Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Comedy Bang! Bang! tries to get a rise out of Nathan Fielder

(Scott Aukerman,
(Scott Aukerman, "Weird Al" Yankovic, Nathan Fielder) (Photo: IFC)

Why is “Weird Al” Yankovic creeping around the Comedy Bang! Bang! set with an airhorn? Because Nathan Fielder, known for the deadest of deadpans, is the first guest on “Nathan Fielder Wears A Blue And Grey Flannel And Jeans,” and Scott’s determined to get a rise out of him. It’s not easy. It’s not even possible until he plays along to save Scott from his own enthusiasm for pranks… and from his bum ticker.

But Fielder’s got a trick of his own to play, and that famous deadpan helps him get away with it. His impassive air of neutrality lets him play Al and Scott against each other, quietly goading each to stand his ground over a salary negotiation, so he can swoop in and take the bandleader spot Al’s just vacated. “It’s not personal, it’s just business,” he says, and in that dispassionate tone, it’s almost believable.

(Scott Aukerman, Mike O'Brien, Nathan Fielder) (Photo: IFC)
(Scott Aukerman, Mike O’Brien, Nathan Fielder) (Photo: IFC)

It’s a lot easier to get a rise out of follow-up guest H. Mark McGwire (Mike O’Brien). Self-proclaimed “greatest actor on earth“ and star of five performances of What Are You Telling Me Right Now, Mama?, his performance style starts at a preposterous climax and goes bigger from there. He’s all rise, and entirely risible. O’Brien contrasts H. Mark’s hammy, amateurish high notes with lower notes of quiet condescension. His sniffy “Yes, that’s a play” to Scott is bested only by the smugness of his “I’m off-book” as he hands over sheets of dialogue to his hosts. O‘Brien’s entire appearance is studded with throw-away gems like “My Pinocchio is bothering me” and the offhand mention of the “uncuttable bonfire” that ended his play’s brief run.

This is a study in contrasts, balancing Nathan Fielder’s reserve with H. Mark McGwire’s excess. The tension between voices and styles is a tacit impeachment of Scott’s in-story conclusion that a single point of view or a single voice makes a piece of art (or an ice cream flavor) purer and better. The final challenge to that philosophy comes with the episode’s tag, where Scott strolls into an ice cream shop for a dish of Scott Aukerman Vanilla, scarfs down a few bites, then dumps it in the trash Louie-style to the accompaniment of his own “Scotty, Scotty, Scotty, Scottay” theme song.

This is another careful balance: an allusion that is part homage, part jab. Louie is famous as a critical darling… but it’s also famously inconsistent in its schedule and season length, and it’s largely viewed as the product of a single mind, an auteur-driven piece of free-form conceptual art in serial form, not a collaborative effort to create comedy within constrains. By contrast, Comedy Bang! Bang! hews to its format, never letting its excursions into fantasy stand in the way of churning out a consistent (and consistently entertaining) talk-show spoof every week—twice a week this season.


Unfortunately, the thoughtful balance displayed in small moments of this episode is thrown off as the show goes bigger and broader. Taking too much inspiration from ice cream impresarios Len & Barry (David Gruber Allen and Matt Besser), who want everyone’s input on their new Comedy Bang! Bang! flavor, “Nathan Fielder Wears A Blue And Grey Flannel And Jeans” crams in too many ingredients. All the ingredients are good! None of the ingredients are harmful like Helga Galosh’s (Beth Appel) schtones, or even distasteful like Mike (Mike Hanford) the boom operator’s melted popsicle water. But the sheer number of them muddies the flavor of the episode.

Not as badly as Scott’s crew messes up Len & Barry’s Comedy Bang! Bang! flavor, though. “Nathan Fielder Wears A Blue And Grey Flannel And Jeans” isn’t the hairy, rock-speckled sludge that plops out of Ben & Larry’s high-tech churn. It’s more like the cherry-chocolate-bacon-pepper flavor that the first few crew suggestions hint toward: a little muddled, a little overcomplicated, but inventive, fun, and more than palatable. This episode is no super-premium pint of Comedy Bang! Bang!, but it’s a solid scoop of late-night comedy, even with a few too many flavors thrown in.


Stray observations

  • Scott’s on-screen credit: That’s So Raven.
  • “Weird Al”’s real estate search feels like a gentle riff on Bajillion Dollar Properties, right down to Suzi Barrett (who appears on an episode of BDP) as his realtor.
  • And that’s Janie Haddad Tompkins returning as Janie the stagehand, who goes feral in the presence of chocolate.
  • I can’t argue with Kelly Ripa Ripple, Ellen DeGenerous Portion Of Butterscotch, James Corden Band Leader Thief Crunch, or even Seth Myer Perrine Lemon, but Colin Jost’s Len & Barry’s flavor would be Tall Glass Of Almond Milk and he knows it.
  • It’s been a pleasure to review Comedy Bang! Bang! alongside LaToya Ferguson, and we’re sorry to see coverage end. Some of you are asking, “What are you telling me right now, Mama? You’re going to leave? You’re leaving us?” I can only respond, “OH, NO, BAD NEWS!” and “SAD, SAD, IT MAKES ME SAD.” As Nathan Fielder keeps pointing out, it’s not personal; it’s just business.