Sometimes Comedy Bang! Bang! frames its series of segments and bits within a larger theme or narrative, whether that’s an earthquake, a countdown of its own greatest moments, or something more subtle, like the layering of fictions within fictions.
And sometimes it’s just a mishmash of ideas crammed together into 22 minutes.
Tonight’s episode is one of the latter. The members of Future Islands suddenly show up in the studio and get hustled out just as fast. Scott’s new secretary arrives straight from the early 1960s, awakens to the inequality of her position, ascends the corporate ladder, and accelerates through time to an intergalactic future. Reggie gets bored with his usual spot and moves around the studio in search of a fresh perspective. Scott turns into a fly. Power-nerd Chris Hardwick reveals his secret identity as “a huge jock.” There’s no harmony between these bits to string them together. That sounds reproachful, and it could have been, but all the disconnected bits and pieces are so assured and well-crafted that I just couldn’t stop laughing. Coherent or not, that’s what good comedy offers.
So let’s look at some of those pieces.
Reggie’s tour around the studio is a low-key bit that showcases his reliably off-beat delivery, even through his keyboarding. Did you know jaunty theme music could be sullen, even petulant? Reggie Watts shows that it really, really can. It’s weirdly satisfying to watch him try out various spots on the set, only to discover that happiness was in his own worn-in foot grooves all along.
Because I am a nerd, here’s a rundown of Hardwick’s not-a-nerd revelations:
- “I’d rather hang out with athletes than mathletes.”
- “I’m more interested in rookies than Wookiees.”
- “I’d rather go see if the game is on than go to Comic-Con.”
- “I’d rather meet a San Jose Shark than meet Arthur C. Clarke.”
- “I’d rather watch Dorf than Worf.”
- “I would rather watch NASCAR than Jar Jar.”
- “I would rather kiss Matt Cain than Bruce Wayne.”
- “I’m more interested in rookies than Wookiees.” (“You said that one already!” “I know, but it’s a really good one.”)
Trust Hardwick, who’s made an industry of hosting shows based on shows, to integrate his new talk shows, America’s Dumbest Talk Show Hosts and America’s Hunkiest Band Leaders, into Scott’s talk show—and trust Scott not to to notice until it’s underway. You don’t get named one of America’s dumbest talk show hosts for your perspicacity.
Hardwick’s enthusiasm can be overwhelming, but here he tempers that lively presence with occasional underplaying and quiet asides. When Scott asks for clarification about Dorf, Hardwick’s sotto voce “I’m actually not interested in that aspect, it’s just the golf thing,” is note-perfect, as is his tart “Is that so? Then why is your hand stuck in that pickle jar?” His animated intensity prevents him from fading out of focus when Chip Gardner (Andy Daly) comes on.
The moment Daly walks on, he’s on. Chip Gardner enters already spouting advice (“Nothing is more important than a clear thoroughfare for your guests!”) with the fluent assurance of a man who assumes himself suited to the role of honorary mayor, and who thinks his fellow guest will be taken in by a generic “Hello, Chris! I’ve enjoyed all of your contributions to show business over the years!”
Though he’s masterful at hostile or lecherous demeanors (like Danny Mahoney or Don DiMello), that breezy patter is Daly’s greatest medium. Glib and affable, he rattles off a line of chitchat that wanders down a dark road, taking viewers with him. His defamation of beloved TV mom Marion Ross (of Happy Days) as “a whore and a proven liar” who runs a “Fonzie fantasy boudoir” is all the more distressing and hilarious for his genial relish, and for how it elicits everything from squirming discomfort to snickers to blurted-out protests of “What?” and “No!” from his companions.
That blandly mellifluous speech is the voice of authority—of broadcasters, of politicians, of confident glad-handers everywhere—and Daly artfully employs it to explore the underbelly of that confidence. In Gardner’s case, it’s the voice of a man steeped in certainty that he’s earned his place at the side of Satan, who will soon arise “from a lake of blood to rain chaos and destruction down upon the world.” Faith gives a man confidence, apparently.
Gabby (Lennon Parham) has plenty of confidence, too, whether it’s in her ability to organize Scott’s jumbled calendar, in her Dress-For-Success ’80s cocaine haze (“‘Who’s the boss?’ Well, it’s me!”), or in her ability to to adjudicate a grievance between Greedo and Watto. Her mettle can’t even be undermined by her knowledge that an eon’s progress only lessens the gendered wage gap by 3% and allows women to evolve a coffee-gun finger, the better to serve.
Whether it’s unified by a central theme or just a string of silly segments, an episode of Comedy Bang! Bang! is a rich diet of pop culture references and riffs, and sometimes that richness feels like a surfeit. “Chris Hardwick Wears A Black Polo And Weathered Boots” isn’t the best episode of CBB: It lacks the structure, unity, and resonance of the show’s greatest episodes. But this is the first time that I’ve caught myself pining for more at the episode’s end.
That’s a compliment, not a complaint. Despite the absence of any overarching element or framework, this episode feels rounded and full. There’s nothing missing. But I could happily have watched Chip Gardner reminisce over his game-show days, slander Marion Ross, and praise his all-powerful Lord Satan all night long.
- Scott’s Onscreen Credit: Great Fostermom
- Reggie to Future Islands: “Ya git!”
- “You try remembering six names and then get back to me!”
- “Thank you for observing that and hearing it with your ears and mentioning with your own mouth that I have a voice that I use with mine that sounds like that of a broadcaster!”
- Let’s be clear: this is Chip Gardner, not Forrest MacNeil. Sure, Andy Daly’s wearing the same (or strikingly similar) camel-brown blazer, khakis, and saddle-brown shoes. But Forrest wears a pale blue shirt and maroon necktie; here, Chip Gardner wears a pinstripe-checked shirt, navy horseshoe-patterned tie, and rectangular glasses. A world of difference!
- I see what you did there, CBB writers: Gabby’s final ascent shatters the glass ceiling.