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

Scott Aukerman on his stint as Br’er Bear and our 11 questions

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In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee.


Now in its third season, IFC’s Comedy Bang! Bang! is one of the weirdest shows on television. A lot of that is thanks to its host and creator, Scott Aukerman, who’s worked on CBB in one form or another since its inception in 2009. Aukerman’s also the co-creator of another totally weird and consistently amazing show, Between Two Ferns With Zach Galifianakis, and helped found the Earwolf podcast network.

1. What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?

Scott Aukerman: I did a job for one day that was unusual. When I was in acting school, they put a call out to find actors for this local nursing school that was having their final exams. We had to play patients in this final exam and the nurses were going to then put us through different scenarios. So my friend Tanner and I both volunteered, and so he had to play a person in a hospital bed that was getting his bedpan changed. I had to play a paraplegic in a wheelchair who had fallen out of the wheelchair, and they were supposed to put me back up. They gave us several things that the nurses were supposed to do in order to pass the test, including lock the wheels on the wheelchair so that I didn’t immediately fall out of it again. And also pull the curtain around the hospital bed so that the person getting their bedpan changed would have some privacy. The nurses always forgot both of those things. So I constantly had to slip out of the wheelchair again, onto the ground, and my friend, Tanner, had to—while I watched him—mime getting his pants pulled down and getting his bedpan changed. That was an all-day thing that I got paid $10 for. But that was only one day.

I would say the worst job I ever had was working at Disneyland, which—I grew up next to Disneyland, so I always wanted to work there. I think I had the wrong job, which was being one of the costumed characters. Because of my height—I’m 6-2, almost 6-3—I got all the super tall characters, the 7-foot-tall or 8-foot-tall characters. I hear they’ve updated the costumes now, and put air conditioning in them or some sort of cooling system, but at the time, they were these large, furry, bulky, tall costumes that were incredibly hot. I did it during the summer in intense, 100-degree heat. You’re really only supposed to go out there for, at the most, 35 minutes, and that’s kind of pushing it. They would never let you be out there longer than 35 minutes, and then you would come back and take another 35 minute break, then you’d go back out for 10 minutes on, 10 minutes off, and so on. Every once in a while, you would have to do something—I believe it was called a walkabout—where you started in Main Street and then ended up in New Orleans Square. You would start at the entrance in Main Street and then wind up at the backstage area of New Orleans Square. And I got lost in the park for about two hours wearing a Br’er Bear costume.

The A.V. Club: Were you by yourself?

SA: I was by myself and I got lost, and I didn’t really know Disneyland all that well. I was just stumbling around by the end of it. All the kids want to come up to you and talk to you and take your picture, so I was sweaty and dehydrated and stumbling around the park and halfheartedly waving to kids and posing for pictures, just looking for any kind of exit backstage. I was very, very ready to take off the Br’er Bear head—which would have been a disaster—in the middle of the park. But it was getting to that point. I was very committed to the Disneyland ethos at the time and didn’t want to go and do that. Finally, after about two hours, someone grabbed my hand and said, “Oh, there you are, Br’er Bear.” I guess they’d been searching for me ever since I didn’t check in after 35 minutes, and led me backstage to a secret entrance. That was probably the worst job I ever had.

AVC: My friend used to wear the costumes at SeaWorld of Ohio, when that existed.

SA: What kind of costumes were they?

AVC: Shamu or, like, a walrus. They had cartoonish otters and stuff like that.

SA: Shamu, the famed killer whale, or just a walrus? Walrus Number One?

AVC: I think the walrus was a sea captain or an admiral, but I would have to confirm that. [Note: Confirmed! —ed.]


Anyway, my friend always had stories about crazy stuff they’d do in the costumes. They’d dare each other to jerk off in the costumes in the park and stuff like that. So now I can never look at a costumed character the same way.

SA: I never did that. Sometimes it was fun if you had one of the less bulky costumes—say if I were Captain Hook, or something like that—but one of my friends would make fun of me a lot. He once showed me a secret door. He said, “Hey! Check this out!” and pointed to a door that was on the balcony. Then I went out, in costume, as Br’er Bear, on the balcony, and he shut the door behind me, and I turned around to find that there was no doorknob. I was trapped on this balcony for 35 minutes, waving at kids, pounding on the door behind me. He hung me out to dry there for a while. It was fun, doing pranks like that.


But you’d get some really nasty kids every once in a while. Captain Hook had four fingers, I believe, or a thumb and three fingers, rather—and I think that I flipped off a kid, but it just looked like I was pointing at him with my index finger. But he knew, and he went, “I see what you’re doing! And I’m going to tell!” But I never heard anything about it.

2. What did your parents want you to be?

SA: I don’t think they had any aspirations for me. Whatever I did at 17, they were like, “Well, you’ve done it. Now go and do whatever you want to do.” I don’t know what they wanted me to be. They never really said what they wanted me to be.


I think I was pretty smart as a kid, or I had a high IQ. They tell me now that, in kindergarten, I think I tested at, like, 176 IQ, but also couldn’t hop on one foot. I was incredibly uncoordinated. That’s when they enrolled me in team sports to try to get some sort of coordination, which ended up with me playing baseball for three years, which was me crying before every game, saying I didn’t want to play because everyone made fun of me. I had to play right field, which was, of course, the position that the worst people have to play. At some point, someone hit a line drive right into my testicles, like some sort of ’80s movie.

I think my parents just wanted me to follow my brain gift. I think that they were pretty disappointed that, instead, I went into the arts. If I had any kind of interest in anything besides comic books and TV shows and movies, I could have gone into science or math—I’m pretty good at math, I could have been some sort of a mathematician or something. At a certain point, I think they were really worried about me, because, you know, there’s not many parents who wouldn’t be worried about someone who wants to move to Hollywood and become an actor. At a certain point, my dad—I think I was 26 or so—said, “You know what? I’m not really worried about you anymore, because I think you have a good head on your shoulders and people generally like you, and I think, even if you don’t make it, you’ll get some sort of a job as a fallback.” So it took 26 years until he kind of calmed down about it. But he never actually tried to say, “Hey, I want you to be a helicopter pilot like I am,” or a professional baseball player—they never got that into it. They wanted me to be whatever I wanted to be.


AVC: Now you have your own show and have shot stuff with President Obama, so they must be totally happy with that.

SA: Not really. You would think so, but they don’t really understand the TV show, and shooting Between Two Ferns with President Obama led to an argument about healthcare and about how bad it was for our country, supposedly. You’ll never make them happy. If they’re not happy to begin with, you’ll never make them happy. So you shouldn’t even try.

3. Who would be your pop culture best friend?

SA: A fictional character that I’d like to meet? I’m tempted to say Peter Parker because he’s my favorite superhero, but he’s also a drag to be around. I feel like a lot of it would be just listening to him talk about his problems with Mary Jane and, “Oh, I accidentally killed Gwen.”


Maybe Hannibal Lecter. I’m not really into his hobbies, but he’s kind of sarcastic and always has a good quip and he’s fun to be around. He’s got a magnetic personality that people like even though they’re scared of him. They genuinely enjoy his company. He’s such an incredible personality that Agent Starling even married him and got together with him, and she’s his greatest nemesis. I think it would be fun to hang out with him; you’d just have to ask him to lay off the eating-people stories. Just be like, “Yeah, yeah, we don’t really talk about that.” Plus, he’d probably tell you a lot of really great stories about weirdoes when he was a psychiatrist. I think that he’d be a lot of fun to hang around with.

4. What game show would you be good at?

SA: Absolutely, 100 percent: The Pyramid.

AVC: The $10,000 Pyramid?

SA: Yeah, either the $25,000 Pyramid, $100,000 Pyramid or whatever amount of money it needs to be. I’ll do it for $100. Jimmy Pardo and I would tape the Game Show Network reruns of the Pyramid and we would play it with his back to the screen, me reading the clues, trying to get him to guess what they were. It’s absolutely our favorite game show.


I’ve never made any kind of a request to my managers ever before about any kind of project, and I just called them up and said, “Hey, do you think you can get me on as a celebrity contestant for the [recent revival of] Pyramid?” They were flabbergasted. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I hope it gets revived again because I’ve always wanted to play it. I wish I could have played it with Dick Clark because he’s so amazing at it. If anyone wants to come over and just play Pyramid with me, I love playing it so much. I love the game that much.

AVC: Are you a better guesser or question asker?

SA: I’m a better person to describe the clues. I’ve learned all of the tricks about how to make people know what they’re supposed to say. When it’s, “Things the Statue Of Liberty would say,” you don’t say, “Welcome to New York.” That could be anyone. You say, “Hi, I’m the incredibly large thing out in New York Harbor that France gave to the country and I’m holding up a big torch,” and you figure out a way to totally describe the thing without saying the word “statue” or “liberty.” I’m pretty good at that.


AVC: It’s not like the Statue Of Liberty would even say, “Welcome to New York.”

SA: Well, a lot of people don’t know, but at 3 a.m. every night, it comes to life and it says three words and then goes back to sleep.


AVC: Is it the same words every time? Do you know what they are?

SA: Yeah, it’s just “Oreo cookie sandwich.”

AVC: That makes sense.

SA: You’d think the Oreo company would get in there, or Nabisco would be getting some sort of a sponsorship deal with it. But no.


AVC: Maybe there’s some sort of crime Oreo is covering up. It’s like when someone comes out of a coma and just says someone’s name. That’s what the Statue Of Liberty is doing.

SA: Right, or like a dead body that you find and the finger is pointing at a clue. Maybe the torch is pointing at the murderer. Actually, the torch is pointing toward heaven and God, one of the world’s greatest mass murderers. I think you’re onto something there.


5. How would your enemies describe you?

SA: Enemies are pretty good about getting the word out to you these days. The thing about Twitter is that they’ve become very good at it. I think they would say the normal stuff. “Hey, who’s this guy? Why does he have a show? How did he luck out? Why can’t they give the show to someone I actually like? There are a million better comedians out there who don’t have shows. Why should he have a show?”


AVC: All really reassuring stuff.

SA: All the stuff that you become inured to when you get into show business that, strangely, people out there in the world think that, just because someone’s on their TV, that it’s fair game to say stuff like that to because they don’t like your particular piece of art.

6. If a deli named a sandwich after you, what would be on it?

SA: I think it would be two pieces of rye bread and then my actual body, standing up straight, in between it. So it’d be a 6-foot-3 sandwich, if you’re including the pieces of bread, and then there’d be ketchup raining down on my head. I would be looking up at the top piece of bread like, “Ah, this is drippy ketchup!” It would look like I’m bleeding a little bit. That’s a true Dagwood sandwich, something that’s 6-foot-3 inches tall.


You’d have to have a really wide mouth to get around that. I think that I would say, “Okay, you can eat me if you can get your mouth around me and don’t turn me sideways.” And that would be my little trick to make sure no one actually ate me. I don’t think anyone has a mouth that big except maybe the woman from the NBC miniseries V, who ate that rat at the end of that one episode. Maybe she would have a go at it. Other than that, I think I’d be safe.

AVC: She’d also have to want to do it. Just because she could doesn’t mean she would.


SA: That’s the thing. You’ve got to want it.

7. What was your first big, grown-up purchase?

SA: What do people probably always say? House or car? I bought a condominium back in 2001, pretty early. I was pretty young. I think I bought it because someone basically said to me, “Hey, you know, your mortgage will be just about as much as what your apartment rent is every month. So if you just have the down payment, you’re saving money and you’re putting money away that you get to own.” It made sense to me. I had an extra 30 grand at the time from working on things like Mr. Show or some of the movies I was writing at the time. At the time, I was living a lifestyle, because I had 30 grand in the bank, where I wasn’t really paying attention to prices of things. I was just, “Hey, I have 30 grand in the bank. Let’s buy anything I want.” Pretty quickly after I bought the condo that 30 grand was gone, and I also couldn’t get a job for about a year. So my big, grown-up purchase I very, very quickly almost lost.


I did get my car repossessed. I lost that. I had it repossessed twice. I had it repossessed the first time and I went ahead and made the payment. I got it back, and the second time, I said, “Okay, let me make the payment again,” and they said, “We’re not giving it back to you a second time.” I was very close to losing the condo. I think if I had missed one more payment, I would have lost it. But my manager at the time was super nice and loaned me around six grand or something so I could make all my back payments and the payment I needed to make. It took me a little while to pay him back, but I did pay him back and I kept it.

It actually was a good purchase. I just sold it a few months ago for probably two and a half times what I paid for it. But it was really touch-and-go there. I went into it really blindly. It was right before the housing market collapse. I was one of those mortgages in the subprime mortgage crisis that probably would have been lumped in with some good ones; I was one of the risky ones that shouldn’t have been given to me. I ended up being able to keep it, luckily, by the skin of my teeth.


8. What’s your go-to karaoke song?

SA: We just got a karaoke machine in the house, unfortunately, one that my wife likes to use constantly. I used to do karaoke back in very early ’90s—probably 1990 was when I first started noticing karaoke. As a guy who went to theater school and did musicals and liked to sing a lot, I thought it was really awesome. I used to go to bars and dance bars, and I’m not that good of a dancer, I have nothing to really say to anybody who’s here, but if you would go to a karaoke bar and sing pretty well, there would be these other women there who also liked to sing and they would come up and talk to you. It was such an important innovation in my dating development.


The song that I used to do all the time was actually the theme from The Godfather. It’s subtitled “Sing Softly Love.” I saw it in a karaoke book once and said, “What? What is that doing there?” I didn’t realize that it had lyrics. I’d always heard it in the movie, but no one is singing it. So I said, “I don’t know what this is, but I have to check it out.” I put it in and I was really entranced by it. It has a really cool melody.

There’s an instrumental section in the middle of it, too. When you’re doing karaoke and there’s an instrumental section, the funniest thing to do is to make up your own lyrics, because why would you just stand there and let an instrumental section play out? No! Make up your own lyrics to the song and sing those. So I made up lyrics that were talking about how he was the Godfather Of Love and he killed the Tattaglias and the Five Families and now he’s come for me, my Godfather Of Love. Then I would change the melody a little bit and end on a super secret high note. I would go around singing that at karaoke contests and I won a few, which was keeping me solvent for a while. I would win $100 there, $50 there, at these karaoke contests.

AVC: It’s your big showstopper.

SA: It was a showstopper. The key to winning a karaoke contest, by the way: A lot of people would come in and do a practice song before the contest would start and they would blow everybody away, and people would be like, “Woo!” But it’s their practice song. You never do the practice song. You don’t want to show them what you’ve got until you actually are competing. So many people do the practice song and people would be impressed, then they’d do one other song, and people would be like, “Eh, I’ve seen that before.” Never do the practice song.


AVC: I always thought the key was confidence.

SA: That goes without saying. You’ve got to sell it. But I wouldn’t say that the basics are the key to winning. If you don’t know the basics, you’re not even in the game.


9. What’s the worst living situation you’ve ever had?

SA: When I went to theater school, I had a couple of bad living situations. It was the first time I lived away from home, in my own apartment. Looking back on it, I think I was depressed. I think I had all the classic signs of depression.


I moved into an apartment with my friend who was my roommate. We both went to the same theater school. I’d known him beforehand. He made up his room really cool and had a nice fuck den in there. I had brought a super heavy hideaway bed in a couch instead of just bringing a regular bed. My theory was, “Oh, I’ll fold it up every night and make it a couch so I’ll have more room in my room.” But what ended up happening was, I just had this bed in the middle of the room, and I used it as storage, like a storage room, while I slept on the couch in the living room. I read later that if you’re sleeping on the couch, you are definitely depressed. I think I was just in a weird situation where I was at this new school where I wasn’t really fitting in and I was away from home. My roommate eventually got fed up with me and was like, “I’m moving out and moving in with someone else.” I was alone in this this two-bedroom apartment where I didn’t sleep in either of the bedrooms, I slept on the couch—and there were no possessions in it other than, around Christmas, I decided to get a Christmas tree to kind of liven it up a little bit even though no one ever came over. I got a Christmas tree and I put lights on it. I was just sitting alone, sleeping on the couch, depressed and lonely, for my first Christmas away from home. I would say that was the worst I’ve ever had.

I then moved in with a couple of my other classmates, one of whom—his name was Bagel—we were supposed to share a room. All I had was cushions that I put down on the floor. I was supposed to sleep on those. Pretty quickly, I was back on that living room couch, sleeping on that every single night.


10. Who could you take in a fight?

SA: I don’t think I could take anybody.

They talk about the fight-or-flight response. I am definitely flight. I found that out because I’ve been mugged on two separate occasions, and the first time was a really weird situation where I had a $150 in my pocket, which I’d just made that night from being a waiter. It was a Saturday night, the most money I’d made as a waiter. Saturdays are your biggest night. I had to put it toward the rent because the rent was due in a couple of days. I actually talked the guy out of taking my money. I think I was just like, “Yes, I do have money, but I don’t want to give it to you. I need the money; I’m struggling just like you. If I give you this money, I’m going to lose my apartment.” I think I out-talked the guy. He tried to get it from me for 20 minutes. We both talked about our lives and the struggles we were going for, and at the end he said, “Man, you’re too nice a guy.” And he walked away.


The second time, I was outside Doug Benson’s apartment. I was leaving. I think we had just watched The Amazing Race or something. I was leaving his apartment and I saw some guy hanging around outside his apartment. I said to myself, in my mind, “He looks kind of dangerous. But he’s probably not going to mess with me because I am pretty big.” At that very moment, I felt his hand on my shoulder, and he said, “Give me your wallet.” Super quickly, without even thinking, I took off like a shot. I just started running. I actually outran him. It was really amazing. But then I tripped on a crack in the sidewalk. I fell so hard on the ground and it fucked me up so badly. I had scars all over the side of my body for a while. So the guy caught up with me. He didn’t think he was going to catch up with me. When he saw me fall, he thought, “Oh shit. I better start running again.” Then he ran and got over me and pulled out a knife. I only had $40 in my pocket at the time, even though I was doing well. That was after I started working in show business. I was doing fine. I could have just given him the $40 and been fine, but I just really found out: “Oh, I’m in trouble! Let’s take off!”

That’s advice I’d give anyone, any time you think you’re in any kind of a weird situation where you go, “That person seems weird,” immediately start running. No one wants to run after you. The situation gets bad when you go, “I’m probably fine.” All of the sudden you’ll feel that hand on your shoulder. You look like a madman sometimes, just running around, but people don’t want to run. I think about that moment in the movie Girl With The Dragon Tattoo where Daniel Craig goes into the murderer’s murder basement just to be polite, because he doesn’t want to refuse the guy who’s invited him in for a drink just because he’s the murderer. People don’t want to look weird and don’t want to look strange running around, but, no! Look weird! If you feel in danger at all, take off running or yell screaming. People don’t want to bother with you.


AVC: Not only do you not want to look weird, but that thief doesn’t want to look weird. How bad do they really want that 40 bucks? Are they going to chase you onto Sunset Boulevard or into traffic?

SA: They’re not going to chase you; they don’t want any attention attracted to them at all. It’s an immediate stopgap to it.


AVC: Except that guy did chase you. And he pulled a knife on you.

SA: He halfheartedly chased me, I have to say. If I had just run at a normal pace, he never would have caught up with me. Because I was running like a madman with all the adrenaline in me, I think I was more prone to tripping on an uneven, cracked sidewalk. I think he definitely was surprised when I tripped. He thought, “Oh, I got another shot at this.”


11. Do you have anybody’s autograph? And, if not, whose would you want?

SA: I have two autographs, I think. I have a signed first edition of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, which someone bought for me. I also have an autographed copy of Don Rickles’ album, Hello Dummy!, which someone bought for me for my birthday. Both times, not acquired by me. Also, I have Dan Clowes’ autograph on a piece of artwork that I bought from him from Eightball. I guess I have Adrian Tomine’s autograph on a few of his books that I bought from him. I have four autographs: two of which were given to me, two of which I got myself. I think that’s a pretty good cross section of people. Adrian Tomine, Kurt Vonnegut, Dan Clowes, and Don Rickles. Not enough women in there. I need some more women autographs.


AVC: Do people ask you for autographs?

SA: When I go out on tour and you meet fans afterwards, usually they want to come up and talk to you. And the reason that they’ll come up and talk to you, supposedly, is, “Hey, would you sign my T-shirt?” or, “Would you sign my ticket stub?” Stuff like that. But really they want to just come up and talk to you. I can’t imagine people keeping the ticket stubs that I’ve signed for them over the years. I hope they throw them away. But the T-shirts are fun, because we always try to write something fun on the T-shirts. It’s not really a thing anymore, where people come up to you on the street and go, “Can I have your autograph?” Because everyone has a camera in their pocket. Everyone just wants to take a picture with you now.

12. Bonus question from Maria Bamford: Who can you trust when you can’t trust yourself?

SA: Oh, Maria! I hope she can trust herself. That’s kind of what life is all about in a way, finding close-knit people around you whom you can trust. I definitely feel like I can trust my wife. To a point! And I can probably trust my parents inasmuch as I trust their opinions. But I trust them to do the right thing by me. That’s what life is: trying to collect a bunch of people around you where, if you find yourself in a situation where you’re about to lose your condominium, one of them will reach out and give you $6,000 in order to save yourself knowing that they may not ever get it back.


AVC: And what question do you have for the next person?

SA: I guess I could ask something that I actually want to know. I’m having trouble turning my pilot light of my water heater back on. I’ve looked it up online. Supposedly, you’re supposed to push a button while putting a flame in there, but there’s no actual button. It looks to be an electronic switch, and it says in the instructions to turn and depress the “on/off” button. There’s no “on/off” button. There’s just an “up” and a “down” button. I’m just clueless. I don’t know if I should call the gas company and pay $100. I’d rather save the $100 by not calling the gas company and just handling it myself, but I’m clueless, so can they come by and show me how to turn the pilot light of my water heater back on?


AVC: Can the next person come by and show you how?

SA: Yeah. Would he mind coming by? I’m not sure where he lives. If he lives in Los Angeles, I’m in Los Angeles, too, which would be convenient for both of us.