Thirteen years ago, Scott Aukerman took his UCB stage show, Comedy Death-Ray, and turned it into a radio show. Over the years it’d changed formats (to a podcast) and names (to Comedy Bang! Bang!), but the show reliably brings hilarious improv, a vast network of in-jokes, and a growing roster of zany, comedian-voiced characters to listeners’ ears every Monday. For five seasons, CBB was adapted into an IFC TV show that subjected guests like Amy Poehler, Zach Galifianakis, Eric André, and Jack Black to its mock talk-show mania.
This summer, Aukerman is taking the pod on the road for a 23-show tour with fan-favorite Paul F. Tompkins, and it kicks off in Minneapolis next Monday at the State Theatre. The gracious host spoke with Racket about the tour, some local institutions, and his history with Minnesota.
A lot of the readers will be familiar with the podcast…
Well, hopefully. At least some. How does the live show differ from the podcast?
If you haven’t heard the podcast, it’s essentially a live, improvised fake talk show, where I speak with celebrities and then I also speak with comedians who are portraying characters, i.e. insane people that come on the show to promote incredibly weird things and talk about very strange issues that they want to talk about. So on the podcast it’s a balance between being a real talk show and a fake talk show. When we do it live, we only have the strange characters on the show. So there aren’t celebrities going on tour with us, unfortunately for those of you hoping Paul Rudd would do an entire tour with us.
It really is more of us leaning into the crazy conversations that we have on the show, and then we also try to make it a little more visual for people, because, obviously, when you’re listening to a podcast we can just sit there and pretend like a bunch of physical things are happening and just describe them but when you see it on stage we’re going to actually do these things. We’re always trying to get up out of the stools and physicalize what we’re talking about when we do it live in front of an audience.
It’s going to be you and Paul F. Tompkins for almost every date of the tour, can you reveal anyone else who might be on the Minnesota show, or is that a surprise?
I actually just set it yesterday, and it’s going to be really good, but, even though it might help sell tickets, I really want to keep every show as a surprise. One of the previous tours we did we had Paul F. Tompkins and Lauren Lapkus just going on every date and then maybe there would a surprise guest every once in a while. Because this tour is Paul and I and then a rotating group of people that changes almost every date, I really want to keep that excitement for the audience that’s actually going to be there, to see who we bring along to each particular date. But, I can tell you that it’s really flattering that the comedians we used on the show are all super excited and, even if they can only make a few dates, everyone really wanted to be a part of it. It’s going to be very exciting.
The tour is going to be launching in Minneapolis. Is there a reason you picked Minnesota to start the tour?
It was kind of luck of how the routing turned out, but my wife [writer, podcaster, filmmaker Kulap Vilaysack] is from Minnesota, she’s from Eagan, so we go back there a lot. She’s actually going to be coming with me to visit her family who still lives there, so it was kind of a happy accident. I get to start the tour with her in tow, travelling with me, so that’s really nice. I love Minnesota, and the shows there in previous years have all been some of my favorite shows, so I’m really excited to kick off there.
You mentioned Kulap, your ex-girlfriend-current-wife, which makes me have to ask, when you’re in Minnesota, how do you balance work and family?
Now, for the readers, this is an inside joke, from the Comedy Bang! Bang! TV show, which was we would try to ask the most hackneyed, cliché interview question possible. Anytime we would do it on the TV show it would be interrupted by something happening. We never wanted an actual answer to that question. I would ask Brie Larson, for instance, ‘How do you balance work and family?’ and then she would start to answer and a crazy character would come in and interrupt the answer. I just want to let the reader know, this is not Charlie’s actual attempt at asking a good interview question, so you don’t need to feel like he’s asking a terrible question, it’s purely an inside joke.
But yes, it is very difficult. I mean the balances of work, the balances of family, they’re equal, how do you balance that out? I’ve never been able to figure that out.
It’s impossible. Do you remember when you first came to visit Minnesota?
It was the holidays a few years after we started dating, I believe. Her sisters had come out to visit us in Los Angeles a few times, and then I went out there to Eagan. It’s interesting, every single time I’ve been out there during the winter, I was warned about how freezing it was going to be, and strangely enough, every single time I’ve been there it’s been unseasonably warm, so I don’t think the weather’s all that bad in Minnesota, as far as I know. I’ve also been there in the summer for a wedding and got to see mosquitos. I really like it there. The Mall of America is really nice. I remember, probably 10 years ago, I hid a prize in the Mall of America and gave clues of where the listeners could find it. It was a greeting card that I bought in the Mall of America that I hid, I think, behind the toilet in a bowling alley, and if a listener found it they could mail it in for a free T-shirt. That was really fun, someone found it within the first twenty minutes.
I remember when we first started doing the podcast and I first started doing a tour, I was talking to our touring agent, and he said “Where are the cities where you’re the most popular?” and Minneapolis was high on the list, and that was a surprise to him, because sometimes tours don’t go through Minnesota. I said, “No, no, no, that’s in the top five in terms of geographical listeners.” They set the date and it sold out. It’s really cool to know that we have so many fans there.
That brings up another question I had. A lot of times standups will choose to record their specials around here, are the audiences here better laughers or something like that?
Nick Swardson, who’s from there, has always talked about that. I think he goes back once a year to a certain club that he loves, because he just loves the crowds. It’s really a special place. I don’t know what it is about it that creates this love of comedy, but it’s almost like a tiny pocket that’s a secret with comedians, if you go through Minnesota, those are some of the greatest audiences. It’s really cool.
Do you have a favorite restaurant, or a favorite thing to do or see when you’re here?
Well it’s unfortunate that we’re going to be there on a Monday because I personally love this restaurant, I think it’s called Thank God It’s Friday, or something like that. They have these incredible Jack Daniel’s bourbon burgers that I don’t think you can get anywhere else.
It’s so funny, when we’re on tour, no matter if you have a favorite restaurant in any city, or a place you want to visit in any city, we’re there for so few hours, and we have to stick sort of by the venue, that we don’t get to do anything fun other than the show.
You’ve had different Minnesotans on the podcast over the years, and I’d say one of the most famous is former governor Jesse Ventura. Are you still in touch with him?
I haven’t spoken to him in a while. I know he’s still trapped in our plug bag. I’m pretty sure he’s still in there. I haven’t heard him making any news recently, so I would assume he’s still in there.
I do believe there is someone, a comedian who is either from Minnesota or has family in Minnesota who will be there when we’re there, who might appear with us. Not famous though, I should clarify.
That will get people guessing then.
I can only imagine the guessing games. Who’s not famous and from Minnesota? Everyone?
Yeah, maybe it’s me, who knows? Another Minnesota fact. You did a podcast with Adam Scott called U Talkin’ Talking Heads 2 My Talking Head, and did you know that David Byrne wrote “Nothing But Flowers” while in Minnesota?
I did not know that. Where was he? I imagine he was on the roller coaster in the Mall of America. Or the log flume.
Yes, I believe it was Camp Snoopy at the time. I once heard that it was at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, but I don’t know if that’s true, because there was another interview where he said he was just driving around and saw a strip mall and thought of it.
It’s a really interesting song. The post-apocalyptic vision of all of these structures that we’ve built that have been around for decades now, if none of us were here they would just be overrun with the garden after a few years. I can only imagine that he wrote that in Minnesota, it’s a prime inspiration for that kind of thing.
We’re going to do a Minnesota lightning round, where you can share your thoughts on some Minnesota staples.
Is it about Minnesota lightning?
Good. I was there in the summer once when there was a little bit of a rainstorm, so I think I’m uniquely qualified to do this.
OK, perfect. First question is: Replacements or Hüsker Dü?
I love both, but Replacements is going to edge it out for me. I know those records backwards and forwards. Hüsker Dü I’m more of a casual listener.
Do you prefer SPAM the food, or “SPAM” the “Weird Al” song?
Well, since Weird Al was my cohost on the television show for a season—and I know he’ll read this, now that he’s mentioned in the article he’ll get a Google Alert—I’m going to have to say the food.
Minnesota has about 14,000 lakes. Which is your favorite?
Let’s see. One of the smaller ones. I think Lake Miniscule is probably my favorite one, it’s about three drops of water connected by a tributary to another lake, it’s gorgeous there, though. Some of the best views you would ever see.
Lin-Manuel Miranda is a fan of the podcast. Did you know that his cousin plays for the Minnesota Twins?
Huh. I mean, he’s such a fan of the podcast, you think he would have mentioned that to me a few times. I mean, I’m imagining the conversation: “Hi, Lin, this is Scott Aukerman, Comedy Bang! Bang!” He says, “Oh my God, I’m such a fan, I have to tell you that my cousin plays for the Minnesota Twins.” But that hasn’t come up at this point.
Well, next time I’m sure. Have you ever been to the Minnesota State Fair?
I haven’t. That’s something that’s come up with my wife and I quite a few times. We’re always missing it because in the weeks of the Fair the family is here in Los Angeles, where every day is like the Minnesota State Fair, if I’m being honest.
Is there anything I haven’t asked, or anything you would like to say about the state of Minnesota?
Well, the state of Minnesota, I definitely want to get this off my chest, it’s one of, as far as I have been told, it’s one of 48 or 49 or 50 states that are in the United States of America. I don’t say this with every interview. Please don’t look up any of my other interviews at any of the other venues we’re going to across the United States of America, but Minnesota’s my favorite state in the world, and the best crowds ever. I just wanted to get that off my chest. I know that might be a controversial opinion, but I had to say it.
I really appreciate you being so candid with us. That’s what these interviews are all about.
It’s just stripping back the layers and peeling back the onion and showing you what’s deep in my heart, and that is something I’ve wanted to say for far too long, and I need to get it off my chest.
I’m glad I could give you the platform to do that.
Comedy Bang! Bang! Live!
With: Scott Aukerman, Paul F. Tompkins, and the CBB All-Stars
When: 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 1
Where: 805 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
Tickets: $29.75-$59.75; find more info here