2 comedies from an alternative world land at IFC
NEW YORK—Back-to-back, IFC will soon be premiering what it bills as an anti-talk show ("Comedy Bang! Bang!") and an anti-game show ("Bunk").
Anti this, anti that -- but what they're clearly FOR is laughs.
It all starts Friday at 10 p.m. EDT with "Comedy Bang! Bang!," the inconveniently punctuated twist on late-night talk hosted by Scott Aukerman, based on his podcast of the same name.
"CB!B!" is an absurdist blend of banter between Aukerman and his guests (first up: Zach Galifianakis, with whom Aukerman has previously teamed on the hilarious "Between Two Ferns" online videos), plus sketches, filmed shorts (such as a hidden-camera "gotcha" expose called "Tsk-Tsk Attaboy" that's dumb enough to fit on "Dateline NBC"), and other flights of fancy (in the midst of one interview, Aukerman excuses himself to go feed the meter for his car, parked outside in a futuristic world at war).
Fluffy-coiffed Reggie Watts serves as the beats-generating one-man-band and affable sidekick. The show even launches with its own (falling-down-drunk) sommelier. And in a stark departure from talk-show orthodoxy, no one is plugging anything.
Befitting Aukerman's status as an alumnus of the brilliant "Mr. Show," "CB!B!" is tightly formatted and jammed with comic elements, yet loosey-goosey and demented.
While many of the bits are carefully prepared, "any time I'm talking to guests -- even when Will Forte comes out as a deranged airline pilot -- all of that is improvised," says Aukerman, speaking by phone from Los Angeles, where his 10-episode series is produced.
Improv is also the name of the game -- literally -- on "Bunk," the companion series that follows at 10:30 p.m.
"It's a game show where none of the questions have answers, where the prizes the contestants are playing for are imaginary, and the scoring is random," says emcee Kurt Braunohler, proudly adding, "I choose the winner arbitrarily."
Braunohler, an improv performer and stand-up comic, presides over a trio of contestants each week who, by trade, are also up-and-coming comedians.
On the first edition, he welcomes Kumail Nanjiani, Ben Garant and Ethan T. Berlin (a creator of the series), whose particular make-a-wish grand prize, if he wins, would allow him to escape the pressures of adulthood by trading lives with a baby.
Berlin, with whom Braunohler was once working at an actual game show for MTV, was frustrated "that all of the really funny ideas that we had we couldn't do because of the restrictions of, like, legality," as Braunohler recalls. From that came an insight: "What if we did a game show where we didn't have to worry about things being right or wrong? What if things could just be funny?"
That is clearly the point of "Bunk." Among the premiere episode's challenges: "Scold That Puppy," which calls for each contestant to scold the puppy with which he is entrusted in the most demeaning way. (Example: "You know that little dog in `The Artist'? Where's YOUR Golden Globe?")
Even Braunohler's hosting style is twisted. When introduced at the top of the show, he rushes out to meet the studio audience pushing a scooter-like lectern and, though natty in a three-piece suit, he unaccountably is barefoot. ("I love the idea that maybe I'm a homeless man who just arrived on set and took over," he says with a laugh.)
Over a bowl of corn chowder at a Manhattan diner recently, Braunohler explained that he turned to comedy after opting against a career teaching philosophy and after a dismal stint working at a bakery where the manager sold marijuana on the side, "so I was supposed to look out for the people who came in to buy weed from him and let him know they were there."
Besides his solo stand-up act, Braunohler co-hosts a weekly variety show at a local club with his partner Kristen Schaal ("30 Rock," "The Daily Show"), with whom he has also done some comedy shorts posted online.
"So many ideas that television seems to be too traditional for, can do well online," he observes -- where, in some cases, they prove their appeal and then migrate to TV. "Online is changing what is allowed to exist on TV."
Aukerman, with firsthand experience (his "Between Two Ferns" was also recently adapted as a special for Comedy Central), agrees.
"TV is taking note of the really great humor that's out there in these podcasts and in these Internet videos, and they're hoping to capitalize on it," he says. "The challenge for them is, not to turn it into something that's no longer recognizable and not even funny."
When the TV version of "CB!B!" was adapted from the podcast, IFC displayed "a great policy," says Aukerman, "just letting us do what we wanted to do, with minimal interference and maximum support."
For instance: TV networks traditionally sign a time-tested comedian , then put him in a sitcom saddled with a wife and kids. Not IFC. "They gave me a wife and kids in REAL LIFE," jokes Aukerman. "I'm legally married to her!"
"She's attractive!" jokes back IFC president Jennifer Caserta when told what Aukerman said. "Scott knows this is the price you pay to make it in show business." More seriously, she adds, "The world at large doesn't necessarily appreciate his past contributions. But he has a background and pedigree that comedy nerds certainly know. And we really, really wanted to work with him."
Future guests on "CB!B!" include Elizabeth Banks, Michael Cera, Jon Hamm, Ed Helms, Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, Adam Scott, "Weird Al" Yankovic and, next week, Amy Poehler, whose appearance begs these questions from the host: Why is she wearing a bleached-blond wig? And why does she insist, irritably, that it ISN'T a wig?
Speaking of questions, these questions arise in talking to Aukerman: Is "CB!B!" a spoof of the talk-show genre? Or a real talk show that just happens to be crazy?
"The conversations on my show are more real than conversations on a real talk show," he replies. "When someone goes on the `Tonight' show, Jay Leno knows every single thing that guest is gonna talk about -- it's all written on cards.
"So I would say MY show is the only REAL talk show. The OTHER shows are parodies!"