In a world where everyone and their mother has a podcast, very few shows rise to the status of being massive crossover hits. More often than not a podcast will find its niche audience and hang on to it for however long the hosts feel like keeping it up. Comedy Bang! Bang! is not one of those podcasts. Having just celebrated 500 episodes and eight years of “slingin’ ’tent,” Comedy Bang! Bang! has garnered an international audience of millions, many of whom are fanatical, obsessive comedy fans who tune in every Monday hoping to hear from their favorite returning guests and characters. What began as a live stand-up show in L.A. has since become the foundation of one of the largest podcast networks and been successfully translated to five seasons of television on IFC.
So, what has made CBB so successful and, perhaps more importantly, so different from the thousands of other comedy podcasts peppering the overpopulated landscape?
In the oral history curated by Matt Wilstein at the Daily Beast, it becomes clear that one major selling point of Comedy Bang! Bang! is that it’s a comedy podcast that’s purposefully trying to be funny. During its rocky start as a radio show on the now-defunct Indie 103.1, host Scott Aukerman stumbled onto what would become the show’s ethos during a conversation with the station manager. “He came up to me and said, you know, I don’t know that anyone is really interested in listening to you talk about comedy. I think they would rather just hear people doing it,” said Aukerman.
That initial premise led to the podcast’s eventual variety show format and “open door policy,” which allowed comedians to come on and play absurd characters that interact and improvise with Aukerman and whoever his “real” guest happened to be that week. After eight years, Comedy Bang! Bang!’s overflowing corral of characters includes director Werner Herzog; Ho-Ho The Naughty Elf; and Gino, the Long Island-based intern, to name a few. Veteran guests Paul F. Tompkins, Andy Daly, Jessica St. Clair, and Lauren Lapkus all credit the show’s success to Aukerman and his ability to simultaneously steer the ship and keep them on their toes as improvisers. It’s that master helmsmanship that makes the show not only fun to listen to but also fun to make.
“Scott has positioned himself as the ringleader of this world who knows all the rules of comedy and constantly exposes it and kind of trips you up or makes you double down on some crazy specific that you offhandedly say that takes the characters and bits into wildly different directions,” said comedian Paul Scheer, who hosts the podcast How Did This Get Made? on the Aukerman-founded Earwolf Network.
Scott Aukerman and his talented roster of guests invite listeners to witness how the sausage of comedy is made without getting bogged down in long-winded metaphysical discussions of what it means to be funny. Long-time listeners can hear when certain celebrity guests aren’t “getting it” or when a new character has “locked in.” The ins and outs of the comedy machine become demystified because you’re listening to them unfold in real time while laughing.
When asked if the show could continue without him as host, Aukerman said, “It’s such a good format that I wish I could just pass it off to someone. But I don’t know who could take it over… I really don’t.” Here’s hoping we never have to find out.