even if it would take some time for the podcast to find itself and its footing. I doubt anyone listening to this first episode could have imagined how far the podcast would go, and what a huge role it would play in defining contemporary comedy, particularly where podcasts are involved.
The podcast that would become Comedy Bang Bang would go on to accomplish great things, but it got off to a humble, if enormously ingratiating and quietly funny start.
Nathan Rabin is a father, the author of 5 books, a columnist and the proprietor, owner, Editor-in-Chief and sole writer for Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place, which can be found at nathanrabin.com.