In his capacity as the host of Comedy Bang! Bang!—a franchise that started as a stand-up showcase (originally known as Comedy Death-Ray), then became a podcast, and is now an IFC series entering its second season—Scott Aukerman both creates and curates laughs. His appreciation for the form is reflected in the way Comedy Bang! Bang! guest bookings span decades and styles; the TV show’s first-season episode “Elizabeth Banks Wears A Red Dress” put its titular star alongside SCTV’s Dave Thomas, members of The State and Upright Citizens Brigade, and “The Weasel” himself, Pauly Shore. The same wide-ranging tastes were applied to Aukerman’s picks for his personal 24-hour marathon, bringing together some of the Mr. Show alum and Between Two Ferns producer’s biggest influences, some overlooked comic gems, and a handful of late-night TV classics.
AVC: What were you looking for in the movies and the TV episodes that you chose?
Scott Aukerman: First, I started kind of thinking of stuff that inspired Comedy Bang! Bang! Then I started branching out into stuff I’d love to see in a comedy festival. I’ve done a few shows at the Cinefamily here in L.A. where I would show certain comedy movies or movies I thought were under-appreciated—so I’ve done little mini versions of this, but I’ve never done a full 24-hour version. I’d love to do one some day. So it branched out into some of my favorite pieces of comedy, stuff I think has inspired me over the years, and stuff I just think people should see.
AVC: If someone were to actually watch all of these selections in this order, would you suggest they do it in a group?
SA: Oh, yeah. Comedy is really best when watched with other people, and I don’t really understand people who sit at home watching comedy movies on Netflix. [Laughs.] I guess you could study them as a scholar that way, but the best way to experience a comedy movie is in a crowded theater. There are certain movies on this list that exemplify that—where I’ve seen them in a theater with nobody, I’ve seen them at home on a videotape, and I’ve seen them in a crowded room—and it’s when they’re in a crowded room that they get a huge reaction.
12 p.m.: Road To Utopia (1946)
SA: Road To Utopia with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, I believe it’s their fourth or fifth “Road to” movie—I can’t really remember. They made seven or eight and this one was square in the middle—I know that. It’s good to start a film festival with an old thing because it makes you feel like, “Oh, this is what going to the movies used to feel like.” This is, in my opinion, the best “Road to” movie. I’m a huge Bob Hope fan, up until about the late ’50s. I’ve seen so many of his movies up until then and they’re a big influence on me and a big influence on Woody Allen, who is basically just ripping off Bob Hope for his first five or six movies.
This is my favorite “Road to” movie because the jokes in it are really great and they’d really hit their stride by this point. The first “Road to” movie is like a real movie in a way, but at this point, Bob and Bing had really figured out what makes their relationship funny. The other really interesting thing about this one is that it breaks the fourth wall a lot, and it’s extremely metatextual. There’s a narrator in it that’s constantly talking to the audience, Bob is constantly looking into the camera and talking to the audience, the final line is to the audience. At this point they were really popular, so they felt like they could try anything and just be incredibly experimental in it. It’s the most experimental of the “Road to” movies and that’s one reason that I really love it.
AVC: In the ’40s, the only other places you could find that were breaking the fourth wall that often were the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies staffs.
SA: It is a lot like a Looney Tunes cartoon, except in live-action. I don’t know if those guys were conscious of that, because that’s kind of a revolutionary idea. “Let’s do what people are used to in Bugs Bunny cartoons, but just do it with you and me!” People weren’t doing that at the time, and these guys were so beloved and so popular, and they really knew what made their comedy work, and it’s just a funny movie all the way through. Except maybe the narrator isn’t the greatest. [Laughs.] Other than that, it really hits and it has some of the best jokes of their entire oeuvre, if I may be so French. [Laughs.]
1:30 p.m.: Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985)
AVC: And our next movie is also a road movie.
SA: One of my favorite movies of all time. This is one that I screened recently at the Cinefamily—Paul F. Tompkins picked this as his favorite comedy movie, and we showed it to a big audience. It’s such an amazing achievement. Everything in it is so imaginative and fun, and the jokes in it are great, and Paul Reubens’ performance in it is just incredible. What can be construed as a one-note character—and when I saw this at 15, opening day at a theater at about 1:30 p.m., I didn’t know anything about Pee-wee Herman. I’d seen him on the Letterman show for three minutes and thought he was really funny for three minutes. What is funny for three minutes isn’t always funny for 90, and his performance is so varied and interesting and layered that it’s a marvelous achievement, and it still holds up. The crowd [Paul F. Tompkins and I] showed it to was just laughing its asses off. And Pee-wee is such a huge influence on Comedy Bang! Bang!, and that’s one reason I wanted to sort of put it early—and I also think it’s a great afternoon film.
AVC: Do you view the Comedy Bang! Bang! TV show as your way of doing Pee-wee’s Playhouse?
SA: It didn’t start off that way. The Pee-wee-ish kinds of elements were always there, and we wanted to do our take on any kind of show that had a host in it—from Letterman to Jerry Springer to Maury Povich to Mister Rogers to Pee-wee. We’d do a kind of a comedic take on all those ideas: If it was Jerry Springer doing a final monologue, we’d do our take on it where it wouldn’t go exactly the way Jerry Springer would do it.
With the talking furniture and stuff, our director Ben Berman showed me some videos he made where he made inanimate objects move, and I thought they were really fascinating. As the show’s gone on, those elements have become beloved by a new generation of people, and they’re just sort of in there [Laughs.] as Pee-wee-ish elements. It’s definitely inspired by—and maybe crossing the line now into being their actual characters on the show and not being our sardonic takes on what would happen if it was a little bit more fucked up.
AVC: How did you feel approaching your interview with Reubens for the Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast?
SA: It’s the most nervous I’ve ever been doing the show. I did the most research for it—more research than I’ve ever done for anything, including any high school or college paper. I was terrified. It was meeting one of your idols, and when his work has meant so much to you over the years, you don’t want to just do an interview where you’re like “The Chris Farley Show”—where you just talk about how great the person is. You want to actually ask interesting questions that shed light on the person’s career. So I really worked hard on the questions and tried to ask really interesting ones that I thought had not quite been answered before. I had just seen the stage production of The Pee-wee Herman Show, and he gave an hour talk-back after the show where he went around and answered people’s questions. I was fascinated by what a wealth of information that was—that had never been put down before—and how freely he was giving it, so I wanted the opportunity to interview him to get some of that down on tape.
3 p.m.: Caddyshack (1980)
AVC: Are you in the camp that believes Caddyshack is the funniest movie ever made?
SA: I’ve gone back and forth on it. I remember growing up really liking it—it was one of those forbidden movies to me that I wasn’t allowed to watch, so I’d catch bits and pieces of it. I caught it on videotape as a teenager, but the time that really struck me of how funny it is was at the Aspen Comedy Festival back in, I think, ’97. They were showing it in the middle of the day, and with nothing to do we walked into a theater with a big group of people and I left that going, “This is the funniest movie. I can’t believe how great this is.”
What I love about Caddyshack, and not a lot of modern movies do this, is how it’s a pretty even split of all these various comedians who don’t really share a sensibility. Ted Knight is different from Chevy Chase who is totally different from Bill Murray who’s totally different from Rodney Dangerfield, and yet they’re all in a movie together and it just makes sense. It’s not like it’s Chevy Chase’s movie and there’s, you know, cameos by these other guys. Everyone gets a chance to be equally as funny, and it’s this weird mixture of styles that works really, really well. I’ve been sort of obsessed with this idea of recreating a movie like that that would take modern comedians and older comedians and put them together in this strange kind of blender and have it all be a coherent piece.
AVC: How far have you gotten into cracking that particular code?
SA: Not at all. [Laughs.] The great part about our show is that I get to have a lot of my comedic idols on the show doing stuff. For instance, my mother and father on the show are played by Dave Thomas of SCTV and Lynn Marie Stewart, who is Miss Yvonne on Pee-wee’s Playhouse. And, you know, it’s just a great opportunity, to hang out with those guys all day and ask them questions—it’s just so thrilling to me. But there’s definitely something about the structure of Caddyshack that is unique that no one has ever been able to achieve since then.
4:30 p.m.: The Naked Gun: From The Files Of Police Squad! (1988)
AVC: Of all the Zucker Abrahams Zucker movies you could have chosen, why go with The Naked Gun?
SA: This is, probably, the biggest influence on my writing out of all the movies I’ve listed here. I will watch it any time that it’s on—I’ll stop what I’m doing and watch it, and I’ll recognize jokes that I’ve ripped off from it. [Laughs.] I don’t mean I’m literally ripping off jokes, but the style of jokes that are in there. Like, “Oh, that one joke in that one script I wrote is a lot like this joke in terms of how it’s delivered.” [Laughs.]
Again, I saw it on opening day in a huge, huge theater—a place called the Cinedrome in Orange County—with a packed audience, and we were just crying laughing. The part where Leslie Nielsen’s on the ledge and he grabs on to [Laughs.] basically the statue’s erect penis and it breaks off and he stumbles into the woman’s room with what looks like a giant dildo is still one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen in a movie theater.
The fact that they make you care about the character—I’ve seen other stuff that tries to be like The Naked Gun or tries to be as funny as it and have as many jokes as it, but they really make you care about the Frank Drebin character in it, which is kind of stunning. That’s the only reason it works. What’s the Lethal Weapon parody with Emilio Estevez?
AVC: National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon?
SA: Yeah, you don’t care about those people in it, and that’s one reason, to me, that movie is a collection of jokes. But you really do care about Leslie Nielsen and Priscilla Presley in this movie and whether they’re going to get together or not. It’s kind of crazy how well the emotional arcs in that movie track.
AVC: Have you tried to make viewers care that much about the versions of yourselves that you and Reggie Watts play on Comedy Bang! Bang!?
SA: I don’t know if it’s intentional, but I’m relieved that people do. It’s something I’m really surprised by—when I started to send the cuts of this season to the network, that was one of the first notes I got back. They thought the Scott and Reggie characters—if I can call them that [Laughs.]—their relationship this year seems closer in a way. And it’s something I don’t necessarily think we were going for, like, “Hey, let’s trick everyone into thinking we’re friends” or whatever. It’s just something that came about in the show. I was talking to someone earlier who told me that women and kids really like the show way more than they like other comedy shows—that’s a testament to people really caring about our characters for some reason.
6 p.m.: Monty Python And The Holy Grail (1975)
AVC: How old were you when you first saw this movie, and do you think your age at the time has contributed to your continuing to love it as the years go by?
SA: I was 13, I had a girlfriend who said I should watch it and couldn’t believe that I had never heard of it before. She was like one of those “gateway” people that turned me on to a bunch of stuff. She was really into the band X, and she would go see their concerts all the time—she was aghast that I liked Huey Lewis And The News and didn’t know who X was. What 13-year-old girl knows what X is and knows Monty Python And The Holy Grail? It’s pretty crazy.
I used to go over to her house after junior high and hang out with her for a few hours. She showed Monty Python And The Holy Grail to me, and it was really right up my alley at the time and I couldn’t believe how great it was. The Black Knight getting all of his limbs cut off and how gory that is—that’s something we try to ape in our show with all of the comic violence that’s in it. When someone gets their head blown up, to me, the more blood, the better, and it all tracks back to watching this movie when I was 13.
As far as does it hold up for me because I first saw it at 13? I don’t think so. I’ve actually rewatched the Python movies as I’ve gotten older and older, and this one is the one that is most successful to me. Life Of Brian is more of a complete movie probably, but I don’t necessarily like the way it’s shot. And [The] Meaning Of Life doesn’t hold up incredibly well—although the original structure of that movie that they talk about on the DVD commentary sounds really fascinating to me. Eric Idle’s character saying, “You want to know the meaning of life? Come with me.” And then you go down that really long, long thing and then he says “Fuck off!” [Laughs.] That was supposed to be the end of the movie, but they put it in the middle for some reason.
7:30 p.m.: Homage To Steve (1984)
AVC: Was this something that you saw when it was first broadcast?
SA: Homage To Steve was ’84, so I probably actually saw it in ’86—I saw a videotape of it. I went back and forth on what Steve Martin thing to put in. I almost went with The Man With Two Brains, but I didn’t have an extra half hour in the festival. But I think this is a really good one—it’s a good cross-section of what Steve Martin was doing at the time that starts off with a film he made right around the time of The Jerk called “The Absent-Minded Waiter”: It starts off with a kind of mini-Steve Martin film and then a sketch he did with David Letterman and Paul Simon and Henny Youngman and then it’s his stand-up. And his stand-up was such a huge, huge thing for me when I was in high school—it was breaking the form in the same way that the Letterman show was. I don’t know what it was with me about being a teenager and seeing comedians doing things the “wrong” way that was really attractive. Seeing someone fuck with conventions—I was really into that as a teenager. So to hear Steve Martin doing stand up in the “wrong” way and still be incredibly hilarious about it, I instantly became obsessed with it.
8:30 p.m.: The Wrong Guy (1997)
AVC: We’re transitioning now from the more well-known stuff to the more beloved-but-obscure section of the marathon.
SA: I wanted to start the marathon off with stuff people were comfortable with, that people could enjoy because they’re great and they’re well-known—but now I’m testing people a little bit. I’ve seen The Wrong Guy probably about four times in a packed theater, and it absolutely destroys every time. I showed it to an audience recently with Dave Foley and Dave Higgins, and you wouldn’t believe how well it went over. This should have been a hit movie. It is so incredibly funny and the fact that it got buried on DVD is kind of a travesty. It’s just a really phenomenal movie and a movie that kind of sounds like a one-joke premise, but it turns into so many great comic set-pieces.
AVC: Had this received a full-on theatrical release and become a hit, do you think that Dave Foley could have been the next Steve Martin?
SA: I think so. It’s always interesting to think of parallel universes where things like that happen. I mean what would have happened if the Mr. Show movie had come out good? We all thought we were going to be the next Monty Python, doing four or five movies—but it didn’t happen that way, you know? I think the interest in Dave Foley as a movie star was kind of high. I remember talking about The Wrong Guy when I had a movie at DreamWorks—back when it hadn’t come out on DVD yet and it was still in limbo—and the executive at DreamWorks was like, “Are you telling me there’s a Dave Foley movie out there that we could buy?!” He was really into it, and I had him contact [Wrong Guy co-writer and executive producer] Jay Kogen, and nothing ever happened with it. I don’t know why movie executives never took to it and nobody ever wanted to release it—it’s kind of bizarre. It’s so fantastic, and I wish Dave made 20 movies like this.
AVC: What was Dave’s reaction to being in a theater full of people laughing at The Wrong Guy? Did it seem like it was a redemptive experience?
SA: He really did enjoy it—and it’s hard to watch something that you’re really proud of that didn’t make a cultural impact without feeling some regret about it. So I imagine it was a little hard for him, too. I know in the Q&A we did after, there were a lot of conflicting emotions, but he should be really proud of that, and I’m sure he is. Any audience who has seen it has loved it—so, at the very least, it’s making some sort of headway as a cult hit and if I can do anything to contribute to that, I will.
10 p.m.: Clifford
AVC: This is another one that was buried.
SA: I saw it the day it came out, the very first showing, and my friends and I were the only people in the theater. I couldn’t believe it. [Laughs.] This is Martin Short as a kid. “What’s going on here? This place should be packed!” And this is another one I’ve shown in the film festivals recently and it, of course, destroys because Martin Short is one of the funniest people of all time. It just came and went, and I don’t know why. He does such a weird performance in this movie. Now, granted, you have to love Martin Short—and if you don’t love Martin Short I wonder what is wrong with you because he gives so much joy to the world in every frame of everything he does. But it’s a gem and one that people should check out.
AVC: Do you think the performance is a little too intense for some people? Or that moviegoers couldn’t get past the idea of Martin Short—who was in his early 40s at this point—playing an 10-year-old?
SA: Look, it’s got Charles Grodin, who was in the Beethoven movies, which are these nice little movies. Yeah I’m sure it was off-putting to families. It’s a strange, strange performance and an evil performance, but that’s what I love about Martin Short. He’s widely known as one of the nicest guys in Hollywood—I’ve never met him and I’d love to—but there’s a lot of venom in his performances, which I think is so funny for a nice guy to do. It’s a performance that’s kind of contemptuous of kids almost. [Laughs.] It is not nice at all.
11:30 p.m.: Mr. Show With Bob And David, “What To Think” (1995)
12 a.m.: Mr. Show With Bob And David, “The Return Of The Curse Of The Creature’s Ghost” (1997)
AVC: Did your time with the show overlap with either of the episodes?
SA: No, I didn’t want to pick anything I’d actually worked on. “What To Think” is the very first episode I saw them do. I was in the audience for every single episode they ever taped, but “What To Think” was the very first one, and I remember being blown away by it. You know, I remember seeing them do some of these sketches at a live show a few months earlier, so I knew how amazing they were, but to see these guys do it in front of a live audience with TV cameras pointed at them was just fantastic.
And the other one is just my favorite episode of the show of all time. I think the third season is my favorite season out of all of them, and that episode, “The Return Of The Curse Of The Creature’s Ghost,” has the majority of my favorite sketches from the show.
AVC: How did Mr. Show shape your view of sketch comedy? How did it continue to shape that view once you were writing for the show?
SA: I grew up loving David Letterman and Pee-wee Herman, but as far as live performance comedy, all I knew were the Jerry Seinfeld-type comedians of the world, and that’s what I thought live performance comedy was all about. And I didn’t really see a lot of people doing Letterman-esque stuff in live performance until one day, in the same week, I saw an Andy Kaufman special on NBC and I saw the live Mr. Show show. It just kind of hit me like a thunderbolt of like, “Oh, people can actually do weird comedy live” and it was something I really wanted to get into as a profession.
As far as how it changed my writing, those guys taught me everything: how to run a writers’ room, how to be patient with an idea, how much you have to rewrite something to make something good. You know, I still use their method of writing to this day on our show.
AVC: Could you give us any particular insights into that method of writing?
SA: They were running the room as a reaction to how Bob’s Saturday Night Live experience was. On SNL, from what I understand, if you pitch an idea and it goes to the read-through and isn’t used that week, you’re encouraged to never bring it up again. That seems insane to me because SNL throws away just as many sketches as they use on the show. Bob was a little frustrated with that, so we’d always be very patient with ideas, and if there was something about it that was funny, we would constantly rewrite it, much to the chagrin of several of the writers. [Laughs.] The “Everest” sketch that Jay Johnston wrote the first couple of drafts of, there were writers who actively despised it whenever you brought it up, and every time it would get into a read-through, people would groan. But those guys knew there was a funny idea in it, and if it was executed right, that there would be something funny about it. So it was their goal to work on it until we found that perfect execution.
Now is that saying that every single idea that people came to ended up on the show and ended up great? No—there was a ton of stuff that led us down to dead ends. But what was really great about Bob and David is if you came to pitch a sketch and the execution wasn’t exactly right, they’d never say, “No, this isn’t what we want to do.” They’d say, “Why do you think that’s funny?” and have a conversation with you about it, which would often lead to a better execution of it—which is what we do on our show. I try to be patient with the writers and really try to talk about ideas for a longer amount of time than other shows would.
12:30 a.m.: Late Night With David Letterman Fifth Anniversary Special (1987)
AVC: Letterman’s already come up a number of times in this conversation—what is it about him that spoke to you when you first saw Late Night?
SA: First of all, I wanted to start this at 12:30 a.m., which was when his show would start. We’re living in a post-David Letterman world, and a lot of people don’t realize that. The entire United States’ sense of humor is influenced by him, and they don’t even realize it. The fact that he was ironic about everything he said on the show and every sketch was ironic as well, people weren’t used to that. And I wasn’t used to that as a kid. I mean, we’re coming out of the ’70s, where every variety show is cheesily embracing sincerity and you’d have dancers—and why are dancers on a variety show? Because people love dancing. And to have a guy have dancers on shows because shows that have dancers on them suck [Laughs.] is a revolutionary concept as a kid. It just really informed my sense of humor in my teenage years where I didn’t really take anything seriously. It’s such a huge thing. People watching movies that suck because they suck or hate-watching—I don’t know if that exists without Letterman.
AVC: So why this anniversary special specifically?
SA: Well this is one I watched over and over and over. I taped Letterman every single night, and I would usually rewind the tape and re-tape over the previous night’s show with whatever the next night’s show would be, but this is one I kept because it was a special show. And I watched it over and over and over and studied his cadence and his nuances. This one has one of my favorite pieces where he actually answers a viewer mail letter in person. He travels, I believe, to New England because everyone in there has God awful New England accents and he actually goes to her place of work and answers her letter in person.
His show and the amount of ideas in it are revolutionary. They took the writing very seriously on that show, like we do on Comedy Bang! Bang! They wanted to break the form and mess with people’s expectations, and that was so inspiring to me and continues to be inspiring to me. The fact that all of these things are on YouTube now is such a great gift because now I can go back and rediscover all of these things.
1:30 a.m. Late Night With David Letterman, “Christmas With The Lettermans” (1984)
SA: That happened in the “Christmas With The Lettermans”—I rewatched it recently and I was like, “Oh my gosh, they’re doing a bit that’s just like something we would do. That’s so funny because we’ve pitched jokes like this, and I haven’t seen this in 25 years,” but I’m obviously still so inspired by it. It’s such a groundbreaking show and one that I wish was in syndication, but the fact that it’s on YouTube now is so great.
AVC: So this works any time of the year?
SA: Well I was watching it in December because we were about to write our own Christmas special, and I really wanted to see what other Christmas specials did and were doing—so I could stay away from the exact execution of what they did. So I watched it in December, but it’s really funny, and you can watch it year-round. It’s a special episode where he really breaks the form.
AVC: In the wake “Christmas With The Lettermans” and A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift Of All!, what does a Christmas special have to do to truly break the mold?
SA: That’s an interesting question, because we definitely looked at the concept of the family Christmas variety special and realized, “You know what? Too many people are doing that right now.” When I was doing the live show at Upright Citizens Brigade, we were doing those family Christmas specials for our own Christmas specials before Colbert did it, and I felt like that take on it was a little bit of what you’d expect. So we looked to other shows for inspiration. The SCTV Christmas special I watched, and the office party aspect of that was something I was drawn to. But as far as what our Christmas special does, we do a little bit of a lot of different things, but we kind of try to keep in the structure of our own show.
AVC: SCTV is noticeably absent from this lineup. There are some cast members sprinkled about, but no specific SCTV choices.
SA: Yeah I was trying to think of a good episode of SCTV to use, but that show is so great piece by piece that one particular episode didn’t really stand out in my mind. Plus the episodes are so long [Laughs.] that I didn’t think I could afford it the real estate. [Laughs.] But it’s definitely one that people need to revisit.
2:30 a.m.: The Sarah Silverman Program, “Just Breve” (2010)
AVC: What about this particular Sarah Silverman Program episode made you think it was a good representation of the show?
SA: I love this episode mainly because it’s hilarious—but also because it’s very personal to the director Rob Schrab. He loves robots, and this is all about a robot the Brian and Steve characters adopt. And those guys, when they were preparing for it, they were scared about doing such a dramatic episode because they basically have to cry in this episode, but they do such a great job. That whole show was so fantastic and that episode has so much depth that when I was trying to think of which one I’d pick, that’s the one that came to mind.
3 a.m.: Nathan For You, “Gas Station/Caricature Artist” (2013)
AVC: This show was an unlikely candidate for renewal, but it managed to get a second season. With all of the positive notices the first season generated, do you think more people will check out the new episodes?
SA: I hope they do. That’s a really great example of how word of mouth can help a show. If you like something, talk about it and talk loud on Twitter and social media, because networks are paying attention to that now. This particular episode of Nathan For You is the funniest thing that I saw all year. I loved every episode of the show, but this one had me in tears. Because Abso Lutely, the production company that produces my show, also produces Nathan For You, several of our crew got to work on it, so I got to hear stories about how this particular episode came about. And the fact that none of this was really planned and it all got wrapped up in an extremely startling conclusion [Laughs.] is just so insane to me. It’s fantastic and if people haven’t seen this, they really need to check this out.
AVC: Much of the show’s strength is in Nathan Fielder’s constant deadpan—so it’s kind of mind-blowing when the gas station owner gets Nathan to break with that bit about the grandson’s urine.
SA: That’s the thing that finally got him. In this season of Comedy Bang! Bang!, we’re trying to include a little bit more of that in our show. We were a little bit more hard-line in our show about not including breaks and having a more dry tone, but we have such a good time that we’re trying to put in little instances—sometimes in the corner of your eye—of someone breaking and laughing. I think it’s really enjoyable for people, because it shows that we’re having fun. And the fact that you know Nathan is finally laughing makes that really enjoyable.
3:30 a.m.: Wonder Showzen, any episode (2005-06)
SA: There’s one episode in particular that I love but I couldn’t figure out which one it was. It’s the one where, all of a sudden, 32 different things are playing at one time. [Season two’s “Cooperation”—ed.] That’s the one I love, but Wonder Showzen—weirdly enough, I don’t know if enough people would see it, but it’s a big influence on my show. The feeling that people would get—or at least that I had when I watched it—I wanted people to have when they watched my show. Like “I can’t believe this is happening! What am I watching?” And I see people on Twitter saying that about my show, so maybe the more savvy comedy connoisseurs are like, “Yeah, I get it. I can see why he did that.” But there are some people out there I can see their minds being blown when they’re watching my show, and that’s definitely the feeling I got when I watched Wonder Showzen for the first time. It just instantly became one of my favorites, and I couldn’t believe it.
AVC: Comedy Bang! Bang!’s first-season finale, “‘Weird Al’ Yankovic Wears A Hawaiian Shirt,” definitely had that effect. There’s a lot of sensory overload in that one.
SA: And there’s something coming up on this season that is definitely even influenced by the episode of Wonder Showzen I was talking about. When we were doing the first season, the writers and I opened it up and started watching the first episode and were like, “Hey, let’s get inspired” and we kind of turned it off and were like, “Oh, that’s not really what we’re doing.” But at the same time, we think about that show a lot, and it is a big influence on me, so I think I’m more subconsciously influenced by it and want to have Comedy Bang! Bang! have a general feeling that feels sort of like it.
4 a.m.: MacGruber (2010)
AVC: Why don’t you think this one resonated with audiences? People loved the MacGruber character in two-minute bursts; do you think to the general public didn’t like how it translated to feature length?
SA: I don’t know anyone who has actually seen the movie that hasn’t loved it. The problem is getting people to see the movie, and I don’t know why no one went to it—it’s crazy. Every single person I know that has sat down and watched it thinks it’s one of the funniest movies, and they have to make a sequel to it because it’s so beloved. How do you get people to sit down in that audience to see it? If you can’t just do it on the name “MacGruber” and the fact that the character was beloved, how else do you get anyone into that theater? It’s a crazy conundrum, and you can’t even say that people were turned off by the tone of it—because it’s a dirty, dirty movie. But it is so funny, and I love it so much that I just want them to continue making MacGruber movies like they’re James Bond movies. Every other year, a new MacGruber movie comes out.
AVC: Did you schedule it for 4 a.m. because it is so gleefully filthy?
SA: It’s so dirty that you really have to see it late at night, because it’ll wake you up.
AVC: MacGruber is directed by Jorma Taccone of The Lonely Island—their songs have been a fixture of the Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast, and Andy Samberg’s been a guest on a few episodes. How did you first become aware of The Lonely Island guys?
SA: I’d heard about them while I was working on a pilot. The director was like, “Hey, you should take a look at [Lonely Island Fox pilot] Awesometown. I think you’d really like it.” So I’d kind of known about them, and then I’d gone to New York to hang out with Jason Sudeikis and Bill Hader once and wound up singing late-night karaoke in a group that wound up including a lot of the Lonely Island guys. So I wouldn’t say I knew of them, but I just came to their work as a fan.
I liked what they did on SNL—I thought “Lazy Sunday” was fantastic and then when their record came out, I just thought it was the funniest record I’d ever heard. Then I got an opportunity to be the head writer on the MTV Movie Awards that Andy hosted. I’d been asked to do that for maybe 10 years at that point, and I always said “no” because they don’t pay you anything. Not that that’s a reason not to do any job—but it’s widely known that you don’t get paid anything and you get treated like shit, so I always gently turned it down. But the opportunity to work with Andy and Akiva Schaffer was just too good to pass up, and I just wanted to get to know those guys because I was such a big fan and I’m really glad I did. Those guys are really great not just professionally but personally—they’re also the nicest guys. Doing that Between Two Ferns/Lonely Island video was a great chance to hang out with those guys and mix our sensibilities that came out really well.
5:30 a.m.: Stella Shorts 1998-2002 (2002)
SA: I didn’t know David [Wain], but I was playing poker with him one night at a game that I used to play with Jon Hamm and “Tall” Jon Schroeder, who you may have heard of as a writer on The Sarah Silverman Program. [Wain’s] such a nice person, and I didn’t expect that necessarily. I just knew of him, I knew of Wet Hot American Summer. He told me that he would give me a DVD of the Stella shorts the next time I saw him, and I thought, “Oh, yeah that’s the kind of thing someone says when they’re never going to do something.” And he was at the game like two weeks later and he brought it in from the car and was like, “Oh, I’m glad you’re here” and he gave it to me.
That’s where I kind of got to know David’s sensibility because I didn’t know him that well, but I watched those shorts and all three of those guys are so funny and really taking Letterman’s irony to an extreme place. I just became a really big fan. David has now appeared on not only the podcast but the TV show—he was on the podcast with Paul Rudd, and I had just finished the Comedy Bang! Bang! pilot for the TV show and he said, “Oh I’d love to see it. Can you email it to me?” I said “sure,” never expecting him to watch it, and literally 45 minutes after I had emailed him, he wrote me to tell me how much he loved it. And I was like, “Holy shit, this guy I respect so much, he loved it,” and then I would just send him cuts of the show and he’d watch them with his wife and it became one of their favorite things. When someone you respect so much appreciates your work like that—he’s so generous with both his time and his praise—it’s really nice.
AVC: Of the shorts on the DVD, which is your favorite?
SA: I definitely think about the “Searching For Santa” one with Zach Galifianakis a lot. Zach actually plays Santa Claus in our Christmas episode this year and I almost, when I approached Zach to do it, I didn’t want to insult him in a way. Because when you ask one of your friends to play Santa Claus, you’re basically saying you think they’re fat. [Laughs.] So I kind of gingerly brought up the topic and Zach jumped at it and said, “Oh, I have a Santa Claus suit” and was really excited to do it. So I definitely think about that one a lot. Zach as Santa Claus is always funny to me.
7:30 a.m.: Modern Romance (1981)
AVC: Have you tried to get Albert Brooks on Comedy Bang! Bang!?
SA: I would love to, I just don’t know necessarily if it’s a thing he would do. So I don’t know that I’d try too hard. We did show Modern Romance at the CineFamily, and Jeff Garlin introduced it—he knows Albert, and I believe he called up Albert and said, “Hey, do you want to drop by?” and he declined. So I don’t know, it would be a great thrill if he would do it, but I don’t know what events would have to conspire in order for it to happen. I have no idea. I’d be afraid that he’d look at my stupid little show and say, “Well that’s not one of the greatest achievements in comedy like the things I’ve done” and then pass on it.
AVC: What makes Modern Romance stand out from the rest of Brooks’ filmography?
SA: This is just an imminently quotable film. Real Life might be more broad and slightly more funny, but Modern Romance is a really good 7:30 a.m. piece. My friends and I would just quote odd lines from it like, “I got ‘E!’ I got ‘E’! The old stand by.” We would say that over and over and over again, but it’s also one of the only movies I can think of that deals with romantic obsession in a really realistic way. That spoke to me when I was 20 when I first saw it, kind of going through same things he was going through.
9 a.m.: Cabin Boy (1994)
SA: I think I saw it four or five times in the theater the first two weeks it was out. It’s a great movie. Chris Elliott is just the funniest dude—and, being a Letterman obsessive, a movie starring Chris Elliott is going to be one that I’m going to show.
I was watching some other early Letterman—I think it was the “Eighth Anniversary Special”—and the tiniest asides that Chris makes are so funny to me. He’s so sarcastic and so biting. Also, just visually, I love this movie. In a way, the visuals are very striking but they also make you really uncomfortable, and that’s something we try to achieve in our show a lot.
AVC: In this “lineup,” we have Cabin Boy and Clifford and The Wrong Guy and MacGruber—what are some of the other overlooked comedy classics that didn’t make the cut that people should seek out?
SA: There’s certain movies that I’ve gotten obsessed with over the years. There’s one movie that I was obsessed with in the ’90s and it was on cable recently—Once Around with Richard Dreyfuss. His performance in that is almost like the precursor to cringe comedy like The Office, where the character keeps making the wrong choice but in a really funny way. Being an amateur film buff who wanted to get into comedy, I kind of categorized movies like that in my head as like, “What are the movies with the most uncomfortable performances of a guy who doesn’t get it?”—Once Around and The King Of Comedy were the ones that I thought of. So when I saw The Office that was something like, “Oh, yeah that’s exactly what I loved about those movies.”
10:30 a.m.: Step Brothers (2008)
SA: This is one that I’ve only seen once—which is crazy—but I laughed so hard when I saw this movie. I was literally in tears during the sleepwalking section. I think that’s the hardest I’ve laughed at a movie in the movie theater. There’s something so strange about the choices that this movie makes. The mere fact that both of the main characters act exactly like each other—as a person who has made a living as a Hollywood screenwriter over the years, that is not a popular choice among executives. You’re constantly encouraged to find the differences in characters. “Why is one of them Eddie Murphy and why is one of the Nick Nolte?” They’re acting exactly the same in this one, and it’s so funny and it shouldn’t work, but it does.
So I laughed so hard at this movie that I’m scared to watch it again, and I’m scared I won’t think it’s as funny, but that’s why I closed it out with this. I’d love to re-watch it, laugh as hard as I did that first time again.
AVC: And hopefully if you’ve got 22 hours of enjoyment built behind it—
SA: You’ll be delirious at this point! After 22 and a half hours of watching movies and laughing so much, if I laughed as hard as I did the first time through Step Brothers, I might literally die. That’s why it has to be the last thing, because I’ll be dead at the end of this festival.
AVC: It’s perfect for that delirious state, because this movie operates by a strange internal logic.
SA: It stops being the movie it started as and it makes this abrupt right turn in the middle. Most movies—War Of The Roses, for instance—would base a whole movie on these two characters hating each other. Well, all of a sudden, in this movie they’re best friends. It’s insane. And Adam Scott gives such a really funny performance in it—as far as I remember.