Improv Can Lead to a Thriving Career in Comedy—Just Ask Scott Aukerman

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Photo Source: Caitlin Watkins

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Scott Aukerman has essentially done it all in the world of comedy. He hosts the popular podcast “Comedy Bang! Bang!,” which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year; he’s written, produced, and acted in several screen projects, among them the insanely popular satirical talk show “Between Two Ferns With Zach Galifianakis.” Now, Netflix’s “Between Two Ferns: The Movie” marks the multihyphenate’s feature film directorial debut. Aukerman recently sat down with Backstage to share what he has learned from his years on the comedy scene.

READ: Scott Aukerman Holds Comedy Court

For Aukerman, improvising on set was more familiar than shooting scripted scenes.
“When we started doing ‘Between Two Ferns’ episodes back 10 years ago, we totally improvised them. And the most that we do is write down jokes and give them to Zach, and he either says them or not. A lot of times, he won’t even go to them. So we said, ‘Well, it would be cool to do a movie that did [it] that same way.’ So I had a story, we had a beginning and an end—the end changed, but we had a beginning, definitely. And then the whole middle of the movie is just random scenes that we then put into an order later in post[production] and filmed a little bit more to make it all make sense. But yeah, it’s a totally improvised movie, so a lot of what you see on the screen is the really genius improvisers and Zach, who is also a genius improviser, just coming up with stuff in the moment, or us shouting stuff in between takes like, ‘Say this this time, say that that time.’ It’s a way more natural way, I think, to make a movie than to have people say lines that are very obviously scripted.”

Improvisation even played a role in the casting process.
“I will say that the audition process for anyone not a major star in the movie was really interesting, because we wanted to cast really good improvisers, and we didn’t even really know what the parts were gonna be. So we had auditions where we just kind of described three different types of people, put it out there to a bunch of improv comedians, and [said] pick one of them who you think is the most like you. So they weren’t gender-specific; they weren’t specific to anything but a personality type. And then Zach came and improvised with a bunch of them.”

Aukerman’s career in comedy has taught him to be more in the moment.
“I think the first year of the podcast still holds up. I think everyone hates their first 10 episodes, and a lot of people actually take them down and don’t put them back up—mine are up there. But I don’t know, I think the thing the podcast taught me that I wish I knew 10 years before the podcast was how to be a little bit more in the moment of my comedy career. When I first started, I think I was, like, [viewing] myself as more of a craftsman or a writer, and a lot of my performances were very intricately written and not in the moment. I think what the podcast taught me was truly to just be in the moment and not plan anything and know that comedy is essentially meant to be stupid and silly and people goofing around. So when you try to labor over it and plan it too much, it tends to come off as too dry and not fun.”

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