Scott Aukerman is a busy man. Yet despite writing, producing and starring in television shows for cable and Netflix, working on a few major awards-show programs, and hosting and appearing on more podcasts than anyone can count, Aukerman was more than happy to chat with Uproxx after a grueling day of press and production.
The season-four finale of Aukerman’s talk show parody Comedy Bang! Bang!, which features the sultry swagger of singer Josh Groban, airs tonight, Dec. 10, at 11 p.m. EST on IFC. It will mark 90 episodes for the cult-comedy hit — an achievement that Aukerman is very excited about. The comedian is also happy about his popular Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast, Chris Hardwick’s work ethic, the improv skills of Kid Cudi, and more. So we asked him about it.
Let’s get right to it.
[Sings.] Let’s get into it! Let’s hammer it all out!
Between podcasts, shows, and your work on the 2015 Emmy Awards, this has been a really busy year for you.
In January we started filming the second half of Comedy Bang! Bang! with Kid Cudi. In between, we paused season four so I could be a part of W/ Bob & David. Not only did I write on the Emmys for Andy Samberg, I also hosted the local Emmys and presented at the Creative Arts Emmys. Now we’re writing Comedy Bang! Bang! season five and I’m producing my wife Kulap Vilaysack’s show, Bajillion Dollar Propertie$, for NBC’s Seeso streaming service. Let’s not forget doing 60 or so episodes of the Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast and a few episodes of U Talkin’ U2 To Me? So yeah, it’s really been an exhausting year. Today I’m at peak exhaustion.
I’m always amazed by multitasking entertainers like yourself and Chris Hardwick. You’re able to accomplish so much while still functioning as a human being.
I think I’m barely functioning as a human being, though I’m inspired by how hard Chris works. Both of us share this sensibility of wanting to work as hard as we can while the opportunities are here. You grow up really wanting to be a part of show business. So much of when you’re first starting out is wishing you could do things, hearing about other people doing things and saying, “Oh I would love to do that!” Auditioning, wanting to be a part of any kind of creative thing and putting your own shows together. It seems like a betrayal, when you first make a little money, to say “You know what? I’m not going to work hard anymore.” You have to keep at it in the trenches. Otherwise, you become a strange hermit who doesn’t know what’s funny anymore.
It’s especially tough on the personal life sometimes. As I say on the show, it’s difficult to “balance work and family.” However, I think it’s rewarding when people really respond to the work. I grew up wanting to be one of those people whose work meant something to someone, in the same way that Monty Python meant something to me. I really wanted to do something that mattered. When I worked on Mr. Show, I felt like I was a part of something that people were really paying attention to. Even though Comedy Bang! Bang! doesn’t have buzz of Broad City or Nathan For You, it really means a lot to a smaller group of people. That’s very gratifying.
Your fans are very passionate.
Anytime I post a picture on Instagram, there will be 50 comments making fake names based on the photo. People annoyed on my behalf will write and ask, “How annoyed do you get when you see that?” Honestly, I never do. It’s incredibly gratifying to me that anyone cares. That something I’ve done has struck a chord with them, and that they enjoy it so much they’re willing to share it with others, is a very cool thing. I don’t take it lightly.
Lots of working comics mention Comedy Bang! Bang! and Comedy Death-Ray as major influences. Your former bandleader, Reggie Watts, is now on The Late Late Show with James Corden. You even helped create a new Emmy Awards category. How does that make you feel?
Ninety percent of what you’re talking about is the fact that really talented people were doing their own thing. I happened to be smart enough to recognize they were talented and say, “Hey come be on my show!” All credit really goes to their talent. Even though Louis C.K. was on the Comedy Death-Ray shows almost every week back when we were doing them from 2002 to 2004, no one would say I broke Louis C.K.
As a producer, I love to find people who really make me laugh. It’s all about figuring out ways to for them to be funny the way they’re funny while showing everyone else. Unlike most TV producers who try to change what people do. As for the podcast, it wouldn’t exist without all the great guests I’ve had on. I don’t think people are tuning in every week just to listen to me talk. It’s really about the guests and helping them shine.
I haphazardly knew Kid Cudi’s music before he took over as bandleader in season four, though I never realized he had comedy chops. He’s fantastic.
Like you, I was mildly familiar with his music, mainly singles like “Day ‘N’ Night.” Then I heard he was interested in being a guest on the show. I really didn’t know what to expect, but he was so magnetic, charismatic and up for anything. He took a stage dive over the back of the couch when we went to commercial. I was just struck by how funny and charming he was. So when we needed a replacement for Reggie, we auditioned a bunch of people. Meanwhile I couldn’t stop thinking about Cudi for the job. I thought it would be cool for him to do it, but since he was already so popular, I didn’t think he would. Luckily we hit the sweet spot, as he really wanted to get into acting and had time to work on the show.
It was definitely a weird acclimation for us both. He had never done comedy before, so I taught him what I could about why things were funny. Meanwhile, he already had the irritating ability — that I don’t have — to make any camera fall in love with him instantly. He improvises a lot in the season finale, and over time has become more comfortable doing more of that with me and the guests.
It’s evident over time that he becomes more comfortable with the show.
What’s weird about it is we shoot them all out of order. So when people say he got more comfortable as the season progresses, I actually know what he shot really early or late during production. Half of it is people getting comfortable with him, which is significant since we thought so much about Reggie’s goodbye and Kid Cudi’s hello. Those to me are the episodes that we were the most careful and particular about.
Cudi’s first episode was not what he expected. We had a conversation about the script before the first day of shooting. He was concerned about the plot because my character wasn’t very accepting of him. I’d done 70 episodes with Reggie and our characters were best friends on the show. His goodbye episode was a tearful one, so I didn’t want my character to jump right in with this new guy. The audience needed a moment to question Cudi’s presence on the show, and I wanted to mirror that. And because my character was such a jerk to Cudi at first, the audience sympathized with him.
I didn’t realize Comedy Bang! Bang! filmed out of order. It’s billed as a talk show parody, so I just assumed you shot one after the other.
We don’t even film episodes all at the same time. The first day Cudi was on set we filmed some hockey stuff in the morning and a zombie skit from his second episode in the afternoon. It seems like it’s happening chronologically, but any time we’re looking across the stage to something like Michael McKean playing Zeus, it’s usually shot on a totally different day from when Stephen Merchant is on the couch. It’s a challenging way to put the show together, but it’s the only way we can do it because there’s no way we’re going to get McKean on the exact same day as Merchant. We couldn’t cast it otherwise.
Sounds like scheduling informs most of the production.
That’s my number-one pain in the ass. Over the years, I’ve joked that the show would be so much fun if it didn’t have guests. The main reason people watch is the guests, but it’s also the hardest thing to do.
Do you involve them in the writing process?
We definitely get them involved. People I know really well, like Zach Galifianakis, will just show up, read the script and do whatever we need them to. Otherwise, most guests (and their representatives) want to see the scripts in advance. Though it’s always really fun when a person shows up with sketch ideas. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Mark Duplass did that, and it was such a blast because they were invested. It never felt like they were just reading a bunch of lines we were forcing down their throats. As for the interviews, their improvised nature invites guests to add as much as I do. It’s definitely a very collaborative experience for them.
Josh Groban is season four’s final guest. He seems like one of those people who’s always game for the kind material Comedy Bang! Bang! put out there.
Josh is a really funny dude, and he’s one of the few repeat guests we’ve had. He was such a pleasure to have the first time, though his audience isn’t necessarily accustomed to seeing him on a show like this. He’s also really appreciative of the writing. Several times when we were filming the finale, Josh pulled me and Neil Campbell aside to thank us for the material and for taking care of him. He’s very generous that way.
So what’s next? You mentioned season five was already in the works.
We’ve written 18 of 20 episodes, and start shooting in January. Otherwise, I’m currently producing my wife’s Seeso show. We’re on day 18 of 40, I believe. Today’s really fun. We have Zach Galifianakis, Lauren Lapkus, and the rest of the Wild Horses on set. The first episode comes out in a month, and the rest arrive some time in the spring. So I’m working on that, as well as trying to make the podcast as good as it can be. We’re taping the Christmas episode today, then Paul F. Tompkins is going to help me with the “best of” episodes. It will be the podcast’s seventh anniversary in May.
The Comedy Bang! Bang! season finale airs Thursday, Dec. 10 at 11 p.m. EST on IFC. Until then, here’s a preview…