When Independent Film Channel was looking for new shows to fit its tagline "Always On, Slightly Off," it had to look no further than Comedy Bang! Bang!.
Granted, the new late-night talk show satire, premiering Friday, June 8 at 10 p.m. ET, isn't always on. It faces the same challenges as every other new comedy show: be hip, timely, smart and funny, appeal to the young demographic and do it in a way that's fresh.
It’s no short order by any means, and CBB periodically falls flat, as sketch comedy shows often do. But they get it right a lot of the time, and it's worth tuning in to see the very funny, "slightly off" moments that host Scott Aukerman (Mr. Show) and sidekick Reggie Watts deliver with panache. It's not a knock to say that the show is a throwback to Fernwood Tonight, the 1977 talk-show satire starring genre trailblazers Martin Mull and Fred Willard.
Comedy Bang! Bang!’s premise is that of a late-night talk show gone terribly wrong. It's an adult Pee Wee's Playhouse, with no studio audience and no canned laughter, so jokes fall into dead air with no reaction from the actors. The effect is odd, and hyper-ironic, but it works.
Aukerman — co-founder of the podcast Between Two Ferns with actor/comedian Zach Galifianakis — is sometimes a stooge, veering off into disconnected thoughts. He's also an occasional provocateur, matching guests' evasive non sequiturs with his own illogical responses, creating a bizarre verbal carousel of absurdity.
Some of the humor plays off the audience's familiarity with the show's guests. Galifianakis (The Hangover) appears in Friday's premiere episode, revisiting the intensely uncomfortable mannerisms he portrayed so well in Dinner for Schmucks. Parks and Recreation star Amy Poehler guests in the second episode, appearing in an ill-fitting wig that's the same color as her own hair. Future guests include familiar stars Mad Men star Jon Hamm, 30 Rock’s Will Arnett and Seth Rogen (Pineapple Express, Superbad).
Aukerman’s improv style is good, but it sometimes feels too canned and over-edited. The scripted, pre-recorded segments — in one, Aukerman goes outside to feed the meter and finds himself in a dystopian, Terminator-like warscape, the city in smoking ruins and alien space ships flying through the sky — play much more smoothly.
Second banana Watts is the highlight of the show. He's an improvisational comedian known for wide-ranging roles from PBS’s remake of the kids' show The Electric Company to his Comedy Central specials, Why Shit So Crazy? and Reggie Watts: A "Live" in Central Park. He's also a musician who has composed music for the Louis C.K. show, Louie, and produced five albums with his former band, Maktub.
In Comedy Bang! Bang! Watts is credited as the "band leader," but there's no band. It's just Watts, a keyboard and a bunch of synthesized sound effects. Watts also sings beautifully, often going into a seemingly impossible falsetto that's not consistent with his big bushy afro and Grizzly Adams beard.
In the premiere episode, Aukerman asks Watts if he has ever written a song about him. Watts says yes, he's been working on one for a while, and goes into a up-tempo '70s-style Supertramp aria:
Dumb.... stupid, useless garbage pile
Light on fire, and everybody cheers...
Like a new form of Burning Maaaaannn...
Burn that waste. Toxic, unnecessary,
It's gonna poison children,
'cause you're a bag of refuse,
Left over by evil Nazi's during war...."
Aukerman smiles to himself and says, "I'm gonna be a star."
Maybe, maybe not. But Aukerman and the Comedy Bang! Bang! troupe have put forth a good effort, producing some smart, witty work that’s worth checking out.