I ask Scott Aukerman what he’s up to and he launches into a detailed rundown: woke up in the middle of the night, read a little, went back to bed, got up, ate some toast with cream cheese, rushed to Earwolf studios to record a podcast — “Is this part of the interview?” he asks, finally. I just wanted to set the scene, I say. “Oh yeah, very important. … You know what, I’ll just send you my itinerary.”
Aukerman’s got a killer deadpan.
It comes in handy. In addition to his work on shows like Between Two Ferns With Zach Galifianakis, Aukerman is frequently heard as a host for Earwolf, the L.A.-based comedy podcasting network he cofounded in 2009. Aukerman’s main gig is Comedy Bang! Bang!, the network’s flagship podcast, specializing in long-form conversational improv. The CBB formula has him playing ringmaster to a circus of oddball characters portrayed by his fellow comics. CBB is still going strong as podcast, and enjoyed a five-year incarnation as a TV show on IFC. It also continues to pop up now and again as a live show — like this Monday’s date at the Merriam featuring frequent collaborators Lauren Lapkus and Philly-born Paul F. Tompkins.
Are the live Comedy Bang! Bang! shows 100% improvised?
I don’t know really anything that’s going to happen in it from minute one to the two-hour mark, or whenever it ends. It’s an opportunity to see people doing something that could be really successful, or we could fall on either our faces or asses. I’m not quite sure.
What’s your job as host of CBB?
I’m sort of like the audience surrogate. I’m the person there to ask the questions they would ask if a crazy person were to come up to you and started talking about their strange business.
But I’m also there to push it in different directions, which I subtly do throughout the show — asking leading questions to try to see if that will open up avenues of conversation. So I’m holding the audience’s hand, but I’m also holding the hand of the performers. And I only have two hands, so basically I’m doing the show hands-free. That’s what people can expect when people come see the show.
With Whose Line Is It Anyway off the air, your podcast might be the biggest outlet for improv comedy.
Curb Your Enthusiasm is sort of an improv show. The difference being that when we do an episode of Comedy Bang! Bang!, I don’t know anything. I just ask for the guest’s name and how I should describe them. … But something like Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David writes out a pretty detailed summary of what every scene is going to be.
You directed the Between Two Ferns movie for Netflix. Was that all improvised, too?
Zach [Galifianakis] and I “co-wrote” it, but it was an improv movie, where I would say a third of the scenes were done Curb Your Enthusiasm-style: I wrote out what was going to happen in them. But two-thirds of the scenes, we didn’t know what was gonna happen.
That’s a lot of pressure to put on a movie.
Yeah, I mean I was lucky enough that I’ve been doing this podcast now for 10 years and have met some amazing improv actors that we were able to cast it really well. So much of the Between Two Ferns movie is successful casting.
You went to the White House to do a Between Two Ferns episode with Obama. Would you do one with Trump?
Probably not. If you watch the Between Two Ferns movie, at the end you see a little peek behind the curtain about the process. And it’s like everyone’s having fun and is a good sport about things. And everyone’s a good improviser. All these people who do it, from Paul Rudd to Matthew McConaughey to Awkwafina to Tiffany Haddish — they’re all really funny people who are surprisingly good at improv. I don’t know that that describes Trump. [Laughs.] And I’m not sure if I want to try to find out.
The always well-dressed Paul F. Tompkins is from Philly. What don’t we know about him?
I saw Paul wearing a T-shirt and shorts. It was maybe two years ago, and I texted him and I said, “I swear I just saw you in a T-shirt and shorts.” And he wrote back the Shaggy defense; he just said, “It wasn’t me.” But I think it was him and he just didn’t want to admit it.
So I think what Philadelphia doesn’t know is that he moved out here to California — Cali-weird, as we call it — and he started wearing less layers when he thinks no eyes are upon him. But I’m here to say that I have spies everywhere, and if he ever does it again, I’m gonna find out. I’m gonna snap a picture of it.
Stars. They really are just like us.
Assuming you’re wearing a T-shirt and shorts, but yes.