Comedy Bang! Bang! walks the finest line in television, and no one even knows it. The show sprang onto IFC last year from a cult podcast with an comedy-nerd obsessive fanbase, but while it shares the podcast’s sensibility and its ability to use a magnificent, deep bench of comedians and actors, it was an entirely different beast.
Then, there’s the format of the show itself. Someone turning on IFC (or Netflix) to check out Comedy Bang! Bang! with no prior information might be understandably baffled. It’s a sketch show with the veneer of a talk show, partially relying on a mix of improvised and scripted banter between host Scott Aukerman and his guests (some in character, some not) that doesn’t play to an audience. If Aukerman’s subtle tweak on the cheery host persona wasn’t enough, there’s Reggie Watts as the bandleader, making beautiful, strange, freaky sounds.
It’s a lot to take in, and it seems Comedy Bang! Bang!’s rise to cult acceptance has taken longer than it should have. But getting put on Netflix where it can be binge-watched has been a great boon for the show. Much like Tim & Eric’s shows, Comedy Bang! Bang! works best when you watch it back-to-back-to-back, because it’s all about that very specific comedy mood it’s striking. Once you’re on board, pretty much everything about the show is hilarious, from an elaborately silly sketch to an awkward pause.
“Andy Samberg Wears A Plaid Shirt And Glasses” gets the show off to a very nice, smooth start for season two. I enjoyed how Comedy Bang! Bang! began to break the mold and mess with its internal reality as the first season went on, ending with the fantastic green-screen fiascos of the season finale. The show continues on that tack here, opening and closing with Aukerman in an asylum, first as a raving patient being treated by Watts (as Dr. Fartenmigh Littlebutt) and then as the doctor to Watts’ mad twin brother, who may have dreamed the whole episode.
It’s the kind of rug-pulling nonsense I and other alt-comedy dorks just go nuts for. “So what does that mean?” I pondered. Scott does host the show while moonlighting as a doctor, but the episode we just watched was fantasy? Will Reggie’s evil brother escape and torment our heroes later in the season? In comedy, there’s often nothing funnier than an excessively convoluted backstory, and that’s something the podcast has always specialized in that it couldn’t bring over to a 22-minute sketch show. But I’d love to see it play around in that territory this year.
Samberg is a terrific guest, jumping on board with every one of Aukerman’s ridiculous premises (“Have you ever said to a woman, ‘Hey, can I ever put these digits into your shorts?’” “Millions of times”) and managing to find an interesting spin on the “douchey guest” persona that often feels like the laziest option for a famous person playing themselves. Aukerman and Samberg have a fantasy war of words in their heads, but while Aukerman never has the guts to follow through in real life, Samberg always does, but he stumbles on some easy-to-pronounce word. “We’ll be blight snack. God, I cannot talk today.”
The sketches in the middle of the show—which often star Watts—became a surprising highlight in the first season, and tonight’s journey into a Tron-like world of the Internet was hilariously staged. Comedy Bang! Bang! is also really showing off its guest casting chops here: I’ve never seen Lance Reddick have as much fun as he did in those five minutes racing Watts around the grid as a personification of throwback website-builder Angelfire. Selma Blair pops in as a free porn site. Earlier, Doug Benson, Chelsea Peretti, and Adam Pally all dropped prunes on the floor, likely just as a hat-tip to obsessive podcast fans (although I thought the prune bit was really funny).
Jordan Peele’s appearance as psychic Tan Fu slows things down a little bit—the premise of the character is never really clear. He’s a competent psychic but a bit of a loser, but perhaps not quite enough of a sad sack? The whole thing is surprisingly understated, which is nice considering Peele is wearing a turban and holding a crystal ball (there’s a whole other direction he could have gone here) but the joke never quite gets off the ground.
This show is definitely going to be an interesting challenge to review week to week. My notes for it look like garbled nonsense. But that’s really because there is nothing quite like Comedy Bang! Bang! on television. It doesn’t have the abrasive, insane quality of some Adult Swim shows, but it does strike a very specific, special mood nonetheless, an atmosphere reminiscent (perhaps unsurprisingly) of Mr. Show, on which Aukerman was a writer, filtered through the star’s sunny host personality and his brilliant, structurally audacious approach to traditional bits.
- Scott’s Onscreen Credit: Second Seasonman.
- “Should we bring along that guy who thinks he's Andy Samberg?” “No, that guy is really crazy.”
- Reggie describes his terrible summer: He ran into a hermit crab. “But you had a baby while we were away. Your wife gave birth!” “Scott, I don’t like hermit crabs.”
- Benson killed with his delivery of “This is my bag, and it’s going with me.”
- “There’s gonna be more slashes in you than a Guns N’ Roses.” “So you're saying there'll be more than one slash in me.”
- The best part of Reggie’s Tron skit involves him wearing a VR mask and shouting “Vroom vroom vroom! Beep beep beep!”