For Comedy Bang Bang’s 13th anniversary, Scott Aukerman has taken his podcast on the road for the first time since the start of the pandemic. For those who might not know, Comedy Bang Bang is a conversational improv podcast (and a TV show that ran on IFC for 110 episodes) that works not unlike a talk show. Host Scott Aukerman (Mr. Show, Between Two Ferns) interviews a guest comedian, actor, or musician, after which two to three guest improvisers join the show one by one as different characters. What I enjoy most about shows like Comedy Bang Bang is listening to comedians that have to think quickly on their feet and put their all into trying to make equally funny friends break laughing. For each show on the tour, Scott is joined by the brilliant Paul F. Tompkins (except in Seattle) and “The CBB All-Stars,” meaning any Comedy Bang Bang regular might join the lineup for a short run of dates.
Concerts and other events often pass up St. Louis as a tour stop, but to my complete shock, Comedy Bang Bang was set to make a stop here, and coincidently, at The Pageant, a concert venue I worked at 10 years ago. While it is a huge cliché, laughter is the best medicine for me, and I started listening to comedy podcasts to cope with the tremendous stress the job caused me. Having the chance to see these superb improvisers in person a decade later was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up, even if it meant walking into a building I associate with a time when my mental health was hanging on by a thread. However, I wouldn’t be facing it alone.
Taking your significant other to see a live podcast recording can be a slippery slope. Listening to podcasts, at least for me, is often a solo endeavor saved for headphones or the car stereo as part of the daily commute. Podcasts can be very intimate in that way. It’s easy to feel like those charming hosts and their interesting guests are like friends, even though you’ll (most likely) never meet them. Sharing the weird things you like with your loved ones is one of the most vulnerable things a nerd can do because you never know how they might react. I want to think of myself as someone who would never torture my partner by dragging them to an event they didn’t know a thing about, but I most definitely am that someone. I have done it twice.
My wife Brittany has a fantastic sense of humor. She used to write, perform, direct, and produce theater, so she appreciates life on the stage. She always remarks that she enjoys seeing live comedy podcasts with me because of how happy they make me. While I am often drawn to the absurd, her taste in podcasts comes closer to the NPR set. She lights up when she hears shows like 99% Invisible, Radiolab, or Reply All, shows that offer something new for her to learn or tell some fascinating story. She enjoys the occasional improv comedy show, though she doesn’t often seek it out as I do. I filled her in on the basic details of Comedy Bang Bang’s structure, so I’m not a complete monster, throwing her to the wolves without any information. She did, however, request to only know the bare minimum
The show got off to a slow start as Paul F. Tompkins portrayed Brock Lovett, a character whose claim to fame is being the basis for whom Bill Paxton’s underwater treasure hunter character from Titanic is based. While I would have loved to see one of PFT’s more popular Comedy Bang Bang characters, such as Lord Andrew Weber, vigilante crime fighter JW Stillwater, or children’s entertainer Big Chunky Bubbles, it was still extraordinary to see him live on stage. While the character of Lovett strictly hunts underwater treasure, Tompkins worked in a great bit by referencing the 630-foot-tall St. Louis monument, The Gateway Arch, and how underneath it’s filled with “classic treasure.” ( You know, like “diamonds, rubies, doubloons, some crowns and tiaras, ropes and ropes of pearls.”) Tompkins and Aukerman have been performing together for years and play off each other in a fun way, with Tompkins constantly challenging almost everything Aukerman says, even while playing a more positive character like Lovett.
While I had expected Tawny Newsome to come strolling out next, as she had been part of the group for the first three shows of the tour, Dan Lippert (Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin, improv group Big Grande) exploded onto the stage as the eccentric sportscaster Bill Walton. Lippert plays Walton with the energy of a coked-up golden retriever; he’s constantly shouting in his deep, froggy voice, positive about everything and continually reaffirming how great it is to be there. It was the kick in the pants that the night needed, as Lippert had to run suicides back and forth on stage as punishment for accidentally calling Tompkins by his actual name. Lippert is always a joy to hear on the podcast. Still, the amount of physicality he added to the character during a live show gave a new dimension to a perpetually confusing character.
Finally, Carl Tart (Star Trek: Lower Decks) hit the stage for the last half hour as Cameo lead vocalist Larry Blackmon. His whole bit is talking in the cadence of how the real Larry Blackmon talk-sings their 1986 hit song “Word Up.” If you don’t know what I’m talking about, look it up. Tart stole the entire show, literally, by taking a moment to switch stools with Aukerman and singing “Larry Blackmon” over and over to the tune of the CBB theme song. Tart’s comedy is worth seeking out, and I highly recommend any episode where he plays The Chief from the ‘90s cartoon Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego.
On the car ride home, I asked Brittany what she thought of the bizarre spectacle we had just witnessed. She said that while she enjoyed the show, it felt like she was in a room full of hundreds of people who shared all the same inside jokes. She found it incredibly confusing for someone who not only doesn’t know most of the improvisers but also has no idea who the characters they’re playing are. I caught her laughing through much of the show, though she didn’t have any trouble catching her breath or had tears streaming down her cheeks as I did. I loved the show and am glad to replace some of my past venue trauma with the same comforts I sought a decade before.
The Comedy Bang Bang 13th Anniversary Tour continues through the month of August. Each live show is available a day or two after each performance for subscribers to CBB World, where you can also hear the entire archive of ad-free episodes of Comedy Bang Bang, along with exclusive spin-off shows.
Jack Probst is a writer and record collector from St. Louis. He appreciates the works of James Murphy, Wes Anderson, and Super Mario. Send any and all complaints to @jackdprobst on Twitter. He enjoys writing paragraphs about himself in his spare time.