Scott Aukerman has probably spent more time hosting the Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast than just about anything else he’s done in his life. At 620 episodes and counting, the show recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary with a record-setting 10-hour-long podcast.
“It’s still fun, it’s still great, I’m really enjoying it,” Aukerman tells me on this week’s episode of The Last Laugh podcast. And yet, if someone asked him, “Hey, do you want to direct more movies?” he half-jokes, “I would gladly kick podcasting to the curb in a second.”
Besides Comedy Bang! Bang!, Aukerman is probably best known for being the man behind Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis. Over the past 11 years, he has directed most of that popular web series’ 21 episodes—including the ones in which Galifianakis sat down to insult Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to their faces.
Now, Aukerman has directed the star-packed, fully improvised Between Two Ferns: The Movie, which just premiered on Netflix last Friday. It wasn’t easy.
“In a certain way, having a movie validates these things,” he says. “In the same way that SNL sketch movies, like Wayne’s World, take something to another level.” In addition to Wayne’s World, Aukerman thought a lot about Borat and This Is Spinal Tap, both of which were almost entirely improvised. He decided to take the same mockumentary-style approach for Between Two Ferns.
“I thought, what if we could make a movie like a real documentary?” Aukerman says. “We set up the actual situations, we know the relationships with the characters, let’s just start interviewing the characters and start having them do scenes without really any plot and figure it out from there. We’ll shoot a bunch of interviews with celebrities, we’ll shoot a bunch of stuff in hotels, adventures along the way. And then I’ll get in the editing room, like a documentarian does, and figure out the structure in post.”
The entire project was a puzzle that became increasingly difficult once they realized they needed at least 15 major celebrity cameos to make it work. That doesn’t include Galifianakis, who was still a couple of years away from becoming a major movie star when they shot the first episode of the series in 2008.
When I point out that, with the film, Aukerman has created a “Bizarro World” in which Galifianakis never became a star and is merely a public access host in North Carolina, the director jokes, “I think the Bizarro World is the one where he is a movie star. That’s the one I can’t believe. Trump is president and Zach is a movie star? We’ve clearly done something wrong.”
How he pulled off all of those celebrity cameos
“When we started filming we knew we needed 15 interviews. But we maybe had one person, maybe two people who had agreed to do it. I think Tiffany Haddish was on our first or second day. We just knew we had to get the people, including the first scene in the movie with Matthew McConaughey. It’s a challenge, because every single person will only give you a certain amount of time. I think I had two hours with him to do all of that including the interview. The least amount of time we had with anyone was John Legend. I think we had him for 40 minutes at 7 a.m. while he was filming his Christmas special. But we actually got him back on another day to film a scene with him because he was so funny in it.”
How Peter Dinklage ended up with the most ‘pivotal’ cameo in the film
“Every single person that we would talk to about it, they’d say, ‘Hey, this person’s in!’ And we’d ask, ‘What are the limitations?’ ‘Well, they’ll only be here for an hour.’ So you sort of slot people into different slots that don’t take a lot of time. So we’re talking to Peter Dinklage on the phone— he’s in New York and sometimes the star will want to have a conversation just to see what they’re getting into. So we’re saying, ‘It’s going to be fun!’ and he’s saying, ‘Yeah, this all sounds good. So how long do you need me, like, a week?’ And I was like, ‘Uh, yeah, we’ll take you for a week!’ So that’s how he became the pivotal role.”
On the origins of the ‘Between Two Ferns’ web series
“We batted ideas back and forth and [Galifianakis] said, ‘You know, it would be really funny to do a talk show.’ He didn’t know what the tone of it would be. But he said, you know, ‘I used to have a public access show and I’ve always wanted to do a show called Between Two Ferns, which I laughed at really hard, because I had a public access show growing up and I knew the aesthetics of the public access show. They don’t have a lot of money. So essentially you’ll get a curtain, two chairs and to fill up the space you’ll get two big plants to make it look like it’s not just an empty void. So we said, let’s just improv it. We got Michael Cera and just improv’d it in a basement. We knew it was really funny and at a certain point Funny or Die had been established so we put it up there and millions of people decided to watch it.”
Will there be more ‘Between Two Ferns’ episodes after the movie?
“At a certain point, Zach especially was saying, ‘I think this is the end of Between Two Ferns.’ And in my mind I’m just like, yeah, you say that now but if in four months The Rock calls us up then we’re back to making the videos! And of course I saw Zach after a couple of months the other day and he was like, ‘So what do we think about a sequel?’ So I think it could continue on, definitely. I don’t think it’s an endpoint.”
Next week on The Last Laugh podcast: Stand-up comedian and host of MTV’s The Tom Green Show, Tom Green.