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Comedy Bang! Bang!

★★★★

“How many people were dragged here tonight by their partners?”. It’s an unusual way for a host to introduce a show, but when that host is Scott Aukerman and the show is Comedy Bang! Bang!, it attracts a knowing laugh from the crowd privy to the absurdity that awaits the uninitiated. Comedy Bang! Bang! is an improvised comedy podcast in which Scott Aukerman mock interviews a mixture of celebrities, and comedians playing a range of different characters. This simple description belies the elaborate combination of in-jokes, meta humour, anti-comedy and recurring segments that comprise the shows impossibly convoluted mythology. Now in its seventh year and with a recently concluded TV spin-off to its name, Scott Aukerman and a handful of the show’s most prominent guests have begun to take the madness on the road, recording episodes of the podcast in front of fans around the world.
 
The night was opened by comedian and long-time guest of the podcast Mike Hanford making a rare appearance as himself. His goofy, pop culture infused set was reminiscent of Dana Carvey’s stand up work, flitting between prop humour, guitar comedy, impressions and hammy crowd work. It would be too corny for clubs and a little undercooked for the festival circuit, but it went over well in a room predisposed to the deranged dad humour of Aukerman and Co.
 
After his set, Mike Hanford ceded the stage to Scott Aukerman, who gave a stilted, slightly delirious opening address. His awkward monologue picked up steam as it went along, largely coasting by on the goodwill of an audience that was ready to laugh at anything he said. As soon as he introduced the first guest, Mike Hanford in character as John Lennon, the show found its immediately recognisable rhythm, maintaining an incredibly high rate of laughs per minutes (LPM) throughout its hour and half long running time.
 
Where Scott typically plays straight man to a guest that forces the direction of the show, his interactions with Hanford are an exercise in gradually escalating absurdity. By the end of their conversation, we’d heard about John Lennon’s ambition to start a helicopter company, and the collection of medals he’s accrued through helping to clean up after the Olympics every four years. It was a fun introduction to the show and a good way of acquainting the unfamiliar with Comedy Bang! Bang!’s brand of humour.  
 
The show took flight when podcast doyen Paul F. Tompkins was introduced in character as Florida based vigilante crime fighter JW Stillwater. The rapport between Tompkins and Aukerman reflects Bang! Bang! at its best and watching them talk each other into corners was the highlight of the show. Tompkins’ extended riff on the abduction of Harold Holt by a gang of “wily croc-o-diles” was hilarious throughout, a perfect example of a local reference that felt tailored to its audience without being broad enough to induce any cultural cringe.  
 
The next person introduced was fan favourite Lauren Lapkus in character as pop singer Whitney Peeps. Of all her many characters Peeps is perhaps her least inspired, essentially a riff on vapid celebrity circa 2008. That said, her gleeful obscenity and willingness to escalate rounded out the panel nicely, bringing the evening to a unusually tight close by revealing her new fiancé may in fact be one of the crocodiles JW Stillwater is searching for.
 
The show made for a terrific episode of Comedy Bang! Bang! and a great night of comedy in general. For non-fans it was a great chance to see world-class improvisers in action and for fans it was an opportunity to surround themselves with people who found John Lennon attempting to jump the Grand Canyon in an RV just as funny as they did. To hear people in the lobby obsessing over minor variations in character backstory or discussing whether they had gotten tickets to shows in other cities was strange and oddly validating. It would please the late, great guest of the show Harris Wittels to know just how close Comedy Bang! Bang! has come to being the Phish of the comedy world.     
 
BY TIERNAN MORRISON