Scott Aukerman on the Comedy Bang! Bang! Book, What the Best Improvisors Have in Common and Planning a Final CBB Episode in Case He Dies

Scott Aukerman has created an alt-comedy empire with his podcast “Comedy Bang! Bang!” Aukerman started the radio show-turned-podcast in 2009, where a discussion between him and a famous guest is interrupted by unhinged improvisors playing wacky characters. But miles away from a radio station’s “morning zoo,” “CBB” has attracted a wide array of daring comedians who often sharpen their skills and feed into the show’s complex comedic lore on their way to starring in Hollywood’s biggest projects, including frequent guests such as Nick Kroll, Ben Schwartz and “SNL” standout Ego Nwodim.

The podcast just celebrated 800 episodes and will hit 14 years of production on May 1, and Aukerman is also releasing “Comedy Bang! Bang! The Podcast: The Book” on April 25. Featuring comedic in-character essays from many of the podcast’s frequent guests, it has the wit of the series in a handsomely-designed package. In the lead-up to the book’s release, Aukerman spoke with Variety about what makes the perfect “CBB” guest, the future of the podcast and how the book pays tribute to his late friend and collaborator Harris Wittels.

What inspired you to develop a book from the “Comedy Bang! Bang!” universe?

I hadn’t really thought about it, but our editor Samantha Weiner reached out to us. She really had a vision for it. I get offers to do stuff here and there. You get back to the people and they just know that your thing is popular but they don’t know anything about it. But Sam really knew the show and pitched me doing a a comedy book that harkened back to the comedy books I bought growing up. I got really excited by it.

I started thinking of one especially that was a big influence: David Letterman’s book from the ’80s [“Late Night With David Letterman: The Book”]. I devoured it when I was a kid. I read it cover to cover, over and over and over again, trying to figure out how to write comedy. If you haven’t read it, it’s just a combination of stuff that had been on the show: It starts with Merrill Markoe doing an introduction that has nothing to do with the book itself, and then it has ten pages of monologue, and then pieces that have been on the show. Then suddenly in the middle of the book, it stops and the writers all get a couple of pages to do whatever they want. Chris Elliott writes a narrative fiction story. It was a book that made me read it and say, “Oh wow, you can do this with comedy. You can phrase a joke like this.”

So I started thinking about it like what the podcast is, which is a wonderful amalgamation of contributions from these great comedians, and what would it be like if these comedians contributed to a book. This is how this performer writes and this is an execution of a joke this way — that was my hope for the book.

How were you able to wrangle all of your collaborators?

We put together the book like a sketch show. It was going out to a lot of different people, then we were getting together a bunch of random, disparate pieces and arranging them in an order, which is what you do with a sketch show. You have a whole bunch of sketches and you put cards on the board and say, “I think this would segue into this really well.” Suddenly you have a half-hour.

Your friend and CBB guest Harris Wittels, who passed away in 2015, is represented in the book through the inclusion of some of his never-before-seen “Foam Corner” jokes that were popular on the podcast. How did that come about?

I really wanted him to be represented in the book because when he passed away, people said it was great that we have these episodes he’s on to hear his voice and remember everything that he did. But I also knew he had a lot of great jokes that he had written. I wanted a place where people could find them because a lot of his stand-up wasn’t recorded. So I reached out to Stephanie, his sister, who I knew had his phone and asked if that was something that she would be interested in. She really liked the idea too. She actually couldn’t go through the phone herself and do it — it was a little too tough for her. So she had her husband do it and he went through all of his Notes app notes and compiled everything for me. It was all written in his shorthand, so I went through and, knowing his material the way I did because I saw him do stand-up so many times, I adjusted it a bit and edited it here and there. I also looked at old videos that were online of him doing jokes and said, “Oh, here’s the way it actually was worded when he would do it on stage.”

The “Comedy Bang! Bang!” podcast is so wacky and fast-paced. What do you think makes for a successful “CBB” guest?

What ties everyone together is the ability to come in with a plan and then be totally ready and able to abandon the plan and just roll with whatever happens in the moment. I don’t want to know too much about what people are going to do on the show. I really only ask them their name and their job. Sometimes I’ll spoil someone’s bit too early because I’m ahead of it — “You got to it so quickly!” I could just figure it out almost like a math problem, too early. Or sometimes we never get to their thing at all. Or sometimes people genuinely don’t come in with anything and we’ll find it in the moment.

The show is about the tangents to me and that’s why I love doing it with with people like Andy Daly or with Paul F. Tompkins so much. They’ll plan five minutes of something that they want to say and we can turn it into an hour just by talking. They’re so great at responding in character.

On the “CBB” podcast, you hit episode 800. You have the book and you had a TV series as well. Is there any sort of milestone you are hoping to hit and would call it a day, or do you just not see any sort of finish line?

I don’t feel creatively stifled by it and so, in my mind, there are things approaching like the one thousandth episode or the 20th anniversary. You always kind of go, “It’d be interesting to end on a nice round number,” and then you check in with yourself. Do you even want to end it? You don’t have to end it on a nice round number. I am semi-worried about passing away before I decide to end the show and having the last episode ever be a clunker, so I really am interested in recording a final episode that we keep in the vault in case I pass away. But at this point, no, I’m still in it, still enjoying it. It feels weird to be doing anything at my age, but it’s something that I still love doing.

You’ve had many projects outside of “CBB,” including hosting other podcasts, directing “Between Two Ferns: The Movie” in 2019 and executive producing the 2020 series “Aunty Donna’s Big Ol’ House of Fun.” Do you have any other projects on the horizon?

The pandemic was such an interesting time because we were all just trying to survive and figure out what life even was and was going to be like. Like a lot of writers, I thought this was a good opportunity to write something I’ve always wanted to write that I haven’t had time for. So I wrote a spec that is totally not something that I’m known for. It was more of a drama. I found out pretty quickly that when you’re not known for something, no one wants to read it. But there are a couple of things that I wanna direct out there: One that I’ve co-written, and another one that I hope to co-write and direct. So there are some things out there that that I’m looking to do.

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