Sunday, May 27, 2012

Why Comedy Bang Bang The TV Show Is Destined To Fail

I'm been huge fan of the Comedy Bang Bang (formerly known as Comedy Death Ray Radio) podcast for years. If you haven't listened before, it's a hour or so long weekly comedy show that is 99% improvised. The host, Scott Auckerman, has a wide range of guests - many if not all of them celebrities and other big talents from the comedy scene. Every episode starts off like a seemingly standard interview show before going off the rails when someone "enters" the room as a character, or the guests all get involved in some kind of ridiculous game/argument/rap battle.

CBB is one of the few podcasts I make it a point to listen to every week. Even Radiolab and This American Life - two shows that are objectively more "valuable" listening experiences - often take a back seat to this show on my iPod. It's just so goddamn funny. So imagine how excited I was when I heard there was a Comedy Bang Bang television series debuting sometime in the few next weeks. They put an episode online for everyone to watch - which I immediately did. I don't know how long it'll be up, but here it is for now, while it's available:

After watching the episode (which I was sadly disappointed with), and listening to this week's podcast (which was really quite good), I came away with the early impression that the television show is going to be fighting an uphill battle to be anywhere near as good as the program it spawned from. And here are the three big reasons why:

1) Adding Visuals Takes Away The Magic

Part of the charm of the CBB podcast is that while Aukerman and his guests are all each sitting in an ordinary room, facing each other with headphones on, the magic of radio/podcasting allows anything they say to be true. This leads to some incredibly fantastical moments and guests (including a baby, a Chupacabra, and an alcoholic tree), as well as one of the show's funniest conceits, which is that the studio has an open door policy and a guest/ridiculous character can enter at any time - something that (naturally) happens every week.

This also allows just about anything anyone says to be true. Auckerman often "gifts" his guests with random traits, clothing or props they clearly don't actually have. Paul F. Tompkins, a brilliant comedian and regular guest on the show, looks nothing like any of the people he often plays on the podcast, which includes Andrew Lloyd Weber, Buddy Valestro (The Cake Boss), and Ice-T. To Tompkins' credit, he does pull of a believable flamboyant, caped Andrew Lloyd Weber in a clip I saw from the TV series, but I doubt he'll be bold enough to play the overweight Valestro, and especially Ice-T, since to this day black-face tends to be discouraged even among the comedy elite.

Though we have all the ability to suspend our disbelief on a television show, without visuals to deny the reality we are being presented, as an audience we just accept whatever new details are added as the show goes along. This brings me to my next point which is that:

2) The TV Show Is (Seemingly) Scripted, Not Improvised

Anyone who's seen an improv show before knows the joy as well as the danger of not having a script. As Aukerman has admitted, the Comedy Bang Bang podcast is mostly improvised, and as such is always just one random bit away from derailing into utter chaos. Though risky (and yes, some shows are big fat stinkers), the guests on the show are some of the most talented people in the industry, and more often than not they are quite brilliant and find themselves making some amazing, hilarious discoveries together.

The very nature of the CBB TV show means that it is, by necessity, mostly scripted with at best some interview portions improvised. Obviously scripted comedy can be brilliant. The problem is that Comedy Bang Bang is neither a sketch show, a sitcom, or a standard late night talk show. It has elements of all of these things, but in trying to be true to the original show, it feels more like a pale imitation of that more than anything else. And to viewers unfamiliar with the podcast, I fear it will just seem like a really random talk show that never gets around to interviewing its combination of famous and bizarre guests.

Additionally, part of what works in the podcast with Aukerman's interviews (or strange, aimless conversations, as they often are) is that anything is fair game, and the real comedic gold is often found through casual conversation that starts off fairly mundane, something that would probably never be scripted in the first place. With the TV show, even if they allowed Aukerman and his guests to riff, and just edited out the least interesting parts of the interview, it still wouldn't have the same rewarding feeling of watching/listening to the creation of this brand of comedy, warts and all. Which leaves me with my last point, which is:

3) Time Constraints Leave Zero Room For Bits To Breathe

Aukerman has the freedom to take breaks for ads whenever he wants to on the podcast, but his hands are tied when it comes to his television series, where the commercials wait for no bit, no matter how funny. With 22 minutes or so to work with, instead of his podcast's usual hour and however-much-time-his guests-have, every joke on the shows needs to hit immediately, and doesn't stick around for very long.

This leads to a very serious problem, which is that the show now has very litte time to let a joke build or go on as long as it needs to. The above television episode has one real running gag, about a member of the CBB TV crew that has died (Aukerman starts the episode eulogizing a man - something I personally wasn't even sure was a bit first, which is an awkward way to start a comedy show). Throughout the episode we see the man involved in numerous dangerous activities but surviving them, only to be brutally killed at the end by the rising of the show's credits. Whether or not the bit was funny or worth the time they invested in it (it took up easily 2-3 minutes of the episode) is less the point than is the fact that it was the only running gag in the episode, save for Amy Poehler lying about wearing a wig. Conversely, Andy Daly, playing the creepy producer of the Rockettes, was given very little time to show the truly depraved nature of his character, as he has before on the podcast.

My favorite moments of the CBB podcast often come when a bit has returned for the umpteenth time, or has gone on so long that it had ceased to be funny but then has come back around to being hilarious again. Auckerman has a running gag going every week on his podcast where he insists Google is a sponsor on the show (they are not), and every time a guest mentions looking for something online, he heartily recommends the audience "google it" whenever they're looking for something. The bit itself is not particularly inspired, but it's actually made funny by the guests playing along with the ridiculousness of being encouraged to google something as if it's a new/brilliant idea. They will often making their own dated search engine reference, or in this past week's case, saying they'll "start going to whenever they wanna Bing something." There's no reason this silly gag couldn't exist on the television show, but in any given episode this (or any) bit can take up 20 seconds or 20 minutes, depending on how much fun Aukerman and his guests are having with it, and that's something that seems impossible to do within the constraints of the show.


The Comedy Bang Bang podcast is a show without rules or constraints, which as a veteran improviser, I can confidently say is where you can discover some of the funniest shit on the planet. Conversely, the Comedy Bang Bang television series has been burdened with the realities of a scripted television program. While the show tries admirably to capture the spirit of the podcast, unfortunately it feels like it's fighting a losing battle. In the show's defense, I've only seen the one and half episodes of the show that are currently viewable online, and for all I know the show finds its legs, and breaks away from its current format in episode three and becomes utterly brilliant. I'll admit I was being a bit hyperbolic in the title of this post. I think don't think the series is necessarily destined for failure, but I do believe it will fail, creatively at least, if it sticks with its current format as is, which is a mere shadow of the original podcast.

Certainly all hope is not lost. I think Scott Auckerman and his sidekick/musician Reggie Watts are incredibly talented, and they clearly they have the capacity to be quite hilarious. And there are signs the creators realize they need to break away from the radio interview format they have and take advantage of the new medium they're using. The movie preview featured in above episode featuring Reggie Watts as adult who's never been born still living inside his mother's womb is a good example of something they couldn't do on the podcast. So I'm cautiously optimistic for the series' future. Here's hoping they figure out a way to mix things up going forward.


Sunday, May 20, 2012

That's Right, I Just Coined "Bat-Schadenfreude"

So I had an interesting thought the other day, which about after realizing that I've idolized the concept of Batman to the point where I would regularly think about what my favorite superhero would do in certain situations in my life. Obviously I'm not the first person to have this thought, given the highly google-able phrase: "What Would Batman Do," which is also google image friendly:

Like many other children my age, in my mind I've established that Batman is someone who would handle any given scenario perfectly. But I started thinking: "you know what, he is still human after all. And human beings make mistakes." I started thinking about the inevitable times Batman has screwed up.  Made a mess of things. Screwed the pooch. Really Robin-ed the situation.

Still one of my favorite (fake, but real in my mind) Batman and Robin panels of all time.
That led to me thinking about how Batman could actually still be an inspiration, even when he royally FUBARs a situation. Because hey, if the Dark Knight isn't perfect, why should you be?

This led to the creation of my new (and first) Tumblr blog - "Even Batman Fucks Up Sometimes" (aka where I will every day attempt to show a picture, video clip, or original piece of artwork showing Batman failing in some way. My hope is on that on top of some serious Bat-Schadenfreude, readers will emerge from the site with a new found sense of optimism.

The profile image for the blog. I love this picture almost as much as Robin getting smacked.
If you have a contribution to make - especially an original one if you're an artist - by all means, hit me up at [my first name] dot [my last name] at gmail dot com. I've got a team of agents working on finding me clips from the internet in the meantime. Oh, and focus less on Batman actually getting his ass kicked, as I'm looking for a wide variety of failure, and besides, there's already a cleverly named Tumblr blog devoted to that.

Oh, and in tangentially related news, I've got another, pretty awesome new blog/life experiment coming up - and it's a lot more epic in scope. Look for news on that one real soon.


Monday, May 14, 2012

[Onion Wedges] Heaven Receives 3.5 Stars On Yelp

THE AFTERLIFE - After factoring in eight hundred seventy four million reviews, the online search and review service known as Yelp gave Heaven three and a half out of a possible five stars. The low score was due to a surprising number of vitriolic one star reviews from frustrated patrons of the Almighty's Kingdom who were upset by many of the amenities. "I know it's blasphemous to say this, but I'd been waiting to get into heaven for literally my entire life, and when I got here, I was incredibly underwhelmed," wrote Amanda Yeager, who recently succumbed to breast cancer and was admitted past the pearly gates. "The harp sounds playing in the background are uninspired, the clouds actually feel like wet dog under your feet, and the ambrosia? More like am-NO-sia. So pissed to be stuck here for all eternity." Other major complaints against the floating invisible sky land include: lack of earthly pleasures, long lines, a bland decor and 'so many crazy religious people.' As of press time, Hell was scoring an unprecedented perfect five star score, though many have suspected that a positive Yelp review - along with 'liking' and re-tweeting all references to the land of fire and brimstone - is one of the many ironic punishments forced upon the Damned.

Monday, May 7, 2012

A Flock Of Segel(s) - Analyzing and Appreciating Jason Segel's Oeuvre

So I watched The Five Year Engagement last week. While my other friends complained about the movie's length and managed to mispronounce Jason Segel's name (he's not related to Steven Segal, Noel), I realized that I rather enjoyed my time watching the movie, mostly due to my admiration of Segel's talents as both an actor and a writer. This led to me thinking that I've seen and enjoyed quite a few Jason Segel movies, which eventually led to an IMDB search where I slowly realized I've seen nearly everything the man has been in. Ever.

Rather than be ashamed of this fact, as I'm sure some people would, I've decided to fully embrace this gift I've bestowed upon myself and will now give you a look through the highlights of his wonderful oeuvre:

Best Character Name (Second To His Perfect Real Name)

Winner: Sydney Fife (I Love You, Man)

Unlike many other of Segel's characters, Syndey Fife oozes with confidence. And the name is certainly a reflection of that. Of all the cities to be named after, I think this one is tops, personally.

Runner Up(s): Marshall Eriksen (How I Met Your Mother) and Peter Bretter (Forgetting Sarah Marshall)

Both tall, masculine names that clearly convey the height of the man standing before you.

Worst Name: Jeff (Jeff Who Lives At Home)

Technically I didn't see this movie, but I don't think I ever have to, as from what I can tell this appears to be the only blemish of Jason Segel's otherwise perfect record. I mean come on, Jeff?! Man is that a boring name.

Most Segel-eiveable Occupation

Winner: Musician (Forgetting Sarah Marshall)

This could just be me projecting, but I don't see the point in Jason Segel playing anything but an artist of some kind. And though his occupation comes into play in many of his other roles, it is ultimately the gesture of putting on a Dracula puppet musical that restores his character's self esteem and basically gets him the girl. So boo-yah.

Runner Up(s): Chef (Five Year Engagement) and Super Villain (Despicable Me)

Segel's character comes with an ambulance turned food truck in FYE called "9-1-YUM!" which might be the greatest name of all time for a food truck, restaurant, or anything, ever. And as we all know, comical super villains are always awesome.

Worst Job: Unemployed (Jeff Who Lives At Home)

Again, didn't see this one, but what was I missing? Some loser who can't get a job, that's what. PASS.

Love Interest Most Worthy Of The J-Man

Kristen Bell's pretty damn sexy too.
Winner: Rachel Jensen played by Mila Kunis (Forgetting Sarah Marshall)

Another big win for FSM. Jason Segel has had his fair share of gorgeous, talented leading ladies playing romantic interests, but for my money, Kunis takes the proverbial hotness cake. Also, I'm required by law here to say: "rawrrr."

Technically this doesn't belong here. But I wanted to make sure you saw it.
Runner Up(s): Lily Aldrin played by Allison Hannigan (How I Met Your Mother) and Lindsay Weir played by Linda Cardellini (Freaks and Geeks)

Hannigan plays a great comedic partner to Segel every week on HIMYM and though Cardellini's character ultimately rejected Segel's, there was a nice chemistry behind their awkward young romance. See - I'm not just boiling it down to looks here! Ok, but the hottest girl still technically won. Too late to go back though. Let's just keeping going, shall we?

Worst Love Interest: The Lack Of One, As Far As I Can Tell. (Jeff Who Lives At Home)

Maybe if this guy got a JOB and stopped LIVING AT HOME he'd find someone that wasn't into TOTAL LOSERS.

Most Entertaining Hangup/Problem For JaSe To Overcome

Winner: Sacrificing Career For Love (Five Year Engagement)

There's a slow build-up of frustration Segel's character Tom Solomon goes through when he puts his career on hold for his fiancee. Watching the frustration build, then eventually explode in an angry frustrated, rant is highly entertaining, and it's Segel at his best. I realize a lot of what I'm saying here seems like a sarcastic bit, but let me assure you: I am being genuine in my love of this man's performances.

Runner Up(s): Lack of Confidence (Undeclared) (Freaks and Geeks) (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) (How I Met Your Mother) (Jeff Who Lives At Home, I guess)

It can be hard to imagine how a man so tall can be lacking in self-worth in any way, but maybe that's what gives his characters so much pathos, you know? Ok, so maybe there's actually like, 25% sarcasm/bit in this piece. But it's still mostly genuine!

Only one other person in this car will sleep with you, bro. Ok maybe Animal, too. In fact, he's probably already humping your leg right now.
Worst Hangup: Ignoring Your Hot Girlfriend (The Muppets)

Ok, I'd love to rag on Jeff from Loserville some more here, but I'd be remiss if I didn't point out the ridiculousness of what happens in The Muppets. Segel's first-name-only character Gary almost loses his adorable girlfriend (played adorably by Amy Adams) because he's spending to much too involved in Muppet-related shenanigans. "Get a grip Gary!" is what I wanted to yell at the screen during the entire movie. But honestly, who can stay mad at a Segel character for long? And I suppose it all works out in the end.

Best Friend/Shadow Lingering Behind His Lengthy Frame

Winner: Ted Mosby / Barney Stinson (How I Met Your Mother)

The reason I watch this show every week is not because I care about Ted every finding the stupid mother of his endlessly patient children, but for the relationships of all the characters on this show. And this situations the three guys in this comedy find themselves in - man oh man! Just look at the above picture. Marshall's got a big slice of shaved hair on his scalp! Oh his wedding day! How are they gonna get out of this one? Spoiler Alert: Hilariously.

Runner Up(s): Peter Klaven, played by Paul Rudd (I Love You Man)

I almost gave this to Rudd just because it was kind of the point of the whole movie. And their relationship is pretty great as a bromance. But ultimately I think it boils down to watching a condensed friendship over the course of two hours versus 200+ episodes of conversations, antics and man hugs. Though the above picture certainly gives ILYM some big points.

Worst Best Friend: His Brother (Jeff Who Lives At Home)

Does he even count as a friend? COME ON!

Bonus: Best Jason Segel Action Sequence

I just wanted to add this, because I didn't give this piece much Undeclared love. But seriously, this:

Upon finishing this piece, I've slowly come to realize that Jason Segel is Hollywood's greatest gift to us all, and we need to give the man his proper respect, regularly. I've decided to refocus this blog's attention to doing just that. From now on, not just this post, but the entire blog shall be called: A Flock Of Segel(s) and it will be both the worlds #1 Jason Segel Fansite, as well as your number one source of Segel news, rumors, and analysis like you've seen here today. I hope you look forward to reading it as much as I do to writing it.

The spreadsheet I made. Because I like making spreadsheets.