Three minutes into his guest spot on tonight’s Comedy Bang! Bang!—just after announcing his decision not to “arbitrarily shoehorn” singing into his performances—Skylar Astin finds a stray microphone tucked under his couch cushion, and he breaks into a full-throated rendition of “Bah Bah Black Sheep.” It’s a silly bit, introduced with an artificiality that’s absurd even by CB!B!’s standards, executed flawlessly, and connected to nothing else in the show.
The whole episode feels like that: It’s a string of bits introduced with elaborately heightened artifice, each performed with perfect pitch but untethered from each other. Often, the off-kilter goofiness of Comedy Bang! Bang! is grounded by a coherent theme or running gag, but here, every individual element feels like a one-off joke, from Skylar Astin’s segments to Scott’s teen-comedy romance with his tutor to the appearances of the newly introduced special effects artist.
But sometimes, a string of silly bits is just fine. Not stellar, but fine. Sometimes, as easy-listening DJ Forsythia says when she forestalls Scott and Skylar’s speculation over her unlikely pronunciation of her station’s call letters, that’s just the way it is, “not a lot of delving into it necessary.” When the disconnected jokes are as deftly performed as this, they can almost carry the show on their own without a lot of attentive dovetailing of motifs or themes, without one continuous through-line uniting the episode.
And the jokes are deft. Astin’s easy-going and charming, and his “Benjamin Button-type disease” (“instead of aging backwards, I was born this way, and I’ll stay looking young and healthy for the rest of my life”) is well-suited to his boyish appeal. His quiet affability melds well with Scott’s usual genial manner, especially when he’s gently questioning why Scott makes fun of the “idiots” who can’t tell the difference between musical scales and snake scales, or responding to Scott’s assertion that they’re both heartthrobs with a kind but unconvinced “Sure.” But Astin brings his own humor to the show, especially when he channels the posture, expression, and voice of a child as he reveals that he’s actually eight years old.
Together they’re a good foil for Lennon Parham’s Forsythia, who is by turns serene and curt. Forsythia’s spot is the strongest segment in the episode, with her detailed characterization and nimble vocal performance creating the indelible portrait of a dulcet-voiced radio host who purrs out her listeners’ romantic dedications almost exclusively to the accompaniment of Hoobastank songs. The intimacy of her hushed tones makes her occasional sharp outbursts all the more jarring, and all the more amusing. It’s a devastating balance, and Parham makes it look effortless.
Scott’s new reality show, The Maker-Upper, is similarly adept at using shifts of tone to play on audience expectations, and on the tropes we all know too well. Eschewing promises of false comfort, Scott tells it like it is: “There are some who possess a gift, an ability to look into a world beyond our own and communicate with the dead. I am not one of those people. I am someone who makes shit up.” But his counterfeit somberness (and insistence on the loved ones’ fondness for basketball) gets interrupted when FBI Agent Bill Ritz (Rich Sommer), demands Scott’s help locating a missing little boy, and their search is forgotten as they play the pick-up basketball game Scott wanted all along. There’s an internal logic to this progression that only highlights how thoroughly without logical progression the rest of the episode is.
Reggie’s mostly on the sidelines this episode, which seems a shame with so few shows left until his departure, but his contributions once again make me keenly aware how much his musical and comedic range shape Comedy Bang! Bang!’s unpredictable delights. His sleep screaming reenactment, and especially his abrupt transition between variations on a scream and cheerful calm, come out of nowhere and go nowhere, but they sure made me laugh.
Scott’s set-up for the scales joke—asking Astin how easily he can distinguish between a set of musical notes sung in order of pitch and the plate-like covering of a reptile—is preposterously complicated, especially for a gag that pays off with a toy snake, but Reggie’s zeal for the hissing punchline makes it all worth it.
“Skylar Astin Wears Blue Jeans And Weathered Brown Desert Boots” features a putative framing narrative in which Scott, Sullivan High’s star talk-show host [cue guitar riff], is failing all his classes and has to be tutored by Isobel (Hayley Marie Norman), the beautiful and brainy oldest daughter (and also only daughter) of Network President (David Alan Grier) or give up his hosting duties. It’s harsh, but fair: We all know those famous sayings, “No pass, no play,” “Grades too low, can’t host the show,” and “No good grades, no face in the trades.”
Again, it’s well-performed and funny, and unlike the rest of the episode, it ties together two ideas, wedding its high-school rom-com conceit to the introduction of Kenny The Visual Effects Guy by lavishing Isobel’s entrance and departure with cartoonish effects. But nothing about Scott’s fleeting romance with Isobel connects to any other segment with the other guests, making it less a framing device and more a recurring sketch.
If there’s one resonant thematic idea in the episode, it’s summed up in the signs Isobel and Kenny make to cheer on Scott as he takes the test that will determine whether he keeps his show or loses it. Isobel smiles at him as she holds up her hand-painted, heart-bedecked poster board reading “I believe in you”… then the sweetness of the moment is undercut as Kenny moves in next to her, his sign reading “Still thinking about that kangaroo joke LOL.” The image captures some of the show’s peculiar tone, and its appeal: at its most emotional, Comedy Bang! Bang! can offer a dose of unabashed sweetness echoed by absurdity, all presented with a simplicity that belies its usually careful construction.
- Scott’s onscreen credit: Spam Blockerman, plus a bonus onscreen credit for the nom du plume in his letter to Forsythia: Scott Awkwardman.
- Scott’s dedication letter: “My dearest Forsythia, She’s at it again, the old bag of wonder. I’m talking about my mother, a.k.a, Mom. She’s all up in my biz about my discretionary spending. Well, I work hard on my own television and radio program and if I want to spend my ‘entertainment fund’ on single bags of crickets for my gecko, Mr. Bojangles, then I will. Yours in the wind, Scott Awkwardman.”
- “Fireworks Christmas tree boarshead. Skyscraper clown face white rose.” As Forsythia ([whisper] “Forsythia, Forsythia”) listed off the emojis in her reader’s supposed love letter, Scott started to break and Parham very nearly joined him. I can’t blame either of them a bit.
- “Ruth Brang wanted me to help her with some husband trouble. The trouble? He’s dead.”
- “We already checked every dinosaur park in town and there aren’t any!”
- So, for all you would-be choreographers out there, the escalation of arsenal goes: dollar-store poppers, cap guns, then straight-up bullets.
- “Can I have my snack now?”