Three episodes were provided prior to broadcast.
“Hey there, welcome to Comedy Bang! Bang!, we’ve got a great show for you tonight. [Insert celebrity guest’s name] is here, as well as [insert fictional character’s name]. I’m Scott Aukerman.”
Fans of IFC’s Comedy Bang! Bang! will be comforted to hear those words again as the cult talk-show parody and self-proclaimed ironic hipster comedy returns this weekend. With a penchant for pop culture references and conceptual episodes, it is to the talk show what Community was to the sitcom and, like that show, it continues to inspire a devoted following despite consistently low ratings.
The aforementioned lines are how Scott Aukerman, playing a fictionalized talk show host version of himself, follows the opening credits of every show, establishing the framework followed by virtually every episode. First, the bandleader is introduced, then a celebrity guest is brought onto the set to be interviewed and, around halfway through, another guest, this time fictional, joins them on the couch.
It’s this tight, firmly established routine that gives the show its underlying structure, and provides a base to return to when things spiral off deep into the rabbit hole of surreal tangents. Unlike the original podcast, Comedy Bang! Bang! the TV show is strictly bound by a half-hour running time, and therefore all the experimental touches, improvised digressions and elaborate pop culture references need to be tempered by a discipline demanded by the format.
That might sound like a creative hindrance, but it’s actually one of the main reasons Comedy Bang! Bang! works as well as it does. That mixture of freedom to do the unusual and necessity to stick to the template hits viewers with both humor that comes from the unexpected and humor that comes from the habitual. That perhaps explains why, now into its fifth season, the show remains as satisfying and as reliably funny as ever.
The only thing that threatened to disrupt the winning formula Comedy Bang! Bang! has perfected this year was the departure of key members of its cast, which is exactly what happened halfway through its last season when linchpin Reggie Watts left to join The Late Late Show with James Corden. He was a much-loved, essential part of the show, with his laid back, offbeat demeanor brilliantly complimenting Aukerman’s more upbeat, camp delivery.
Meanwhile, his dreamy music contributed largely to the show’s idiosyncratic feel. Initially, comedy-rapper Kid Cudi replaced him and did a good job introducing a slightly different comedic and musical style without ever straying far from the Reggie template. But for season 5, he too has left, with Weird Al Yankovic becoming the show’s third bandleader.
How Weird Al handled the role was always going to be the big question for fans going into this new season. His goofy, nerdy, pun-loving shtick certainly sounded a natural fit and, indeed, he slots in seamlessly in the opening three episodes. His role remains the same as that of his predecessors – to play on the guests with music, be a foil to Aukerman, and provide reaction shots to the couch interviews – but unlike Kid Cudi, his approach is notably different to Reggie’s. His comedy is a more extroverted style, and he asserts himself without ever threatening to disrupt the balance of the show. And, though he retains the keyboard set-up and looping technique, Weird Al’s music is very much his own, with a funk-infused, belted-out intro – “Hey what’s shakin’? / Kevin Bacon?” – on the first episode providing an early indication of what to expect from him.
Kevin Bacon is, as you may have guessed, season 5’s first guest, adapting to the show whole-heartedly with a deadpan, matter-of-fact attitude. Comedy-rap group The Lonely Island and Tony Hale of Arrested Development fame both make for reliably amusing guests in the second and third episodes, respectively, but it’s Bacon’s big-time Hollywood appeal that makes him exactly the kind of incongruous guest who works so well on Comedy Bang! Bang!
Watching the actor unveil a crudely made cardboard miniature model of a landscape that he calls ‘Kevintown,’ which he hopes will be “a place full of love and hopefulness where everybody is really nice to each other”, and where “the main industry is fun” only to break down and berate that “it’s a dumb idea,” is one of the funniest moments in these first three episodes.
As ever each episode is built around a specific concept. Even the first episode wastes no time in diving straight into a bit about a Scott finding a bundle of gold and a rhyming leprechaun attempting to retrieve it, rather than dwell on the new arrival of Weird Al – a sign perhaps that the show is eager not to make too big a deal about what might become a more regularly altering position. Weird Al himself is quickly integrated into the heart of the show as his falling in love with a robot met on internet dating website ‘OK Computer’ forms the concept of episode two. This sketch, along with a send-up of Teen Wolf in episode three shows the writers still have plenty of ideas.
The inventive, out-of-the-studio sketches continue to be a highlight of the show, with a parody of Dead Poets Society and a gameshow in which contestants must abide literally by the title ‘you’ve made your bed, now lie in it’ both presenting the series at its most unpredictable and hysterically funny. And there are plenty of familiar faces among the fictional guest stars, with Lauren Lapkus stealing the show with a rambling monologue about her disastrous carpets and rugs business under the façade of grotesque entrepreneur Big Sue.
All in all, fans of Comedy Bang! Bang! should rest easy, knowing that the show continues to hit all the right beats. With a brilliantly eclectic list of guests to come, ranging from rapper T-Pain to comedian Nathan Fielder (from Nathan For You), season 5 promises to continue to surprise and amuse.
As silly, outlandish and hilarious as ever, Comedy Bang! Bang! dispels concerns surrounding another cast change. It remains full of ideas even as it nears its hundredth episode.