It’s a hazy Saturday afternoon in July and some of the greatest improvisers in the country are assembling in a nondescript office building on Sunset Boulevard in East Hollywood. One by one, they enter Earwolf Studios and greet each other like the old friends they’ve become.
There’s Jon Gabrus, lounging on the couch in front of a wall of colorfully decorated Vans sneakers, one for each of the more than two dozen podcasts Earwolf now produces on a weekly basis. Paul F. Tompkins strolls in looking dapper as ever in a dark green blazer and bright yellow tie with socks to match. Nick Kroll and Mary Holland are grabbing some last-minute nitro cold brew coffee from the office’s built-in tap. Soon, Jason Mantzoukas and Lauren Lapkus have arrived as well, along with the host who will guide them through the highly-anticipated 500th episode of the Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast: Scott Aukerman.
Aukerman, who started his career as a writer for Bob Odenkirk and David Cross’ beloved HBO sketch series Mr. Show in the late ‘90s before going on to co-create the web series Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis, has never been quite as famous as the people around him. But as I learned by speaking to dozens of comedians who have appeared on his podcast and the IFC television show it inspired, he is considered the alternative Lorne Michaels in the influence he has had on the contemporary comedy landscape in America.
Comedy Bang! Bang! is the rare comedy podcast that’s actually funny. That’s because instead of talking about comedy, Aukerman and his guests—typically one celebrity appearing as him or herself and one or more comedians playing outrageous characters—actually do comedy on the show. Specifically, they do the type of long-form improv made popular by the Upright Citizens Brigade theater in an audio medium that allows listeners’ imaginations to take over, leading to blissfully surreal and demented scenarios to unfold week after week.
It is a format that has evolved a lot over the eight years since Aukerman first launched the show as a radio broadcast on the now-defunct Indie 103.1 station in 2009, back when it was called Comedy Death-Ray, the same name as the live stand-up show he was hosting at the time at UCB. As legend has it, it was Scott’s wife (“My wife!”)—and host of Earwolf’s Who Charted? podcast—Kulap Vilaysack who came up with the new name in 2011.
Today, Comedy Bang! Bang! regularly receives upwards of two million downloads a month and has spawned a rabid fan base that tracks the backstories and narratives of every fictionalized character in the show’s repertoire—and helped fuel multiple live tours around the country over the past few years. It has also produced the numerous spin-off podcasts that help make up the influential Earwolf network (co-founded by Aukerman), including Womp It Up! with Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham, How Did This Get Made? with Paul Scheer, Jason Mantzoukas, and June Diane Raphael, and Spontaneanation with Paul F. Tompkins.
Over the course of the week leading up to the release of the 500th episode, I spoke to or emailed with as many of the comedians as I could who made Comedy Bang! Bang! the hands-down funniest podcast of all time.
“BY THAT POINT, THE LIVE STAND-UP SHOW WAS LEGENDARY.”
Scott Aukerman (creator/host): When I first started it, I was in the middle of doing the live show at UCB. The podcast started in 2009 so I’d been doing that for seven years at the time. I put a lot of my creative energy into doing the show every week.
Paul Rust (Love, Comedy Bang! Bang! TV show): I remember Neil [Campbell] and I going to M Bar to see the live show and being like just total comedy nerds, seeing Scott at the bar and going, [whispering] “That’s Scott Aukerman, oh my god!”
Neil Campbell (head writer, Comedy Bang! Bang! TV show): Paul [Rust] and I went to college together and have known each other a long time.
Rust: We were doing open mics at the M Bar and Kulap Vilaysack, Scott’s girlfriend at the time, now wife, was a bartender during the open mic and she did us a huge favor. She liked the comedy that Neil and I were doing and put in good words for us. Scott came to the open mic and saw us perform and after that asked us to host.
Aukerman: I think about eight years into [the live show] I was kind of doing it by rote, not really putting a lot of energy into it. And then I stopped doing that after 10 years, so I kind of was like, 10 years seems to be about the right amount of time to do stuff. When I first started [the podcast] I didn’t think it would last a year.
Rust: By that point, the live stand-up show was legendary, because you could go and pay $5 or whatever to see Louis C.K. and other people we really admired. It felt so ephemeral. It was only happening this one night. You were there or you weren’t, you saw it or you didn’t.
Aukerman: The only podcasts I really knew about were [Jimmy Pardo’s] Never Not Funny, which I’d been on a lot. And then Ricky Gervais did one that I’d never heard but had heard about. So I never really thought about doing one, but then there was a radio station in town here, Indie 103.1, and they were slowly going out of business. So they were looking for people who would do shows for free.
“IT WAS JUST THE WORST START TO ANY PODCAST.”
Aukerman: Originally when I started doing it I would have on the comedians who were going to be on the live show that Tuesday and I would talk to them about comedy. I would sort of mess around with them, but also interview them, kind of like a proto-WTF [with Marc Maron]. The station said as long as you know some famous people that you can get to come in and do the podcast, it should be OK. And they gave me a one-month trial. The first episode I had Tom Lennon and Rob Huebel on and they were very impressed that Tom Lennon was there.
Rob Huebel (The League, Transparent): I set the tone for the whole project. I am the foundation for all of its success. If Scott disagrees I will see him in court.
Aukerman: After the first episode, the station was like, you can do what you want. The first episode is really me and Tom and Rob riffing around and having a conversation and that was it. And I would play comedy songs, because we didn’t have commercials and it was a way to take a break.
“Weird Al” Yankovic: It was revealed to me that Scott had been playing my songs on his podcast. I had to make a really tough decision: send him an enraged cease-and-desist letter, or become a beloved friend of the show? I really hope I made the right choice.
Aukerman: [After the third episode], I had to take a break for two weeks because I was working on the MTV Movie Awards with Andy Samberg and I had to have guest hosts [Chris Hardwick and Jimmy Pardo] sit-in. It was just the worst start to any podcast. Everyone is embarrassed by their first 10 shows, you know, but my first three were terrible and then I left for a couple of weeks.
Paul Scheer (The League, Veep): The first time I was on Comedy Bang! Bang!, I believe it was called Comedy Death-Ray and it was when Scott was doing it on the radio. It was a surreal experience because Weird Al was on the show and I got to tell him the story about how when my parents became born again Christians they were given a document of “dangerous/devil music” and Weird Al in 3-D was on that list because there was a song called “Nature Trail to Hell” on the album.
Aukerman: I remember the station manager had some sort of strict rules about language initially. And then Sarah Silverman came on [in episode six] and sang a song using the word “cunt” and he was so impressed Sarah Silverman was there, he didn’t care about language after that. But 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. And a light bulb went off in my head, like, oh yeah, just because the two podcasts I know about up until now, what they do is just a riffing conversation, that doesn’t mean I have to do it.
Nick Kroll (Kroll Show, Oh, Hello): The first time I did the show was at El Gato [the Spanish-language radio station that soon replaced Indie 103.1]. It was the first time I met Jon Hamm—he was also on the show—and we did commercials as Chupacabra and Juan Jamon. But that was before it was even a podcast.
Aukerman: So at that point, after I came back I started thinking of it more as a variety show, more as a talk show almost, where I was the host.
“I REMEMBER LISTENING BACK AND GOING, OH WOW, I THINK THIS COULD BE THE SHOW.”
Andy Daly (Review, Eastbound and Down): When Scott first asked me to do Comedy Bang! Bang! I didn’t really know what it was. Or whether anyone was listening to it or ever would.
Aukerman: Andy Daly came on [in Episode 14] and he did this character Danny Mahoney who gets really depressed and buys a big heavy coat and walks into the ocean and tries to commit suicide.
Daly: My approach was just to bring a bit that I had done on my album and had pretty well figured out to the show. And I expected it was going to go roughly the way it went every time I performed it live.
Aukerman: I knew that bit really well—I’d seen it so many times—so I knew the questions to ask him. But at a certain point, because he’s such a good improviser, I started almost needling him by asking questions that were off-bit. I remember I got really into the coat and where he bought it and how much it cost. Andy is such a pro that he rolled with it and made it really, really funny.
Daly: Scott totally derailed it—he completely derailed the bit, and the character, with questions. I remember thinking it was kind of exhausting. It was hard work to sit there and keep justifying crazy things that were brought up and have answers to all these questions. But in the process, it very helpfully shook me out of everything I was prepared to do.
Aukerman: That part of the bit had such an interesting feel to it that I remember listening back and going, oh wow, I think this could be the show. Instead of just setting people up, I could actually have characters on and we just improv the conversations.
Daly: That sort of set the path for my appearances, where I would show up prepared to do one thing and [Scott] would gleefully derail it and take it off in other directions—and was often joined in that endeavor by his other guests. It came to the point eventually where I wised up and started showing up with less.
Aukerman: Around then is when I started reaching out to people like James Adomian. I knew his characters really well and knew he was a great improviser.
James Adomian (The President Show, Edinburgh Fringe): Scott and I had known each other for years. I had done his Comedy Death-Ray live show. It was the perfect format for me. It would let me do whatever I want with no rules. It was a perfect playground to wildly experiment with very little preparation, if any at all.
Aukerman: And then I reached out to Paul F. Tompkins, who I was good friends with. He had exclusively done stand-up up to that point. And I think I casually said, “Hey, do you want to do something on this show? You could even do a character if you want.” I was just kind of throwing that out.
Paul F. Tompkins (Mr. Show with Bob and David, Bojack Horseman): I was in New York at the time hosting a revamped version of VH1’s Best Week Ever. This was 2009, and he asked me to call in by phone because they were still doing it at the radio station at that time. Scott said it in a very off-hand way. He explained the show to me and said, “It’s really simple, you just call in and you could be yourself or you could be a character.”
Aukerman: I had no idea how he would be at characters. And now he’s so good at it. He didn’t, as far as I knew, have any improvisation background. He had never done it before so it was so crazy to me that that came out of just an off-hand comment I made.
Tompkins: It would never have occurred to me and I thought, oh yeah, I guess I could do that. [One of the] first things that I did was Ice-T. That was a big moment for me. The idea of doing a voice and keeping it going was the very beginning for me of doing something new.
Adomian: I had been on a couple of podcasts before that, but Comedy Bang! Bang! was the first one that had the overnight huge cult following.
Jessica St. Clair (Playing House): I had been a fan of the podcast for a long time, but I don’t actually do characters, really, other than myself or versions of myself. I was like, fuck, I don’t know if I’ll be able to do a character.
Aukerman: That’s when the show really started to gel for me, when it became a fake talk show with me talking to real people and fake people. And I remember, even a couple of years in, I would still have “riff” episodes where I would have comedians on and no characters and I would get a lot of feedback like, “Hey, I listen to the show for the characters.”
St. Clair: I think on my drive over, I came up with the idea of this 15-year-old girl who had applied to be an intern at the radio station. I just sort of based her on all the annoying qualities I had as a 15-year-old. Because I used to do shit like that, like think I needed to have an internship at Good Morning America and make my dad drive me in at 5 a.m. just so I could hand somebody a croissant. But also I was always convinced I was going to be discovered at any minute. And I never was. In fact, the entertainment industry was actively encouraging me not to be a part of it. So that’s what I decided to base Marissa Wompler on. Then a couple of years later, I decided to invite Lennon to come on.
Lennon Parham (Playing House): Jess was like, can you come play my gifted teacher? Scott was amazing at drawing out the details. So I said one thing about being a sniper and then 30 minutes later, we’re deep into me having a son named August Wilson. None of it planned out, but after the fact, people were losing their minds about the dynamic of the two of us.
St. Clair: What I said to you after it, after we walked out, I said, “Never again. Never again will you come on. I am going to kill Charlotte Listler the next time I appear.” I was like, this is too much craziness for me to justify. I had built Marissa in a really realistic sense. I had a troubled relationship with my stepdad, and suddenly she’s a fucking sniper in the first Gulf War who can travel through space and time? But the people want what they want and they fell in love with Charlotte’s ombre, fade mohawk.
Aukerman: The first couple of years, just to make myself more comfortable, I would try to suss out where the bit was going to go. But nowadays, the less the better. It really is like, we sit down in front of the mics and I say, “Hey, what do you want to do today?” And they give me their name and their occupation and that’s it.
“I’M NOT COMPARING MYSELF TO JOHNNY CARSON AT ALL, BUT…”
Aukerman: It’s been really gratifying to see some of the performers who haven’t had a national or global audience break out on the podcast.
Lauren Lapkus (Oranges: The New Black, Crashing): I met Scott doing ASSSCAT. I was performing in the cast and he was doing monologues for the show at UCB. And he asked me after that if I wanted to come and do the podcast. My first time doing it was with Paul F. Tompkins and Gillian Jacobs and it was a huge learning experience just doing it on its feet.
Aukerman: I hear about someone who’s really funny and making waves in Los Angeles and I ask them to do the show. Or I get someone I trust to say, “Hey, you should really have this person on the show because they would crush it.” And then I ask that person to come on the show and they crush it.
Campbell: Scott and Kulap are the ones who introduced me to UCB and got me involved there back in 2005. Once I was artistic director there I was teaching classes and watching the auditions for Harold teams and Maude teams, so just as new people would come up through the ranks and prove themselves and be super funny—but maybe not on Scott’s radar yet—I would just suggest people to him.
Mary Holland (Shrink, Veep): It was a little over two years ago the first time I did the show and actually Lauren [Lapkus] was scheduled to be the character guest on that episode, but she had a work conflict come up so my friend Neil Campbell recommended me to Scott to do it. I was very nervous because I had listened to [the podcast] and all the characters are so specific, they have such a specific point of view.
Jon Gabrus (The Little Hours, Younger): I was a diehard fan, listened for two or three years unbroken and then when I moved out here, I got an email from Scott that was like, “Hey, Neil Campbell gave me your name, I was looking for new blood. Do you want to come on the podcast and maybe do a character?” When I emailed him back, I was like, “How about I be a guy who doesn’t really understand podcasts and he’s really into drive time radio and he’s a big Opie and Anthony fan.” All I was trying to do was pick a voice that I could do. I’m not really a character person, so I was so nervous.
Horatio Sanz (Saturday Night Live): I don’t even think I had heard the show when I did it the first time.
Holland: I just invented somebody [that first show]. Dreama Peaches was her name. I don’t remember all the details, but she thought people were bears. She didn’t know what a bear was. She had a tumultuous relationship with her ex-husband. It was really exhilarating though, that first one.
Aukerman: With the character guests, I love it when someone comes up with a really interesting idea of how to be a crazy person—if they have a very weird business or if they have a strange point of view. The more extreme, the better.
Rust: When you go on the podcast, you definitely want to be entertaining. And I think there’s some, not necessarily pressure, but an awareness that this might be how a large group of people know you and are introduced to you.
Aukerman: It is very cool to me to take someone who I go, “Oh man, that person is so funny” and then find something that clicks with our audience to the point where they now have [their own] audience across the country. It’s really cool to me when someone who has maybe not had that perfect part of a television show or movie and doesn’t have name recognition, now I hear from comedians who say wherever they go they hear from people who heard them on the show.
St. Clair: With Scott, there’s really no way to fail with him because he’s so funny and he encourages everybody to heighten all of their games. I’d like to say these were genius characters, but you come in with nothing, essentially, because we’re all so lazy. And then he helps you build it into this fleshed-out character that you could then be for years and years and years.
Aukerman: It’s almost become, in a way—and I’m not comparing myself to Johnny Carson at all—but you know how when a comedian was on Johnny Carson that meant they could tour and sell out wherever they went. That no longer exists anymore. Now people are going to shows because they heard someone on a podcast.
Rust: The way [Scott] sets me and others up to be funny, that’s one of his great gifts. Which is interesting, because it’s essentially a real-time microcosm for what Scott does and has done for the last 15 years. He positions people in ways that they can score and be funny. So he’s doing it minute-to-minute on the podcast, but for me, I can say with great confidence that I would be nowhere near where I’m at career-wise were it not for Scott’s initial support.
“I FEEL LIKE THEY’RE MAKING THIS JUST FOR ME.”
Aukerman: I’ve always felt that comedians are a very tightknit family. I know that if I call up Patton Oswalt and say, “Hey, do you want to do the podcast?” it’s not going to be like, “Oh, god, what is this thing?” It’s a fellow comedian that’s asking you to do a thing and I know that he can come and show up and do it.
Patton Oswalt: Scott Aukerman managed to recreate the experience of our little group of weirdo comedians hanging out and riffing with each other, fucking with each other, and just being creative and goofy for the pure freedom of it.
St. Clair: The same way he’s generous as a performer is the way he’s built the whole Earwolf thing. You have an idea and you want to try it, they’re game. And they’re there to support it and that’s awesome.
Erik Diehn (CEO, Midroll Media): When Earwolf started, the podcast market was small and nascent, to say the least. Scott was a pioneer; back in 2010 there weren't as many comedians in the space and certainly very few comedy shows being produced with the level of care and sophistication that he brought to the medium.
Daly: Scott is a great improviser and he’s really fun to do this with because he strikes the right balance between throwing you curveballs and on the other hand really supporting what you bring to the table. It’s very impressive how he deftly does both of those things in the perfect combination.
Sanz: It’s one thing to be a good straight man, but [Scott] is also really funny in his own right and he gets exactly where I’m going a lot times, so it makes it really easy to improvise. He’s one of the best people I’ve ever improvised with.
Rust: For me, I think that’s where the genius of the podcast comes from. If you’re a comedy fan, the thing that you can most feel when you’re watching something that you really like is the specificity of: I feel like they’re making this just for me. That’s certainly how I felt when I first watched Mr. Show. I was like, they’re making jokes that I feel like are just to make me laugh.
Scheer: The best part is that 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 and sometimes cements them into these iconic moments, for example, “Heynong Man.”
Jason Mantzoukas (The League, The House): The frequency with which people say “Heynong Man” to me is kind of mind-blowing. From something that just feels like a fun, silly show to do and then it goes out into the world to hundreds of thousands and ultimately millions of people who are listening to the show.
“I OFTEN FEEL LIKE I’VE BLACKED OUT DURING A RECORDING.”
Jessica McKenna (Party Over Here): My first episode, I was doing this character, Power Wheels Beth. I had a lot of details I knew about Beth but most of them went out the window once we started. Every time I bring back Beth more and more gets added to her story and it's so much more fun and exciting to let everyone else morph and shape your character rather than sticking to some version you had in your head.
Daly: For me, it’s this constant juggling act between playing some kind of a plausible character and “yes and”-ing the fanciful, crazy things that come up. I also feel a lot of pressure to not violate the backstory of the character—because I really don’t want to be called out for violating a character’s backstory.
Lapkus: At first, it was more challenging for me to repeat a character because I wanted to make sure I was consistent and got the same details right about the character. Especially because the online community will let you know if you mess up.
Rust: It’s sort of a version of what you hear about The Howard Stern Show. Somebody goes in and they do an interview, they sort of spill their guts and when they leave they go, oh my god, it was so intimate in there, something happened where I allowed myself to share a secret that I normally wouldn’t.
Jimmy Pardo (Never Not Funny podcast, Conan): When I was on with Paul Rust and Rob Delaney, Scott and I were paired up against them playing show staple “What Am I Thinking?”—a game that has two people count down and then blurt out a word at the same time to see if they match. In the eighth round, apropos of nothing that had been said, Scott and I both blurt out “Jism!” Not jizz or even cum we both went with the upscale “Jism!”
Ben Schwartz (House of Pies, Parks and Recreation): I love getting in a small room and messing around with friends and other hilarious humans. Oftentimes you forget what you're doing is going to be heard by a lot of people. It just feels like a bunch of weirdos in a room trying to make each other laugh.
St. Clair: It’s always yellow and it’s always super hot. We work up a great stank in there. That’s when you know it’s been a good show.
Holland: I definitely sweat while it’s happening because it’s intense. But I don’t get nervous anymore.
St. Clair: I often feel like I’ve blacked out during a recording. I literally can’t remember anything we said. And yet, we can remember all the specifics of this insane world pretty easily. Like we never really make a mistake—well, sometimes we will and our fans are so strange they will remember that, like, in 1983 you were in the Falkland Islands. Or that you have a skin pouch that you store weapons in.
Parham: Well, that I will never forget.
St. Clair: That’s also what’s so great about Scott. All of the characters that come on, the humor is in the specificity of it. And I don’t know how he remembers it all. Because he does. He never makes a mistake.
“I DON’T HAVE ANY DELUSIONS ABOUT IT BEING GOOD EVERY WEEK.”
Aukerman: The show is still a little impenetrable for the new listener because we don’t give a lot of indication that these are fake people. And sometimes when comedians are doing impressions of real people, I’ll get people saying things to me like, “I never knew Werner Herzog was so funny.”
Tompkins: People still say that to me. Obviously I’m very flattered by that but I’m also like, a lot of these people probably haven’t heard the real people speak that much.
Aukerman: I love it, but at the same time I sometimes wish the word would get out a little bit more. We were so close to the vest about it for so long, where we would never break or say anything was fake.
Rust: I think that’s sort of the fun of the podcast, but also what makes Scott great is that there’s not a lot of hand-holding of “this is the real part” and “this is a fake part.”
Aukerman: Because it’s a variety show, I don’t have any delusions about it being good every week. I have a responsibility to put out an episode on a Monday. And I can’t just throw out an episode because it didn’t work. I think people listening to this show hopefully know that.
Lapkus: It’s such a unique format. To get to sit with celebrities and be a ridiculous character while they’re being themselves, it’s a unique experience.
Sanz: Sometimes musicians will get on there and not really know what it is. For the most part, they’re like, this is weird shit, and then they start laughing and they love it.
Aukerman: The best ones for me are when the real guest is having fun with the format of the show, which is not always the case.
Tompkins: I’ve been very lucky in that the people I’ve done the show with, everybody sort of gets what’s going on. A lot of times where non-comedy people will go is a place of defensiveness. Because they’re afraid that if they’re not in on the joke, then the joke is about them. And it’s not.
Aukerman: This show is really, really hard to book. Imagine you’re a person out there promoting a project and the details are, you have to be somewhere for an hour and a half, you are going to talk about your project, but not that seriously, and then you’re sitting there with comedians playing characters. It’s a very easy no.
Kyle Mooney (Saturday Night Live, Brigsby Bear): It’s not your grandma’s interview. Because I don’t actively do improv, I sometimes have trouble paying full attention to figure out what’s happening, but I enjoy it and they’re so great at it.
David Wain (Wet Hot American Summer, The State): It’s always fun to walk into a situation where you have no idea what’s going to happen. Whether it’s doing monologues for UCB’s ASSSSCAT show or acting on Reno 911! or Comedy Bang! Bang! it’s such a joy to sit down with no clue, then interact with the best improvisers in comedy and try to keep up.
Aukerman: There have been times when people have been on a publicity tour and they maybe don’t read the description that well. There have definitely been guests who arrive who are not stoked about the format. You have to just push through. I’m very explicit now, because I had an experience early on where I wasn’t as explicit with it and thought everyone would just show up and roll with the punches. And the person was not happy about it. They thought they were having a trick played on them, like it was a prank show or something.
Tompkins: A lot of times you have to break it down for them and say, “We’re just being silly idiots. This is not a prank, this is not to get you.”
Aukerman: Recently, I had someone show up and say, “What is this? I talk to you for like 20 minutes and then I’m done, right?” And I was like, “No… you’re here with this guy and our job is to ask them a bunch of questions.”
Tompkins: When Huell Howser died, James Adomian had done Huell Howser for years. As crazy as that impression was, James genuinely loved Huell Howser. They wanted to do a send-off and the other guest on the show was Jeff Garlin, who didn’t get what was going on. So that made it very difficult for Scott and James to do it as respectfully as they wanted to do it. As a listener and as a fan of the show, it was very frustrating to listen to. Because you knew what Scott and James were going for and Jeff just didn’t.
Adomian: Paul is right to point that out as an example of a particularly hilarious moment of it not working. Jeff Garlin did not really get what was going on and I wasn’t really happy about it. If I remember it correctly, I was in character as the recently deceased ghost of Huell Howser, lambasting to Jeff Garlin for not knowing who I was—or being a bad improviser, I don’t remember which.
Aukerman: Being interviewed on these press tours, you say the same thing over and over and over again. And you would think that people would really enjoy a host asking them dumb questions and just wanting to do bits.
Haley Joel Osment (Silicon Valley, The Spoilers Before Dying): I’ve listened to the show since the Comedy Death-Ray days, so it’s surreal to have gone on as a guest twice in the past year. I love being in that room and being able to see everyone try to hold it together and not laugh into the microphone.
Adomian: My all-time favorite moment on the podcast was doing Tom Leykis with Amy Poehler. I was a little nervous because Tom Leykis is this awful, awful, awful misogynist pig and she got it. “Got it” doesn’t even begin to describe it. She beyond got what the game was.
Aukerman: Those are the people who are great and come back to the show over and over. Edgar Wright listened to the show and then came on it and brought Simon Pegg and Nick Frost to it. Then he made time for it in the Baby Driver promotional tour.
Edgar Wright (Baby Driver, Shaun of the Dead): I had cajoled Simon Pegg and Nick Frost into doing it in 2013 to promote The World’s End. It always feels like doing a tightrope walk because the comedy guest is such a random element and keeps you on your toes. It was a great episode, one of those rare instances where press is just pure fun.
Aukerman: Hopefully, at the end of that, people go, “Wow, this was so much fun. I had way more fun than I would just being interviewed.”
“THE TV SHOW COST MILLIONS OF DOLLARS TO MAKE.”
Campbell: When I first was getting involved in conversations with Scott about the TV show, a big part of it was how to take the insanity of the podcast and turn it into something visual. Rather than just filming the studio, it was like, let’s try to have a show that’s as visually insane as the podcast can get.
Aukerman: Fans of the podcast watch the TV show and they’re disappointed that it doesn’t have a certain feel to it. And the feel that they’re looking for is the improv “finding it” feel. If I just did a TV show with that feel, I think that we would have done 10 [instead of 110 episodes].
Campbell: I don’t want to say I wasn’t worried about what podcast listeners would think, because that’s not true. But we were not worrying too much about trying to be the podcast.
Aukerman: I wanted something with rewatchability. I wanted something that people years to come would rewatch and it wouldn’t depend so much on watching a celebrity plug a product.
Campbell: I remember I would still be a guest on the podcast while we were working on the show, and it would feel like fun recess or something.
Aukerman: The only reason the podcast has outlasted the TV show is that the TV show cost millions of dollars to make and the podcast costs very little to make. Because of that, the pressure is on to put out a really consistent product. When you’re doing a TV show, you want every episode to be good.
Campbell: One thing I’ve always been a big proponent of is: take advantage of the medium you’re in. If you’re making a TV show, take advantage of the tools that being on TV gives you. Don’t just do something that wishes it were a podcast. And if you’re doing a podcast, take advantage of all the awesome tools at your disposal. And sometimes that means the things people can’t see. So you can now describe something and that makes it true.
St. Clair: There is no audience, so you’re not listening to laughs or conscious of what you look like. You can be anything. It’s like being an animated character. You can say anything and justify anything. I think that’s why people do some of their funniest work on that show.
Rust: The only audience is the other comedians, so it’s just a little bit more specific to what their sensibility is of whatever crazy thing happens.
Aukerman: The benefit of doing the podcast is there’s no pressure; it can be bad. It is whatever it is when we do it and then we put it out. I want people to like it so I do whatever I can to make people like it. But it really is just a conversation.
“IT HAS PROVIDED ME WITH SO MUCH JOY. LIKE, REAL JOY.”
Adomian: There’s something uniquely magical about coming up with ideas with funny people. That’s sort of the experience of being backstage as a comedian, doing bits in the greenroom or after a show. A podcast is kind of a way for other people to listen in on it.
Tompkins: This show has meant so much to me over the years—not just as a performer but as a fan. It has provided me with so much joy. Like, real joy. Especially being in that studio. I count the hours that I have spent in that studio at Earwolf among the happiest in my life. I have laughed so much and formed so many great relationships in that room. It has had an immeasurable impact on my life.
Sanz: It was really important to me because at the time I hadn’t really done anything since SNL that I really liked. This was the first consistent, fun thing. When they started asking me to do it, I was starting to get a lot of love from people that maybe knew me from SNL, but not too much. So it kind of gave me a fresh audience.
Lapkus: It’s just been an amazing experience for me to be a part of this show and it has opened up my career in a really interesting way. Getting into the podcasting world is not something that I ever expected to do.
Parham: An entire comedy podcast network has come out of this show. The sort of empire that he’s built and the people he’s given platforms to is just like crazy phenomenal.
Gabrus: I’ve listened to hundreds of hours of the show and done probably hundreds of hours of the show at this point in my life between live shows and tours and a bunch of studios. I knew I was a fan and I knew how much comedy nerds liked it, but I didn’t realize how big podcasts were, period.
Schwartz: The solo bolos are some of my favorite episodes I’ve done on the show. Just Scott and I singing in each other’s mouths like kids is probably the happiest you will see us in our lives. I don’t remember exactly how it started but I think there was an episode or two that I did with Scott where we would just talk nonsense for a while and maybe sing before the other guest came on and it felt like we could just do that forever. So, maybe I asked Scott if he’s ever done an episode with just two people. And I think he explained “not on purpose” and from there it was born.
Kroll: It’s a real pleasure wherever I go that there’s always a portion of people who are crazy fans of the show and are so loyal. It’s stuff that you used to do in a club or at UCB and no one would ever hear about it ever again, and all of a sudden it’s five people enter a room and then a couple of days later hundreds of thousands, millions of people listen to it. It’s really cool.
Anthony Jeselnik (Thoughts and Prayers): It’s one of the only podcasts where the whole point is to just goof off and be weird. There’s never a game plan. Aukerman is a halfway decent improviser and a borderline competent host. It’s just a blast to take what he gives you, and then make it listenable.
“10 YEARS IS A NICE ROUND NUMBER THAT WOULD BE GOOD TO JUMP OFF ON.”
Aukerman: You always have that thing of like, 10 years is a nice round number that would be good to jump off on. I was on autopilot for the last year, year and a half of the live show. The fun part of putting together that show was kind of in the past. I’m not in the same place with the podcast. It still is fun for me.
St. Clair: I hope it goes on forever.
Parham: I hope [Scott] will continue on like RuPaul has. He is helping other queens come up but still reigns as the true queen. So I hope that for Scott, allowing other queens to rise beneath him.
St. Clair: I hope that the Choctaw remains the true queen of comedy.
Mantzoukas: True to the mythology of the show, I think I would only be comfortable taking over the show if Scott died. Then I think it would be a tribute and an opportunity to really continue his legacy after he has passed, in probably what would be a funny, embarrassing fashion.
Kulap Vilaysack (Bajillion Dollar Propertie$): I do not like to joke about Scott’s death because it makes me sad.
Aukerman: There’s a combination of things that would need to happen [for me to walk away]. When it stops being fun and starts being a drag, when it gets too hard to book—and that is fast approaching. Or if it got to a place where I was leaving the show going, oh man, this is not clicking. I’ve had a few like that where I’ll do two in a row and go, that wasn’t as good as I wish it could be. And then the next one I do will be great and brilliant and I’ll go, “See? Still got it!”
Mantzoukas: I just want to make sure that your readers understand: I’m not advocating that he be murdered. For those people who want me to take over, I’m not saying, “Kill Scott Aukerman” so that I will take over. I just want that to be clear. I’m not advocating that people, vigilante-style, take Scott out in some sort of ritualistic fashion in order to prove they’re Jason Mantzoukas loyalists.
Vilaysack: In all seriousness, if and when that tragedy occurs, I will stuff Scott and semi-resurrect him as an animatronic sex robot. Zouks will have to be okay with this, otherwise I can’t commit.
Aukerman: I don’t think Jason would want to do it. 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.