The second season of “Comedy Bang! Bang!,” the incredibly funny and exasperatingly bizarre talk show hosted by Scott Aukerman and Reggie Watts, is as funny as it is anti-funny.
“Comedy Bang! Bang!” began in 2009 as a humble podcast titled “Comedy Death Ray Radio.” And while the medium and title have changed, the format of the show remains the same. In each episode, there are two guests; the first is an actual celebrity (Aziz Ansari, Jon Hamm, etc.) and the second is an actor who portrays a guest far too famous to be involved with the project. A frequent guest on the show is Sir Anthony Lloyd Webber (Paul F. Tompkins) and many similarly zany characters played by Aukerman’s friends from “Upright Citizens Brigade” and “Mr. Show.” These real celebrities and fake celebrities are interviewed in a classic talk show format, but CBB veers from this formula with the use of Reggie Watts, the one man band. Watts uses a synthesizer and his music-making savvy to improvise songs for all the transitions.
With Watts sensually mewling into his microphone and Aukerman sedately lounging in his cardigan on their wood-paneled set, the weirdness is immediately tangible. The taxidermy animal heads mounted on the walls sometimes chime in and interact with the cast, and even mundane objects like couches and ladders are liable to become characters integral to the episode. At this point, it becomes unclear where the written show begins and the improvisation starts. As an alum of the University of California, Berkley, Aukerman seems at ease when the show begins to go off the rails and many of his companions are as well. He is especially gentle with the celebrity guests but raises the stakes when a fellow improviser is in the scene.
It can be painful when you see Aukerman attempting to initiate an interesting improv conversation, only to be stymied by a clueless interviewee. In this case, Anna Kendrick dragged down the episode with her unwillingness to keep up with the hosts. At times like these, one hopes that the lesser-known comedians will be given a chance to shine, but even when the lead actor of that episode is lagging behind, they don’t give nearly enough exposure to the real and true unsung heroes of the show.
The celebrity guest can really make or break each episode. Even if the fake guest is an appealing and dynamic character, the show is set up so that the celebrity has much more screen time, and if they are struggling, the energy and quality drops dramatically.
Luckily, this season is full of many powerful celebrity guests and hilarious characters that help avert this kind of crisis. David Cross’s appearance (“Arrested Development,” “Mr. Show,”) though deadpan and uncooperative, was complemented by a brief Bob Odernkirk cameo (“Breaking Bad,” “Mr. Show”) and finally by Will Forte (“Nebraska,” “30 Rock”) who played a senator who can’t keep secrets. This kind of an ensemble cameo network keeps the raucous and absurd show afloat.
These surprise cameos made by exciting guests sound well and good, but the anti-humor and overall weirdness is where the show hits a potential road bump. The strange, extraterrestrial tones of Reggie Watts can be as jarring as they are entrancing, and the astonishingly self-aware tone of the show can also seem off-putting. The show is very much a comedy about comedy and television production, and if this sounds altogether foreign to you, you may not be prepared for the mania of CBB.
Scott and Reggie’s portrayal of hosts struggling to create an entertaining show so closely mirrors reality that it is difficult to tell if they are playing characters at all, but one thing is certain: “Comedy Bang! Bang!” is indeed funny.