You might not realize it, but the majority of your favorite comedy today via: Internet, movies, podcasts, television, all great comedy in general, stems from the “alternative comedy scene” that really started to grow in the early to mid nineties. You can thank individuals like Bob Odenkirk or Paul F. Tompkins, groups like The State or Human Giant, and stages like the Upright Citizens Brigade, (along with many others). When you think of Judd Apatow films, shows like “The Office”, viral videos like “Between Two Ferns”, they all involve people that came from that scene, or have been heavily influenced by it. Insert Scott Aukerman. The face, even the name might not be familiar, but he is at the top of this class, no doubt. He is a writer, actor, comedian, host, and guy that has worked with every possible dream comedian. He hosts the uber popular podcast Comedy Bang Bang. He co-founded the podcast platform/community Earwolf.com. Scott started his comedy career as a writer and performer on Mr. Show, then later co-founded the popular UCB show that is now known as Comedy Bang Bang: Standup. He also did a bunch of stuff in between: writing, acting, co-creating “Between Two Ferns” with Zach Galifianakis, and I could really go on and on. But why listen to me when you can get to know Scott Aukerman aka Hot Saucerman aka Scottabot in the interview below. Enjoy!
Serial Optimist: Hey Scott! How are you? What’s the current mood?
Scott Aukerman: Currently super-patriotic… it’s the fourth of July here in America, and I’m celebrating by setting an English pub on fire.
SO: When you get patriotic, it’s best to go all out. Represent! Before we get into your background, I’m going to come right at you from a fan perspective. You host the podcast Comedy Bang Bang, formerly Comedy Death-Ray., is also a weekly live show at UCB. Why the change from Death-Ray to Bang Bang?
Scott: The podcast became something different, independent of the CDR UCB show, so it deserved its own name. And now the era of Comedy Bang Bang has begun!
SO: How did you initially get into the podcast format? When did that start, and in the beginning, what was the plan or format for the show? How much has that changed as the podcast has evolved?
Scott: When I started, I only thought of it as a radio show. Indie 103.1 was my favorite radio station, and I listened to it all the time. When they asked me to do a show, I was thrilled, and thought of it only as that. I didn’t have much of an opinion on podcasting, so when the station started doing it, I shrugged and said, “Okay, fine by me.”
As far as the structure of the show, I had no plan of what I was going to do, or what the format was going to be – I was thrown into it with only two days to prepare and no experience. My original thought was that I would have whoever was going to be on the UCB show that Tuesday, and interview them. But the station wasn’t really interested in interviews with comedians; so thankfully, it evolved into people actually DOING comedy, which has been more fun.
SO: No matter what guest you have on, and I understand many are friends, people you’ve worked with, etc, but you always make it seem so easy to talk and interact with every single guest you have on. You’re a smooth operator. Where does that comfort level come from?
Scott: I think it stems from a genuine interest in the other person and their work. I try not to let any nervousness show, and you’re right – having a previous relationship with the person helps. The only person who I geeked out on and seemed super-nervous during was probably Paul Reubens. I’d been trying to book him as a guest for two years, and have been a huge fan for over the last 25. I even dressed up like him and did the “Tequila” dance at Homecoming when I was in high school. So I think you can hear the ol’ nerves during that one.
SO: You are, what’s the word, “brilliant-esque” in all forms of comedy, improv, writing… But do you ever have a hard time navigating guests such as Cake Boss or Jesse Ventura or Fabrice Fabrice to where it can become overwhelming? Like you can tell a bit isn’t working or too much is going on at once, or is it always just fun to jump in play with these characters?
Scott: I think there have been times where a bit isn’t working, yes, but in general, all my guests are so genius, that they make it easy on me. But you’re right – that can be one of my main roles on the show, to try to rein things in when it gets to be too overwhelming.
SO: You co-founded Earwolf with Jeff Ullrich, and now have a great variety of podcasts on earwolf.com. How did the development or idea of Earwolf come about?
Scott: Jeff was interested in the podcast, and came to me about perhaps managing it. But in the first meeting, he also mentioned it would also be fun to start a whole network. I think that’s an area in which both of us have more interest – starting something and trying to make a big idea work. Thankfully, it’s been a big success and fun for both us and the artists involved!
SO: You are the writer and director of the much-loved “Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis”. There might not be a better five minutes of online video then when a new one comes out. How much is improvised with the guest, and how did that idea develop? Where did “Between Two Ferns” come from?
Scott: You know, I would leave it to Zach to talk about the details of how the bread is made… it’s kind of his thing, so I wouldn’t want to talk about it too much. But I can say that it started as part of a late-night FOX pilot B.J. Porter and I made a few years back.
SO: Okay enough questions involving the word “develop”. In high school and college, you were writing plays in your spare time, in a band, and studying acting and musical theatre. What were your “dreams” at that point in your life? Where did you see yourself wanting your career to go?
Scott: I’ve always been really into music, so I think I wanted to be involved somehow… either in a band, or on the Brrrrroadway stage. But I was also very into both Saturday Night Live and Late Night with David Letterman. I had a cable access show that I hosted, and where I shamelessly ripped off Letterman’s style (something I still try to do).
I think I had dreams of being an actor in films, but thought it was too out-of-reach for a guy like me. Who knew being Michael Caine’s body double in Austin Powers 3 was in my future? If I could go back and tell Young Me that I would end up doing that, I wonder what reaction he would give. “Who is Austin Powers and why should I care?” is what he’d probably say. Even Old Me would probably say that.
SO: You have done a ton of writing, from feature films to pilots to sketches to movie awards. You work frequently with B.J. Porter. What is the process like to write a pilot, or a screenplay, and it ultimately not get the green light? Does that make you both more motivated or defeated?
Scott: It can get tough, but I think you have to kind of hope with all your heart that it will happen, but not be surprised and defeated when it inevitably doesn’t, you know? All the money they throw at you certainly helps.
SO: So many people that I’ve interviewed and am fans of came out of the Mr. Show, and the “alternative” comedy scene of the 90’s. That plus UCB plus the Internet has really made a big comedy boom over the last five years, or I should say made the best comics more recognizable. Why do you think so many people from that group have gone on to be so successful?
Scott: They were really such an amazing group of people… Bob and David had a great eye for talent, and it showed. However, I am disappointed they should weren’t even MORE successful… like the members of Monty Python were, directing and starring in films. Oh well…
SO: This year you started hosting interview segments airing on IFC during the block of cult classics like The Larry Sanders Show, Undeclared, Mr. Show, and more. Will this continue to go on through the summer or in the fall? That is just the perfect format. Did IFC approach you or was this your idea?
Scott: IFC approached me about doing it because they loved the podcast. These should continue through the end of the year… I have SIX WEEKS of interviews with Ron Howard re: Arrested Development coming up soon.
SO: Who is your favorite Comedy Bang Bang “friend” that comes on the show?
Scott: I would say either Ray Romano or Dismissive Jimmy Stewart.
SO: Favorite “Between Two Ferns” episode?
SO: What other podcasts do you love?
Scott: Never Not Funny with Jimmy Pardo is the original and the podcast from which all blessings flow!
SO: What are your overall thoughts on the state of comedy right now? Do you think it’s heading in the right direction?
Scott: People will always need to laugh, so I think comedy will always be strong! But yes, I enjoy a lot of stuff people are putting out now. I guess I’m biased because so many of my friends are doing such great work.
SO: To steal from you, let’s end this on a “plug” note. What guests do you have coming up on Comedy Bang Bang, and anything else you have going on this year you would like to plug?
Scott: I have a bananas show with Seth Morris and Bobby Moynihan coming up that I just listened back to… that one is bonkers. Watch out for that.
SO: Thanks SO much Scott, you are truly one of the best!