“Jack Black” might be the most glaring example of Comedy Bang! Bang throwing together ideas that are sort of half-baked or unoriginal, and still turning out a pretty great episode. Anyone who is a fan of this show or of the podcast knew where most of these bits were going, but they somehow still worked, even when you could see the punchline coming from a mile away.
I think “Jack Black” pulls this off because it, at times, feels more like a series of callbacks than it does general laziness. For example, during Scott’s latest reality show “Nice Work, What a Jerk!,” where they see how people react to a person leaving their cell phone behind at a restaurant, I couldn’t help but feel like I had seen this before. That’s because the general conceit was used for “Tsk-Tsk or Attaboy.” Then for “Soap or Dope.” And “Winner or Sinner.” I know this because “Nice Work, What a Jerk!” just so happens to be a “Tsk-Tsk Attaboy/Soap or Dope/Winner or Sinner Production.” It’s still fun to see these reality shows escalate to weird points, even if it has been done over and over again on the show.
I’ve also found that Comedy Bang! Bang! episodes work best when they either have a very rigid structure or an incredibly loose one. “Jack Black” is very much on the latter scale, with Reggie proclaiming they’ll lose their stunt budget if they don’t fill the episode with plenty of stunts. Reggie has hired two stunt performers, Dead Eye Darrell Dean and Quiet Wyatt Tharp to do stunts throughout the show, yet they just want to rob Reggie and Scott for the money. Of course every time this concludes in a stunt, Scott willingly gives them the money they are owed. The stunt idea isn’t all that funny, but at least it gives us a bit of stunt casting, with Adam Scott as Plumber Pierre, who pops up occasionally for little-to-no reason.
I think it’s expected that when Jack Black appears on something, he has to be all high-energy and nuts, but thankfully Black is calmer and more subdued than usual for his first trip to the couch. He’s pretty funny when Scott asks him about King Kong’s bing bong and when a Reggie hologram spews pixellated milk from his third nipple all over the studio—but very little of this segment is funny due to Black himself. In fact, the highlight of the interview is a nice nod to the podcast, when Black tries to sing “Happy Birthday,” to which Scott mentions that they don’t have the rights to play that song. Damn you Patty and Mildred Hill, you old miserly crones!
Of course any episode with Paul F. Tompkins is a delight, especially since he’s appearing as J.W. Stillwater, fan boat mechanic by day, vigilante crime fighter by night. The biggest problem with bringing a known character to the show is trying to catch up the new audience on already-known facts about said character. This often seems to be a problem with Tompkins’ characters, which are filled with backstory. Stillwater’s appearance is mostly comprised of material that we’ve heard on the podcast, but there are some wonderful new moments thrown in, such as a discussion of different types of hammers. And when Scott says that no women probably watch the show, Tompkins replies “Ladies don’t get high?” It’s the perfect example of what always makes the Aukerman and Tompkins dynamic so great. Plus, with these two and Black together, it’s also a fun little Mr. Show reunion.
Even when an episode of Comedy Bang! Bang! doesn’t feel all that original, it can still pull off a fun time with tried-and-true elements that still work wonderfully when thrown together.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.