You know what’s lame? Selling out. You know what’s cool? The bohemian, starving artist lifestyle. Or at least the rose-colored glasses that come along after experiencing that type of thing. In fact, rose-colored glasses and nostalgia in general are pretty great.
So Comedy Bang! Bang! makes sure everyone realizes that with its latest episode, “Joe Jonas Wears A Maroon And Gold Letterman Jacket With White Sneakers.” And it also finds a way to mash-up The Big Chill, Rent, late ‘90s/early ‘00s nostalgia, and corporate shilling into a coherent story (for Comedy Bang! Bang!).
Seriously, even outside of the episode framing device itself, “Joe Jonas Wears A Maroon And Gold Letterman Jacket With White Sneakers” is 100% full of nostalgia bait and brand recognition. Even something as innocuous as “Weird Al” Yankovic’s Spider-Man obsession (which he’s had since he was 10 years old) falls under that umbrella, just like the Certs (“Two mints in one!”) bit and Joe Jonas missing “Rita’s Italian Ice from New Jersey.” It’s fascinating because none of it actually stays tethered to nostalgia for any particular era—no doubt a symptom of Scott Aukerman’s questionable age that often makes him a Baby Boomer, a Gen X-er, and Millennial all at the same time. Scott’s past “true bohemian” lifestyle “in his earlier 20s” could have taken place at any time and pop culture phase, and it kind of does. The Big Chill (the entire memorial reunion, the “Motown” commercial) and Rent (the bohemian lifestyle and “parody song”) aspects of it scream ‘80s/early ‘90s.
But then you have something like the trailer for Scott’s new movie, Ain’t Too Proud To Neg, which is complete late ‘90s/early ‘00s teen movie fodder. The same goes for the inclusion of McG (and with his peak pop cultural contributions of Charlie’s Angels and music videos like “Pretty Fly For A White Guy”) and the Jackass twist about Scott’s friend “Steven.” In fact, the reveal that the dearly departed friend in this situation is Jackass’ Steve-O is probably the single most perfect moment of the show’s commentary on nostalgia-driven content. It’s 2016.
The movie trailer bit takes seminal ‘90s teen movie She’s All That’s set-up—as Scott Aukerman’s high school football captain character is obsessed with bets where he turns the school nerd into the prom queen—and flips it by simply bringing the popular girl’s self-esteem down a peg or three, “with negs he learned from Reddit.” Comedy Bang! Bang! obviously succeeds in making that more terrible than the original premise (and pointing out the abusive and absurd nature of either option). But at the same time, that’s not exactly out of the realm possibilities for that era of teen movies either: An integral part of the 2000 teen film Whatever It Takes relied on Shane West’s character negging Jodi Lyn O’Keefe’s character to make her interested in him. Only there, it wasn’t played with anywhere near the amount of self-awareness or hindsight as Comedy Bang! Bang! has; that’s kind of the key to what made all those movies “work” in the first place. You could actually say the same about the baby boomer nostalgia bomb that was The Big Chill (which cleverly inspires this fake movie’s title) too. Well, that and a dope soundtrack, which Ain’t Too Proud To Neg also mildly rips off in its staircase scene.
The greatest disappointment of Ain’t Too Proud To Neg, however, is that it’s the only bit of Arrow’s Emily Bett Rickards that this episode of Comedy Bang! Bang! gives us. But it’s absolutely worth it as she knocks both the deteriorating self-esteem and resulting clinginess out of the park in the brief time she gets to do so. As strange as it may sound, I could watch an entire episode of blond-wigged Scott Aukerman negging Emily Bett Rickards, especially with the the occasional asides from her friends (“He’s not even good-looking!”). This bit is pretty indicative of how this is definitely an episode that clicks in terms of the simple concepts it tackles.
And the more things progress throughout the episode, the clearer it becomes just how perfect it is that this is the Comedy Bang! Bang! episode that introduces podcast favorite Maxwell Keeper, the Time Keeper (Neil Campbell). The Time Keeper is probably a character that sounds lame on paper or to the uninitiated, but this is a much anticipated appearance that lives up to the hype (even though it’s mostly backstory podcast listeners may already know). The Time Keeper’s story about how his mom died during childbirth and his dad died during conception is slightly similar to Big Sue’s backstory about never meeting her mom and meeting her dad “every day,” but that just goes to show you: Weird parent backstories are funny, and great comedic minds think alike. Also, funny voices get the job done.
Sadly, it’s the main celebrity guest who leaves much to be desired compared to everything else going around him. (Even “Weird Al” steals his thunder, “fwip fwip.”) It’s not that Joe Jonas isn’t into what he’s doing—as a matter of fact, he appears to be throwing himself very much into every thing. He practically goes full theatre kid in the Powerball bit! But that’s the problem: He’s not very good at what he’s doing, even when the material itself is. Joe Jonas’ celebrity guest appearance feels a bit like T-Pain’s, in terms of the level of his enthusiasm for Comedy Bang! Bang!’s shenanigans being far ahead of his actual ability to work in said situation. At the same time, this feels like if T-Pain thought he were at the level of a Joseph Gordon-Levitt. However, T-Pain not thinking he’s a Joseph Gordon-Levitt and also not being an actor gave his performance some leeway, while acting is actually one of Joe Jonas’ professions. That doesn’t necessarily mean variety sketch comedy has to be in Joe Jonas’ wheelhouse, but when a performance brings little more than “imagine how great this would be if Zac Efron were doing it” to one’s mind, that nips that in the bud. It’s unfortunate, because Joe Jonas’ best performances in the episode actually come out when he actually isn’t the focus. His act-opener bits are honestly his best moments in the entire episode—
Joe Jonas: “I don’t care if it looks bad to have an empty couch! I need to leave!”
Scott: “Joe, you’re hurting me! Please!”
Joe Jonas: “So he was the father on Keeping Up With The Kardashians for years, and he just disappears.”
Scott: “Yeah, no—I think he just went to a different show.”
—and he’s a good listener when it comes to the Time Keeper (especially as Scott can barely keep in his laughter). But the strength of the rest of the episode is really what keeps him from truly sinking it.
It also helps that Comedy Bang! Bang! is, once again prescient in its episode scheduling. In case you didn’t already assume, this week’s pair of episodes are the last of TV Club’s regular coverage for the series. So even before Scott and friends (and “Weird Al”) get to the Rent song parody, the lesson of the episode cuts like a knife:
Scott: “The most popular art is the best art. If you get those clicks, well, you’re making hits. And if you want the views, that’s good news.”
Sprint: “If you wanna be great, you gotta make clickbait.”
It’s been real, Comedy Bang! Bang! Thanks for the appropriate send-off. Because if you’re going to sell out, you might as well do it with style. Or at least have “shit dreams” to begin with so you don’t have to sell out.
- Scott’s Onscreen Credit: Repair Man Man Man. It’s honestly as if Comedy Bang! Bang! knew this would be the last episode I reviewed and decided to make it just for me. Yes, Scott Aukerman’s onscreen credit is a throwback to an All That sketch. Yes, She’s All That and All That are integral parts of an episode of Comedy Bang! Bang!
- Obviously Ain’t Too Proud To Neg gets the She’s All That poster right, but it also ends up nailing the blocking of the Down To You (another FPJ flick) poster. Seriously. Also, now I’m surprised Ain’t Too Proud To Neg didn’t include “a new comedy…”
- Wendy from the Wendy’s commercials (Wendy McColm), McG (McG), and Sprint the music man (Londale Theus Jr., who just made his first appearance on the podcast). What a good bunch of bohemian loft friends.
- If you don’t mind, I’ll consider McG’s solo in the song parody to be a look at what Sugar Ray would have been like had he stayed as the lead singer. I won’t download Charlie’s Angels though, because I already own it.
- “If you’re enjoying this episode of Comedy Bang! Bang!, then you need: Comedy Bang! Bang!, episode 507, the original motion picture soundtrack.” You probably also need this.