The co-creator of “Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis” says the series was inspired by the fact that he and Galifianakis had worked on public-access shows. “When I was 16, my friend Craig Broscow was the anchorman of this very serious high school news program called ‘Centurion Highlights.’ He brought me in to do a piece about how Cypress got its name. I was really into David Letterman, and he used to do these sarcastic segments making fun of news remotes, so I basically did one of those.”
Aukerman says they never expected “Between Two Ferns” to go beyond a three-minute video uploaded to the site Funny or Die in 2008. “Zach had always wanted to do a public- access talk show with the title ‘Between Two Ferns.’ It was funny to us because we knew that for public access, they only have chairs and two plants. Maybe they have a sparkly curtain you can pull behind you.” The video, with actor Michael Cera, quickly garnered millions of views and requests from celebrities such as Jimmy Kimmel, Jon Hamm, and Natalie Portman to appear on the show.
“It became a real thing. We were super close to getting Oprah, to the point that Zach canceled plans because they had set a date to film it. Then (in 2012) we heard Barack Obama was interested, and we got all excited before word came that he was going to do a Reddit Q&A instead, like those were the only two options. Cut to 2014, they say he’ll do it, and we’re like, ‘Yeah, sure.’ Even up to being at the White House, we were thinking a national emergency is going to come up and he won’t be able to do it. And then he walked into the room and said, ‘Two Ferns!’ and we were like, ‘Whoa, it’s going down!’ ”
“Between Two Ferns: The Movie” stars Galifianakis as the antagonistic public-access talk show host who must travel across the country interviewing celebrities such as Keanu Reeves, Matthew McConaughey, Brie Larson, and Benedict Cumberbatch to fulfill an obligation to Funny or Die co-creator Will Ferrell. “Like in the show, the dialogue is improvised, so we have a great cast of improvisers such as Lauren Lapkus and Ryan Gaul that just make every scene better. And it’s staying true to the theme of the show, which is about knocking down celebrity culture.”
Aukerman also helms the comedy podcast network Earwolf, whose flagship show “Comedy Bang! Bang!” (at one point also a TV series on IFC) just celebrated its 10-year anniversary. The weekly program has Aukerman interviewing celebrity guests such as Patton Oswalt, Andy Richter, and “Weird Al” Yankovic as well as comedians playing characters. “I used to consider podcasts as a side project I did. Nowadays, I view them as my main thing and the thing I need to always return to. It’s how people know me.”
5 More Questions with Scott Aukerman
What were your experiences at OCSA, Cypress College, and Orange Coast College?
The OCSA program (at Los Alamitos High School) started my senior year. You could transfer to Los Al, but they let me take four classes in the morning at Cypress High and then go over there after lunch and basically do theater the rest of the day into night. I was in “Mary Poppins,” “Little Shop of Horrors,” all those kinds of shows. I definitely wanted to do something with acting. Growing up in Orange County, even though it’s not that far away from Hollywood, it feels so far away because you don’t know anyone in the industry. You may as well be growing up in the middle of the country for all you know about how to break into the industry. OCSA at the time was populated with theater people so it seemed like the pipeline to get onto Broadway. Then at Cypress College and Orange Coast College, I continued theater and met a lot of funny people. They encouraged the students to write their own shows, so I got into comedy writing.
Comedy Bang! Bang! originally began as a live show, Comedy Death-Ray. What was the idea behind that show?
Comedy Death-Ray started in 2002 because I was doing a lot of stand-up and I knew a lot of great comedians like B.J. Novak and Anthony Jeselnik who wanted more stage time. My friend had a bar—that’s how it was back then, you had to find a friendly venue that would let you come in on a dead night and try doing comedy. We wanted to do a show where you could have people like Bob Odenkirk but also people new in town who had a few minutes of great comedy. I noticed other shows would always have the same people on every week, and the audience would age with the comedians. They’d start out with comedians who were 30. Cut to 10 years later—the comedians are 40 and the audience is also 40. And when you get older, you tend to go out less. So it was, and still is, important for me to get young people on.
How did that evolve into the podcast as we know it today?
We started recording it as a radio show in 2009 and then it turned into a podcast pretty soon after. I felt like I was late to podcasting because I already knew people who had been doing podcasts. But in retrospect, it was super early because anyone I asked to be on it looked at me with a look of confusion like, “Podcast? Uh…” It was definitely a favor they were doing for me. I would actually tell them it was a radio show, even after we stopped doing it for radio. The radio show, by the way, had like 50 listeners. When we made it into a podcast, suddenly it was like 2000 people listening, which was amazing to me at the time.
You also co-host “R U Talkin’ R.E.M. RE: ME?” (formerly “U Talkin’ U2 To Me?”) with actor Adam Scott. Can you tell us about how that came about?
Growing up in Orange County, I was surrounded by really passionate music fans. I spent so much time at Tower Records on Beach Boulevard waiting for tickets. U2 and R.E.M. were two bands I grew up really loving. One day, I was talking to Adam Scott and we had a conversation about U2 and he was surprised I liked them and knew as much about them as he did. A few years later, he told me he was constantly on U2 message boards hearing gossip about he new album and he would say to his wife, “Oh my God, U2 is gonna …” whatever the gossip was, and she was so tired of hearing about it, she told him, “You’ve got to get a friend to talk to about this.” So he asked me to do a podcast. We thought it would be a serious music podcast, but we pressed record and immediately started to do comedy bits with each other. And it has led to us getting to meet our childhood idols including all the members of U2 and, at this point, half of the members of R.E.M.
You also started one of the early podcasting networks, Earwolf, which has more than 30 current shows under its umbrella including the ones we’ve discussed as well as “Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness,” “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend,” “How Did This Get Made,” and “The Three Questions with Andy Richter.” What are the benefits of having a network?
When we started the network nine years ago, the reason to do it was to say, “Hey, these are a bunch of like-minded people who share a sensibility, so if you like one of our shows you might want to check out these other shows.” The fact that they’re on Earwolf leads people to try out at least one episode, even if they haven’t heard of the hosts before. Podcasts still haven’t broken through to everybody—I still see that look of confusion sometimes. But we are lucky to have a lot of passionate fans who listen each week.
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