Scott Aukerman is the host of "Comedy Bang! Bang!," the popular podcast-turned-television show.
Scott Aukerman is the host of "Comedy Bang! Bang!," the popular podcast-turned-television show. (Photo: Sara Bill)

"Comedy Bang! Bang!" is a little off target at Turner Hall

"Comedy Bang! Bang!" began as a podcast but is now also a television series on IFC. On Monday night at the Turner Hall Ballroom, the podcast version of "Comedy Bang! Bang!" was enjoyed by a nearly full house.

On the television series, host Scott Aukerman gets to be the driving force of most of the humor. On the podcast, however, he doesn’t get to ramp it up in the same fashion. Since the podcast version of "Comedy Bang! Bang!" is completely improvised with guests playing wild characters, Aukerman usually has to be more of a straight man and serve as a facilitator/point guard, directing the humor.

Perhaps because of this, the "Comedy Bang! Bang!" portion of the night was broken into two acts, one with Aukerman performing on his own and then the actual podcast version of the program, which was recorded and be available for purchase on earwolf.com.

Aukerman, who dated comedian Margaret Cho in the '90s, started off the show by addressing how strange it was that there was a large banner promoting an upcoming show by his ex-girlfriend hanging in the room. For his solo portion, Aukerman went with an Andy Kaufman-like approach, antagonizing and toying with the Turner Hall audience.

He expressed how excited he was to perform the next night in Chicago at the Vic Theater and declared that he would use his time in Milwaukee to test run for the big show. This included snippets of a monologue, practicing heckling comebacks with the assistance of an audience member on-stage and introducing Louis C.K. to do a guest stand-up spot. Aukerman also tested the patience of the crowd with a lengthy birthday song.

When the podcast portion of the show began, Aukerman was more sincere during his short opening remarks. He reflected on the brief period of his life when he lived in Milwaukee in 1993. He moved to the city on Halloween and was gone by Christmas since the relationship that brought him here fell apart. While thinking back on it, Aukerman recalled that he saw the Milwaukee Rep’s production of "A Christmas Carol" that year and that the four-year old actor playing Tiny Tim badly botched one of his lines.

The first guest on the program was Wesley Treehawk, a representative of the Potawatomi tribe played by Horatio Sanz. While Sanz had moments, the character never felt right. Initially, it seemed like Sanz was going for a subversive take on how Native Americans are portrayed in comedy. However, there was little depth to this, so the tongue-in-cheek references to bad stereotypes and words associated with Native Americans were just flat and uncomfortable. Sanz has shown his talent with previous characters on the podcast, but Treehawk just didn’t work.

At the end of the show, Aukerman and Sanz bailed out the character by revealing that he wasn’t an actual Native American but rather a concoction by a Johnny Carson impersonator. It was a bit of a messy explanation, but it helped soften some of the unintentional bite that came with the character.

Following Treehawk was the beloved "Comedy Bang! Bang!" guest Garry Marshall, played by Paul F. Tompkins. Tompkins was an absolute tour de force in this role and offered Aukerman far greater depth and opportunities to find the situational humor on-stage.

Marshall explained that he was in the city to stop the Bronze Fonz. According to Marshall, the statue (unbeknownst to Milwaukeeans) comes alive when everyone is asleep at night and takes the life of an unfortunate resident. Marshall also explained the origin of the statue and provided details about "Happy Days" and "Laverne & Shirley."

For example, Marshall explained that Arthur Fonzarelli was actually insane and that he was the only one who heard music when he punched the jukebox.

Tompkins also shined during the closing portion of the night, which was capped by the podcast's signature "Would You Rather" segment. He was such an overwhelming audience favorite that a future Tompkins solo show at Turner Hall or the Pabst Theater seems like an absolute necessity.

Factoring in other live versions of the podcast, there have been almost 275 episodes of "Comedy Bang! Bang!". While the additions to the lore of Garry Marshall stole the show, Monday night’s recording was enjoyable but far from an instant classic episode.

The opening act for the evening was the sketch comedy group the Birthday Boys, an appropriate pairing since their own television series will premiere on IFC on October 18, slotted to air right after "Comedy Bang! Bang!". The Birthday Boys began with a taped introduction by Bob Odenkirk, who is an executive producer of their show.

In just under 30 minutes, the Birthday Boys made a very strong impression, weaving live sketches with material that had been taped for their series. With the exception of one bit (a ski-infused parody of "What a Wonderful World"), the Birthday Boys were really enjoyable and lampooned "Stand By Me," "Dead Poet’s Society," "The Little Mermaid" and underground prank tapes. Hopefully Monday was just a glimpse of things to come, and "Comedy Bang! Bang!" and the Birthday Boys will be a potent one-two comedy punch for IFC.

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