Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
Comedy Bang Bang, IFC’s surrealist take on the talk show, is a magical place. It’s where animated creatures can join host Scott Aukerman and bandleader Reggie Watts in hectoring Rashida Jones into eating a bug, musical numbers about sparing bad little boys from getting spanked is a typical occurrence, and movie stars and stabby orphans get equal space on the couch.
Inspired by the long-running podcast of the same name, also hosted by Aukerman, the show begins its 20-episode third season tonight at 10:30 ET/PT, with “Patton Oswalt Wears a Black Blazer and Dress Shoes,” featuring Oswalt, Saturday Night Live cast member Vanessa Bayer and more. Upcoming guests include podcast regulars like Paul F. Tompkins and James Adomian, plus Craig Robinson, Jenna Fischer and Fred Armisen.
Spinoff Online spoke with Aukerman about the new season, the Marvel 616/Ultimate Universe dynamic he sees between the podcast and TV show, the difficulty in translating fan-favorite podcast character Marissa Wompler (Playing House star Jessica St. Clair) into live-action, his favorite current comic series and his apprehension in seeing The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
Spinoff Online: Scott, this is the third time around for the Comedy Bang Bang TV show — what has you specifically excited about this new season?
Scott Aukerman: We sort of ran out of reexamining or deconstructing talk show tropes after the first season, so we started doing more plots and narrative structures with the show. This season, we’re really just going crazy with it — we’re doing major theme shows, and almost every episode is a “very special episode.” [Laughs] You know those episodes of Community where they’ll do a G.I. Joe cartoon, or paintball? Every single episode of our show is like that. This year we’re doing a 1960s black-and-white episode, we’re doing a time-travel episode, we’re doing a murder-mystery episode, an episode based on the movie The Last Starfighter. We’re doing our series finale as our fifth episode. I think every single time people watch the show, they don’t know what to expect, and they’re going to be delighted by this crazy thing that’s happening that they didn’t know was coming.
In Season 2, it seemed even clearer that the TV show and the podcast had become very different things, and it sounds like that evolution is continuing even further. Do you see them as fairly separate things in your mind at this point?
I kind of view it as, like, you have the regular Marvel “616” universe, and you have the Ultimate Universe. They have the same kind of people in them, but they have very different executions, and anything can happen in the separate universes. Each one has to exist on its own. It’s why I tell all my guests when they entering on the couch, “Pretend like you don’t know me.” So even if it’s someone like Patton Oswalt, who I’ve known for almost 20 years at this point, I say, “Let’s say, ‘Nice to meet you,’ and pretend you don’t know me, because in this universe, we don’t know each other.” In this universe, the Scott Aukerman character, who’s a talk show host, has never met this person, because they’ve never been on the show before. He only meets celebrities when they’re on the show.
I think it’s important for them to be totally different, because they are two totally different things. One is an audio podcast, and one is a visual TV show, so they should be done in two totally different executions. If I was just doing a version of the podcast that was videotaped, I think it would be a little boring to watch — the fans of the podcast would maybe watch, but it wouldn’t really get any kind of traction outside of that. What I really like about doing the TV show and the podcast is that I hear a lot of people who have started watching the TV show on Netflix, they discover that we have a podcast out there, and they go, “Oh, my gosh, there are 300 episodes of this podcast that I now get to catch up on, this is amazing. I had no idea this universe existed.” And vice versa — people can hear on the podcast about how the show’s coming, and when it comes out. So it really feeds into each other nicely.
The 616 vs. Ultimate Universe is an apt comparison, because much like Peter Parker is dead in the Ultimate Universe, it looks like Lil’ Gary might be dead in the CBB TV show universe after his appearance in that Season 1 episode.
There are a lot of things in the first season that were little nods to the podcast that I was trying to throw in, saying to myself, “People will love this!” We have Harris Wittels on the phone doing a very “Foam Corner”-type joke. I just kind of expected fans to realize that the TV show had to be done very differently. I guess I didn’t go out there and tell people that was going to happen as much as maybe I should have — I didn’t set the table all that properly and let everyone know, “Hey, the TV show is going to be a very different thing. It’s going to be more of a sketch show.” So people weren’t really satisfied with those types of nods for the podcast — they were like, “Why isn’t it more like the podcast?” But once we really fell into a groove with the second season, people saw, “Oh, they’re two totally different things, and I can enjoy them both, and they don’t have to be the same thing.
But even in Season 2, we saw some of the podcast characters in live-action for the first time, like Fourvel and Dalton Wilcox. Are any making their debut in Season 3?
I think that someone may utter the phrase “Hail Satan” on the show this year. We’re really trying to crack Marissa Wompler — Jessica and I have been talking about it. We just can’t really figure it out. In the same way as Lil’ Gary, it’s really hard to have a visual representation of what Marissa Wompler is on the TV show. [Laughs] Jessica is not a 16-year-old girl herself, so it’s difficult to figure out how to do it. But if there’s a way that we can do it — the Calvins twins [played by Taran Killam and Paul Brittain] are on the show this year, on the third episode. I’m really excited about that, and they utter their famous catchphrase, “You gotta laugh.” But the one thing that we couldn’t achieve with them was making them 4 feet tall, like a jockey — we had already done it with Fourvel, and we didn’t want to repeat ourselves with that.
There are certain things that you can do on a podcast, because it’s all audio and you can use your imagination, that you just can’t do on the TV show. So my job when I’m doing the TV show is to look at it with fresh eyes and say, “Is this something that could be on the TV show, does it make sense being on this talk show format?” And if not, maybe we don’t end up using it. But luckily there’s been enough stuff that can kind of crossover, and please fans of the podcast.
Marissa Wompler must be a challenge for not only being a 16-year-old girl, but also her visual description becoming more and more absurd with every appearance.
I think she has super-hairy nipples at this point, too? I can’t keep track of it. Jess keeps track of it. It would be very difficult to do in anything that’s not a cartoon.
One thing that’s notable about the TV show in specific is there are guests you’d expect to fit in very well, like Patton Oswalt, but then also the folks you wouldn’t necessarily expect to see on a show like this — last season, Clark Gregg, Zoe Saldana and Jessica Alba all guest-starred. How fun has it been working with those types of actors known for more straight performances, and bringing them into the Comedy Bang Bang insanity?
It’s cool. I think that’s one way that people will get excited about checking out the show. In the same way you watch SNL and you say, “Ooh, what is Andrew Garfield going to do this week?” [Laughs] Maybe there are not a lot of people who say that.
In the same way that happens on SNL, I think it’ll be exciting for people to say, “What is Wayne Coyne going to do in this situation, when he sits down to be interviewed? How are they going to make that funny?” Or skateboarder Tony Hawk? We have a lot of outside-the-box guests who aren’t just comedians this year, and that’s really exciting for me. First of all, it lets us do different types of stuff with them — we got to do all of our skateboard sketches that had been piling up. [Laughs]
At the same time, I love having comedians on, because it’s just so much easier, in a way. I can have Fred Armisen on the show, and he’s just being so hilarious, and it kind of takes the pressure off of me to carry the interview. I really like the variety of people that we have on the show this season.
Hadn’t heard that Wayne Coyne would be on this season.
Yeah, he’s on our special Halloween show. Covered in blood.
And Jenny Lewis is on this season, too.
Yeah, I got her to act for the first time since her days as a child actor. She was saying that she was pretty nervous because she hadn’t really done anything like it since her days in like a child improv class growing up, but she’s so funny on it. I was telling her manager after she got out, “You have to get her more into acting,” because she’s really, really funny in it.
Before the TV show started, obviously you had the podcast, but you were working more behind the scenes, primarily as a writer. There were some exceptions — Mr. Show, your Just Shoot Me appearance that we’re all still talking about — but this has been the most on-camera time for you. How much have you enjoyed that, and have you been building a lot of confidence as a performer?
What’s weird is, I started as a performer. I started as an actor. Then when I got into comedy, yeah, I used to write or co-write all the bits that I did, but I really was a performer. And then when I got into Mr. Show, Bob [Odenkirk] and David [Cross] cautioned me — hey, you’re here as a writer for us, you’re not here as a performer, so don’t write your own bits. But even then, they were kind enough to put me on the show as a performer a lot. When the show ended was, I tried to get some things going for myself as a performer — I had a big script deal coming out of Mr. Show where B.J. Porter and I were going to do a sort of Murder, She Wrote-type show together, as a couple of idiots solving murders. It didn’t get off the ground. Then, just the work was easier to get as a writer. It’s easier to get work as a writer, and you’re compensated better as a writer.
So for the next 10 years, I didn’t do a lot of performing, and then I gave up auditioning, because it takes so much time to drive to Santa Monica to audition for a role that you have like a 1 in 100 shot in getting. I just was like, “The odds are not worth the time that you put into it.” But at the same time, I was still always performing — being on my friends’ podcasts, or being in shows when I could; live shows at the UCB. What’s really great about this particular talk show is, I finally get to scratch that itch of being a performer, and do a show that I always wanted to do. But at the same time, when I first started it, I think I had 10 years of not really performing all that much, so I was trying to figure out exactly what I needed to do when I was on camera, and what this particular show was. There was a certain point, I think a third of a way through the second season, I was watching the shows back, going, “You know what? I really need to talk faster.” [Laughs] I was talking to Casey Wilson and Adam Pally about Happy Endings, and they were talking about how quickly they have to speak in order to get that many words in to the show. It’s a lot like doing The West Wing, in a way — you have to say these jokes super-, super-fast to make sure that all of them get into the show.
It’s really been a learning process for me in putting the show together in every way, but in the performing way, I think I’m getting better and better at it, and my character is a little more established now. I can be sort of obnoxious and irritating now, whereas early on in the show I had to set the template of who my character was, and me being a genial host. In the Patton episode, you see I just get kind of super-irritating and obnoxious with him, where I don’t think I could have done that in the show’s infancy.
Let’s talk a little about comics — what books are you currently enjoying?
I have this huge stack of comics that have been pulling up over the last two months while I’ve been finishing season three. I’m literally looking at them right now — it’s so huge and daunting. I crack into them every morning before I go to work, and try to chip away at the stack. This morning I just read Serenity: Leaves on the Wind, I just caught up on that. I’ve really been enjoying Superior Foes of Spider-Man, even though they keep putting fill-in issues in there, which I’m tricked into buying. [Laughs] Not to give the people who are filling in a hard time, because they’re trying their best, but I always kind of go, “Oh, no,” when I open it up and see it’s not the story that I’ve been looking forward to.
I’ve really been loving Daredevil. I think Black Science by Rick Remender, my old pal, is really great. Fables is my absolute favorite of all time, and I’m super-bummed that it’s ending. I tried to write the Fables movie for a couple years, and never got traction on that. I really loved Grant Morrison’s Batman and Action Comics — that was really good, I kind of wish that hadn’t ended. Saga is great. Hawkeye. I probably like the stuff that most people like. I think what’s really cool about Marvel right now is they’re really taking a lot of adventurous risks with their stuff — I was reading Elektra #1 the other day, and said, “If this came out in the ’80s, it would have been hailed as the most ground-breaking comic you’d ever seen, but now it’s just sort of business as usual at Marvel.” They’re doing these weird art books with their superheroes. It’s really kind of exciting.
We talked two years ago, right after the first Andrew Garfield Spider-Man movie came out, and you were not a fan — have you seen Amazing Spider-Man 2?
I’m trying to get it up to go see it. [Laughs] It’s very hard. I have very little time right now, since we just wrapped, and the season is premiering. Finding that half a day to go to the theater and see a movie that you’ve heard is not very good — when you’re a Spider-Man fan, it’s like, you gotta put in the time, you know what I mean? It’s become like a chore for me. Although I’m sure there’s good stuff about it. My friend B.J. Novak is in it — I don’t know exactly what he plays, but I’m looking forward to seeing him. It’s just … I’ve not heard good things.
One more thing: When are we going to get the conclusion to the war between good and evil in the nether realm between life and death with you, Jason Mantzoukas and Andy Daly’s various characters?
Soon. Andy just wrapped up his brilliant TV show, Review, and he didn’t really have time to finish it until that was done. I just kind of want to spring it on people. I think it’ll be coming. I think it’ll be soon. Maybe it’ll be the 300th episode — I don’t know. We’re getting it together right now. Jason and Andy and I have been talking about it a lot.
We’re going to see some sequels to some episodes coming out soon, I think, and people will be excited to see what we do with them.
Scott, is there anything else people should know at this point about Comedy Bang Bang Season 3?
Just that anyone who watches is going to win a brand-new Chrysler LeBaron. So make sure you watch!