Scott Aukerman’s surreal talk show “Comedy Bang! Bang!” would have been impossible to pitch to a network. Lucky for Aukerman, IFC, a network with a sweet tooth for the strange and funny, picked up the show based on the “Bang! Bang!” podcast and let him figure out what it would look like later.
“They already were fans of the podcast and they offered me the show sight unseen without ever talking to me about it and without ever figuring out what it would be,” Aukerman says. “Which is a weird way to make a show. But a great one. I wish more people would do it.”
Fans can get a look at the live version of this inspired oddity Sunday at Royale with guests Paul F. Tompkins and sketch troupe the Birthday Boys.
COMEDY BANG! BANG! LIVE!
“Comedy Bang! Bang!,” which begins its second season Oct. 18, is both cheery and dark, loose and highly stylized. Comedians riff as zany characters. Celebrities are sometimes asked about movies they supposedly worked on that don’t exist, like Zoe Saldana’s “The Carry-Off,” which she describes in great detail. Master musical improviser Reggie Watts provides the soundtrack as one-man-bandleader. In the middle of all that, there might be a sketch parodying “Tron,” or Chris Hardwick might pop up to parody himself as host of something called “Comedy Talk! Talk!”
Aukerman and his writing team looked at other talk shows, from Jay Leno’s to Jerry Springer’s, to figure out how to twist their signature moments. “That’s a lot of what the first season was about,” says Aukerman. “Taking talk show tropes and turning them on their heads. If they have heads. I don’t know. I don’t know if they’re anthropomorphized. The second season, I think what we tried to do was get away from that a little bit and then add more narrative story elements.”
Aukerman built his track record as a writer-performer on “Mr. Show” and as co-creator and director of “Between Two Ferns” on FunnyOrDie.com, a talk show in which host Zach Galifianakis berates his celebrity guests. Aukerman and Tompkins both worked on “Mr. Show,” Bob Odenkirk and David Cross’s groundbreaking HBO sketch comedy show, and Aukerman says his work is grounded in the education he received then.
“Those guys, Bob and David, definitely taught me how to write sketch. They are just masters at it. The way they set up the writers’ room on ‘Mr. Show’ was so collaborative and so amazingly creative,” he says. “That’s the environment I grew up writing in, and it’s something that I’ve tried to keep going on my own show.”
Three of Aukerman’s writers, Michael Hanford, Tim Kalpakis, and Dave Ferguson, are members of The Birthday Boys, whose eponymous sketch show debuts Oct. 18, also on IFC. Odenkirk is executive producer of “The Birthday Boys” and will frequently appear onscreen with them. “They’re just really funny,” says Aukerman, “and they’re influenced by ‘Mr. Show,’ but they’re not exactly like it, and they have their own unique sensibility that we really, really like.”
“The Birthday Boys” on IFC echoes “Mr. Show” in that every episode has a storyline the weaves through the sketches, a reward, they say, for watching the whole show rather than a few sketches online. It can be transgressive and uncomfortable, as in a sketch where two of the members appear basically nude. But they are generally an affable bunch, and there’s plenty of goofy humor, as in a sketch about a man obsessed with the Sandra Bullock movie “Hope Floats” or a satire of sitcom hi-jinx called “Goofy Roofers.”
Birthday Boy Mike Mitchell, a Quincy native, is happy to be debuting material from the upcoming show, which he says is more polished than the group’s Funny
OrDie.com videos or the live show they’ve been performing at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Los Angeles since 2007. “It just feels like the actually quality of being able to put some money and a lot of time into these sketches has been a huge, huge difference,” he says.
Sunday will also mark the first time Mitchell will perform comedy in front of a hometown audience. “A lot of my family is going to be at the show yelling at me and booing me off the stage,” he says. “I plan on taking them all out to Pizzeria Regina after the show.”
Expect some collaboration between Aukerman and The Birthday Boys at Royale. Aukerman says they will be doing “pre-planned material with a little bit of improvisation in there” for the first half of the show. The second half will be a long-form interview with Tompkins, who is playing a different character at every stop on the tour.
When the TV version of “Bang! Bang!” returns for its second season, Aukerman is especially looking forward to an episode featuring Clark Gregg, the Boston native better known as Phil Coulson from “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “The Avengers.” Actors who appear as guests get to avoid the kinds of questions they might get on the talk show circuit and just have fun, something Aukerman thinks Gregg’s appearance illustrates beautifully. “He was nervous at first but, you know, it’s one of my favorite episodes, and he comes off really great,” says Aukerman. “I think it’s just a fantastic way for stars to showcase how much fun they are in person.”
Nick A. Zaino III can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.