Pod-Canon #5: Comedy Bang Bang's X-Mas 2018
I wrote a piece for Splitsider a little while ago about the unexpected commonalities between two of my very favorite things, Phish and Comedy Bang Bang. The improvisation, the child-like spirit of joy, the touring, the intensity, identity and sometimes/oft-annoying/sometimes-life-affirmingly-awesome community, Harris Wittels: there is so much that unites these two rich, insular worlds.
When Comedy Bang Bang gets into a righteous groove it is a thing of beauty. There is nothing better. You feel grateful to be a fan, to get to experience Scott Aukerman and his guests creating something blissfully, exhilaratingly new in the moment.
Scott Aukerman’s venerable podcast institution got into just such an epic, historic groove on its instant classic 2018 holiday episode. Aukerman’s podcast Christmas party was excessive in every way. On paper, it looks like a goddamn mess. Too many characters, too many bits, too many ideas, too many running jokes, too many guests, a wildly indulgent two hour, eighteen minute running time.
Thankfully that spirit of glorious excess extends to laughs. This is at once a weirdly cerebral, conceptually complex deconstruction of the Comedy Bang Bang universe and an oddly populist, crowd-pleasing laugh riot.
Christmas shows are all about the soothingly familiar, seasonal and unchallenging. There’s a lot of that here. If you love something about Comedy Bang Bang there is a very good chance you’ll find it represented on the Christmas spectacular. Jason Mantzoukas! Jon Gabrus as engineer Gino! Paul F. Tompkins and Lauren Lapkus as a foul-mouthed, belligerent Santa and wife “Big Sue” respectively! Mike Hanford as bubbly rock and roll guitarist John Lennon! Shaun Diston as dirtbag immortal Rudi North! Thomas Middleditch as a new, impossibly convoluted and confusing future fan favorite named Big Dog, who is either a cool dude or an actual dog! Nick Wiger as Leo Karpatze!
But there are also three concurrent levels of reality operating at various points in the mind-meltingly funny special. There is, of course, the wonderfully elastic, absurdist world of the show. Then there are the audio flashbacks of “Peter Griffin” (yes, that Peter Griffin, the doltish paterfamilias of Family Guy), which should be mind-numbingly, unforgivably hacky yet are utterly hilarious, in no small part due to the gleeful absurdity of attempting to do an overwhelmingly visual trope like a flashback in a purely audio medium.
To make your Comedy Bang Bang character Peter Griffin, as the brilliant Zeke Nicholson does here when you’re performing alongside people like the aforementioned Tompkins, Lapkus, Middleditch, Mantzoukas and Wiger in a high-profile holiday episode takes guts but it unexpectedly slays, or should I say sleighs. No, I should not say that because it would be stupid.
Peter Griffin’s backstory—that he decided to become a serious actor after seeing A Star is Born—adds another rich element of anti-comedy to the grand gestalt. The joke, on some level, is that a comedian doing Peter Griffin in 2018 with that premise cannot be funny, so the fact that it’s not only funny but consistently hilarious feels like some weird form of comedy magic.
There is a lot of laughter here. The introduction of “Peter Griffin” in particular inspires a rollicking, infectious kind of double laughter, as smart, fast, brilliant comic minds with impeccable taste find themselves laughing at someone doing a Family Guy impression that somehow kills and laugh all over again at the absurdity of the situation.
That’s another thing Phish and Comedy Bang Bang share: part of the immense, transcendent joy in their work comes from the palpable pleasure that they take in each other and in their own prodigious gifts, in their virtuosity. The laughter here is so pervasive that it becomes another sonic and thematic element of the show, adding both to the sense of spectacle and celebration and to the sense that this is a massive party train careening blissfully out of control in the most enjoyable manner possible.
That third level of reality is a dream reality, as one of the crazy characters is Will Hines’ Morpheus the Dream Lord, whose presence just makes everything even more spectacularly, enjoyably confusing in an Inception kind of way.
The Holiday Special offers a wonderfully satisfying combination of the intriguingly new and the reassuringly familiar, most notably in the form of yet another bait and switch from fan favorite Nick Wiger as Leo Karpatze, the real auteur of “Monster Mash” as well as “Monster Fuck”. a disturbingly graphic pornographic desecration of the Bobby “Boris” Pickett Halloween perennial that Wiger has performed on Comedy Bang Bang seven times now, all with a nearly identical song and bit.
Having Karpatze return doesn’t just telegraph the underlying premise of Wiger’s beloved, and, I would imagine, also quite hated, bit, which is to promise a deeply annoyed Aukerman that he will be unveiling a new version of “Monster Fuck” that is very different and barely like the original at all, only to deliver a performance that is almost exactly the same as every previous rendition plus a few new shouted words, in this case about Chanukah.
No, Wiger veritably sends podcast listeners a postcard every March alerting them that in roughly seven to nine months he’ll be doing “Monster Fuck” again exactly like every appearance before and it will still fucking kill, as it does here. At this point “Monster Fuck” and its various iterations have reached the same kind of mythic running joke level as Paul Rudd showing a clip of a wheelchair-bound boy plummeting to his doom in Mac & Me and Sideshow Bob hitting the rake over and over and over again on The Simpsons.
Wiger’s signature bit never gets old in part due to the unhinged, unlikely passion and intensity he brings to the song every year, the incongruous, almost literary sadness. It’s fucking filthy, of course, like the previous Pod-Canon entries the Kid Detectives and I-Brain but it’s also dark in a strangely evocative way. These fixtures of spooky kids’ imaginations aren’t just sucking and fucking in ways that would Bob Guccione blush: they’re also weeping and engaging in acts of incest and losing themselves in a hedonistic nightmare orgy of pure nightmare and fantasy.
There’s a touch of Boogie Nights in Frankenstein’s Monster becoming Frankenstein’s Monstrous Cuck when, as a consequence of his sex-crazed Bride being sexually serviced by creatures ranging from Dracula to a giant spider the iconic cuckold breaks down and begins weeping. As Wiger sings of the sexually insatiable creature presumably made up of the bodies of similarly horny dead people, “(Frankenstein’s Bride) fucked every monster come one, come all/Her three holes were filled like a bowling ball!/And while monsters all fucked his undead bride/Frankenstein just jacked off and cried.”
Wiger sings “Monster Fuck” as if exorcising strange, deeply personal psycho-sexual demons the only way he knows how: through a riotously pornographic monster-themed novelty song.
Those lyrics are burned indelibly into my memory, and the memory of countless other Comedy Bang Bang listeners so congratulations, Nick Wiger, you have officially created the filthiest Holiday perennial since Bad Santa or, going back, the classic Rudy Ray Moore “This Ain’t No White Christmas” party album.
The Comedy Bang Bang Christmas special is a beloved year-end tradition in its own right, as is its year-ending, even longer, even more self-indulgent four-part best-of, which find Aukerman and Tompkins revisiting the year’s best moments in a manner as leisurely as it is predictably, consistently enjoyable.
At its best, Comedy Bang Bang is nothing short of a gift to comedy nerds. That’s particularly this time of year, when those gifts are as willfully, purposefully excessive as they are appreciated.
Join a nice community, get access to two big patron-exclusive articles a month and support Pod-Canon and independent media by pledging over at https://www.patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace