Comedy Bang! Bang! does it live, scores big at Turner Hall
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The brainchild of former Mr. Show writer and creator of the Between Two Ferns With Zach Galifinakis web series, Comedy Bang! Bang! has made Scott Aukerman an early star in the quickly developing medium of comedy podcasting. The weekly program, which was formerly called Comedy Death-Ray Radio, has logged close to 250 episodes (each of which is presented on the Earwolf podcast network Aukerman co-founded), expanded into an IFC television show, and cultivated a devoted cult following along the way. Monday night, Turner Hall was brimming for more than two hours of unscripted fun as Comedy Bang! Bang! recorded a live episode in Milwaukee.
A video of Bob Odenkirk introducing warm-up act (and forthcoming IFC sketch show) The Birthday Boys promised the troupe would offer “some entertainment value.” He wasn’t kidding, as the openers proved a worthy appetizer with inventive sketches, videos from the show, and a member brazenly walking on stage naked.
Soon, Aukerman came out dressed in his familiar jeans, sweater and dress shirt combo to relieve them. He preceded the recording by riffing that he was testing material for his “really important Chicago show” the following night, delivered in his trademark wry style. An audience member named Dan, trying to pass his ticket envelope as an orange envelope purportedly hidden beneath a chair, “won” the right to help the host practice for hecklers in Chicago with scripted comments that predictably-yet-hilariously devolved into oddity regarding looking into dog buttholes. After a rousing three-verse rendition of “Let’s Celebrate The Anniversary Of Your Birth” and attempting to salvage jokes from a newspaper seemingly populated with entirely morbid news, Reggie Watts’ famed Comedy Bang! Bang! theme song incited the recorded portion of the show.
While Monday’s show was the first Midwestern tour stop, Aukerman was no stranger to Milwaukee. In fact, as he revealed in the opening moments of the podcast, he’d briefly lived in town 20 years ago, before the girl for whom he relocated revealed she didn’t want to be with him a day after he’d arrived. “You can’t spell Milwaukee without ‘melancholy,’” he said before introducing his first guest, Potawatomi tribe member Wesley Treehawk (actually SNL alumnus Horatio Sanz).
As Treehawk, a synthetic-ponytailed Sanz collaborated with Aukerman for about 30 minutes of improvised conversation—with a few slips into overt racism. The talk landed on the subjects of being tricked into eating foam cheeseheads by pale-faces, scalping tickets at the Bradley Center, losing his reservation in a game of Seven Queen Poker, and (in acknowledgment of his actions) demanding political correctness from the white man. After a “Go Braves!” and a tomahawk chop, Sanz moved seats to make room for the second guest, Bang! Bang! favorite Garry Marshall (played by regular guest Paul F. Tompkins).
Portraying the famed Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley creator, Tompkins effectively stole the show with his quick wit, smart comebacks, and full-on commitment to character. The character choice was no coincidence, as “Marshall” focused on his Milwaukee-based sitcoms for much of his uproariously funny stint on stage. Sanz (still in costume) asked if he used all the parts of the shark Fonzie jumped, which made all three break character and laugh aloud. Tompkins’ Marshall also revealed some inside info on his sitcoms, like the fact that the Fonz was insane and was the only person who could hear the jukebox playing after he hit it, and that the Bronze Fonz gains sentience each night to claim one human life. He even referenced sparsely used black Happy Days character “Sticks”—whom was “Chucked” (a la Richie Cunningham’s brother) after two episodes.
The episode and the evening ended with an abridged version of the podcast’s popular game “Would You Rather.” After a true-to-form execution of one of the funniest programs in both the television and podcast worlds, there weren’t many people at Turner Hall who would’ve wanted to be anywhere else Monday night.