Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Comedy Bang! Bang!: “Joel McHale Wears A Navy Zip-up And High Tops”

Scott Aukerman, Joel McHale (IFC)
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Time travel is more than canon in the Comedy Bang! Bang! universe. It’s almost routine, whether it’s sending Scott and Reggie “back to the time period following the present” to craft the perfect show, setting the stage for a 1960s period-piece extravaganza, mentioned in passing in Anna Kendrick’s casual anecdote about uncreating the universe, or following Lennon Parham’s Gabby through decades, then millennia, to track the progress of women in the workplace. So it was only a matter of time (hoo boy) before a visitor from the future arrived, all nude and slithery, to warn Scott and Reggie of the downfall of humanity at the hands (plugs? ports? Bluetooths? Blueteeth?) of Scott’s shiny new toy, the Comedy Touch Touch 1000.

Scott Aukerman, Reggie Watts (IFC)
Scott Aukerman, Reggie Watts (IFC)

Nameless Naked Man (CB!B! writer, producer, and recurring actor Neil Campbell, who has also supplied the voice of Sir Couchley) arrives Terminator-style, nude inside a bubble. From his introduction crouching on the studio floor to his tumble as Security tosses him into an alley to his defiant return, Campbell and the camera conspire to craft seamless modesty poses, neither obscuring his nudity nor poking fun at the angles necessary to make his appearance acceptable for broadcast. It’s accomplished with surprising grace while still making the most of the discomfort he causes—not through his portents of doom, but by his refusal to put on some clothes, already.

That’s Comedy Bang! Bang! in a nutshell. As goofy and broad as its premises can be, when the show works, it’s because it executes them with imagination and exquisite specificity, sometimes with surprising grace and sometimes with brutal accuracy. Tonight, both are on display (along with almost every inch of Neil Campbell).

James Adomian’s characters, real or fictional, are sharp, focused, and horribly, hilariously pointed. His appearance as Paul Giamatti mingles the esteemed actor’s vocal peculiarities with the persona he often assumes in films, the sad sack whose self-effacement spins without warning into spit-flinging rage. (In filmed and written interviews, Giamatti comes off as a reasonably cheerful, pleasant guy, not the snarl of self-loathing and resentment writhing on Scott’s couch.)

Fans of the CB!B! podcast know Adomian’s excruciatingly detailed impression, with its exaggerated slushy sibilants and creaks, but on television, his physicality comes across, complete with Giamatti’s diffident nod and more subtle quirks like his characteristic sharp gestures directly from the elbow. He dissolves into rage with all the schlubby impotence of a Giamatti character, escalating from huffy tugs on his jacket collar to the petulant fist-clenching and flailing of stunted fury.


The long story of his 12-episode American Horror Story arc as “an evil clown who gets [bleeped] in the ass for 12 hours straight,” the two-week ordeal of filming (Scott gently broaches the possibility that this was not an acting job but a prolonged sexual assault), his unceremonious firing, the leaking of his nude performances, and Giamatti’s final outburst that “spoiler alert: My body looks like spoiled pancake batter!” are just the beginning of the humiliations in store for Adomian’s “pig-boy” version of Giamatti. The impersonation, positioned just at the intersection of reality and fiction, is deeply uncomfortable and viciously funny, precisely because it’s so meticulously crafted.

Joel McHale’s appearance is more flattering, as Scott’s introduction suggests—what can he expect when he asks guests to write their own intros?—but just as exaggerated and precise. McHale prolongs his walk to the couch, showboating just long enough for awkward comedy, holds his hug with Scott for an extra beat, punctuates it with jaunty butt tilt, then reprises his entrance less than a minute later. His assumption of adulation, and accompanying puzzlement over the crew’s silence, is as show-bizzy as the kiss he drops on Scott’s hand at his second entrance—as show-bizzy as you’d expect from a man who watches TV eighteen to twenty-two hours every day to collect clips for The Soup on his VCR.


Taking potshots at reality programming is easy, but the premise of Reality House, where the contestants never learn the show’s objective, embraces absurdity, and the details are beautifully exact. With his crisply tailored suits and counterfeit gravitas, Scott is every inch the reality-show host, reading meaningless riddles to players who scramble to make sense of the scraps they’re given. The faux-marble faux-mansion decorated in bland bourgeois style, the score that intensifies to convey a sense of suspense, and the cast of contenders familiar from actual programs combine to imbue Reality House with an air of, well, reality, while its emptiness rings out, showing how hollow the genre can be at its worst.

Campbell’s arc as the naked weirdo determined to save humanity from the rule of the machines (and equally determined to remain naked) doesn’t tie into the rest of the episode, but that’s turned into a strength by the nonchalance with which CB!B!’s cast and crew greet his arrival, and by the resignation they gradually display at the prospect of a technological uprising. Even Nameless Naked Man succumbs to their apathy; as he’s hustled out by Security once again, he throws a petulant “Y’know, the machines are going to rise up” over his shoulder.


Having defeated the CTT-1000, Scott and Reggie celebrate by looking up a good restaurant, tweeting their itinerary, and generally surrendering to the lure of the machines. Acknowledging that—as Scott says—“Okay, so there will be a robot uprising in a couple years,” they conclude that they might as well enjoy the benefits of technology until then. As a life philosophy goes, it’s alarmingly passive, but it’s also a metaphor for the humor at the heart of the show, made explicit by the Comedy Touch Touch 1000’s formulaic “evergreen refillable skit premises.” The tropes of mainstream entertainment are ubiquitous and unstoppable, so the minds behind Comedy Bang! Bang! eke out as much artistry as they can from the forms they mimic.

Stray observations:

  • Scott’s onscreen credit: Flat Circleman.
  • Sad to say, there is no site for bangbangjokesexplained.com. Update: It took a few days, but there is now!
  • “Dude, could you please put on some clothes?” “You sound like everyone else in the future!”
  • “Pig c-c-c— semen?”
  • There was a lot of penis talk on this episode: Joel McHale’s “really big penis,” Paul Giamatti’s tragically drowned penis, and Nameless Naked Man’s inescapable penis, which he insists on displaying even in his death throes.
  • “Right, he’s dead; I’ll just cover his penis with these rocks.” Really, a lot of penis talk.
  • “I’m much weaker than I look!”
  • “Silly little birds, all in their nest.” Both Scott and Reggie impersonate birds in tonight’s episode. The triumphant “Go, seahawks!” of Reggie’s seahawk resurrection made me laugh out loud every time as I reviewed the episode to take notes and jot down quotes.
  • You can discuss in the comments whether Campbell’s arrival is really Terminator–style, since not all of the Terminator-universe time travelers arrive in a Time Displacement Sphere. Count me out—or, if you prefer, “I’ll not be back.”
  • “Yeah, but this was written by the writers!” “Hoo boy.”