Some shows are so eccentric, so surprisingly weird, that they just work. Something about the cast’s chemistry, the passionate writing, and the kind of guest stars that they attract are endearing enough that they end up as something truly greater than the sum of their parts.
IFC’s “Comedy Bang! Bang!” is one of those shows.
Adapted from the successful and downright hilarious improv podcast of the same name, “Comedy Bang! Bang!” is styled after late night shows old and new, a kind of demented David Letterman. To say that the show, now in its second season, has a formula would be to undersell the show in its entirety, but the spine of the show is this: host and creator Scott Aukerman and his “bandleader,” comedian and musician Reggie Watts, sit down with guests ranging from celebrities to ridiculous characters played by incredibly talented comedians. They’ve had everyone from Zoe Saldana to Zach Galifianakis to vampire chef Emiril Lugosi (played by Jason Mantzoukas of “The League”).
And from there, everything goes to hell in the best way possible.
Amongst the ridiculous chatter with guests, Aukerman throws side-stories, sketches, and games into the mix. In one episode, a “surprise prize” bit evolves into a Law and Order parody. In another, guests Galifianakis, Danny Mahoney (played by Andrew Daly), and pilot Chet Barnsider (played by Will Forte) play a round of “What’s In The Box?” The first answer: a gun.
These games and sketches ultimately show off Aukerman’s ridiculous sense of humor, and some of the stronger episodes let the jokes carry throughout the span of the show’s 30-minute runtime. In a recent episode, Reggie Watts goes through a “Cop Exchange Program,” meaning that the excellently talented John Carroll Lynch (of “Fargo” and “Zodiac” fame) takes over his duties with a dry, deadpan stare. Watts, on the other hand, goes through the trials and tribulations of a cop. It is this kind of comedic freedom that makes “Comedy Bang! Bang!” such a breakout hit, and so fresh week to week.
That being said, even the most conventional moments of the show have their merits. Aukerman has a fascinating chemistry with his guests, even when they have their confrontational “stare-offs” (see season 1’s Amy Poehler episode for a great example). He has a way of bringing out the inner comedy chops of guests who might not even have a funnybone to begin with—specifically, the Zoe Saldana episode (in part bolstered by Paul F. Tompkin’s brilliant Garry Marshall impression) is one of the show’s strongest, even though Saldana has a background in drama and action. It is incredible to see the kind of guests that Aukerman can whip into shape, whether more traditional comedy guests like Ed Helms (whose “Sound Effects CD” bit is a gut-buster) or an actress like Anna Kendrick, who doesn’t necessarily seem like the perfect fit for the show—but shines anyway.
“Comedy Bang! Bang!” is absolutely not for everyone. Multiple attempts to convert my friends to fans of the Aukerman ways have failed miserably, and I’m absolutely sure that they’ve left wondering about my mental health. Perhaps other venues—the podcast or upcoming live shows in a city near me—will hook them in the same way the show has me. But it’s the kind of show you have to see to believe, and if it’s for you, it’ll grab you within the first five minutes and never let go.