There are a few things Scott Aukerman’s IFC show Comedy Bang! Bang! has in common with fellow late-night talk shows: The host, Aukerman, is a white male, there’s a couch, and it features celebrity guests. Other than the those surface-level characteristics, the show’s look, feel, and format are wildly different than the run-of-the-mill interview-based talk show.
“It’s interesting because a lot of times when people describe the show they’ll say it’s a parody of talk shows. Or I even say it sometimes: It’s a fake talk show,” he told Fast Company.
That’s not exactly an incorrect way to describe the show, which teeters between parody and absurdity. Here’s Co.Create’s Joe Berkowitz with a much better explanation of the Comedy Bang Bang experience than I could ever give: “Aukerman has taken the delirious deconstructionism of his former gig, Mr. Show, suffused it with the playful, pretend-time feel of Peewee’s Playhouse, and filtered it all through the prism of talk shows.”
Despite its hard-to-pin-down genre, Aukerman insists his weird world is more authentic than the competition. “In a lot of ways it’s more real than the other talk shows. We don’t know what we’re going to be talking about.” Much of the show is improvised. The interviews are more like a conversation than the canned, sound bite-edited stories celebrities recite on broadcast TV. Here’s how he ensures the show stays genuine:
“It’s a very collaborative show,” Aukerman said. “I want a lot of the questions to be a surprise. I want the guests to add as much as I’m giving with it.” When the second guest comes out, he encourages the first guest to stay involved, instead of sliding down the couch and shutting up, which often happens during talk shows.
“If you ever have anything to say, don’t be scared just blurt it out say it,” Aukerman tells the people who come on his show. “I encourage all the guests to almost be my cohost. They have so much fun and they get involved and it’s not as boring as doing another stilted interview.”
Not all of Comedy Bang Bang‘s guests are comedians, yet Aukerman asks everyone to take on the roll of improv performer. “It’s an interesting challenge for a lot of guests,” he said. He had Steven Yeun from The Walking Dead on, for example. “It was difficult because as an actor he’s trained to always tell the truth” about his real-life experiences, said Aukerman, but comedy benefits from inventing stories. So he taught Yuen the first rule of improv: Always say yes.
So when he asked Yuen how much of the scripted zombie thriller is improvised, he had to say yes, which is obviously a lie, but led to a much more absurd discussion than if he would have shut down the line of thinking with the truth.
“You never get a sketch right right away,” Aukerman says. He sometimes write 14 different drafts for a given segment. The key, he says, is writing a lot and writing fast. “Don’t spend hours and hours laboring over it. If you write something quickly knowing you’re going to do five, six, 10 more drafts of it, you feel less like you own the material.” It’s a lot easier to kill those darlings.
At the same time, Aukerman has his writers take breaks. Sometimes he holds drawing contests or has his staff run around the building. “You need to sort of jiggle your brain like it’s a toilet handle,” he said.
Unlike his contemporaries, Aukerman doesn’t ask his guests about their current projects. He does that partly to inspire original conversations, but it also makes the show less ephemeral. “We want people to be able to watch the show six months later, when it goes on Netflix,” he says. “We really want to be something that people watch years from now and can enjoy.”