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Arts and Entertainment

Scott Aukerman's Murderous Beams of Hilarity

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(Photo by Seth Olenick / used with permission)
Scott Aukerman is one of the main brains behind Los Angeles’ healthy world of alternative comedy.

Comedy Death-Ray, the weekly stand-up show he started with BJ Porter in 2002, sells out the Upright Citizens Brigade Theare every Tuesday. Last year, he started launched Comedy Death-Ray Radio on the post-terrestrial radio Indie 103.1. This podcast features regulars from the live show being hilarious.

Looking to put product on their Internet-only radio station, Aukerman was a perfect fit for Indie 103.1. “The price was right for them, because I said I’d do it for free,” he told LAist.

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In addition to the live stream, Indie 103.1 availed the show via podcast and it took off. “I quickly found out way more people listen to podcasts than listen to [Internet] radio.” Now, Comedy Death-Ray Radio is one of the most downloaded comedy podcasts in the world.

"Originally, I just thought the radio show was going to be something to advertise for the live show, and it quickly became it’s own thing."

Aside from their Death-Ray brand, Aukerman and Porter have had great success as a writing team, both getting their starts writing on HBO’s Mr. Show (for which they were nominated for an Emmy.) One of their recent works has been at the helm of the lauded web series Between Two Ferns With Zach Galifianakis.

LAist had a chance to talk to Aukerman about new media, local comedy, and, of course, horsey sauce.

LAist: Comedy Death Ray has been a weekly stand-up show in Hollywood since 2002 (first housed at the M-Bar). Do you find you’ve held a regular audience?

Scott Aukerman: When I first started there was a regular audience that would come every week. There was more of a social aspect to it, because it was at a bar. You would see a lot of the same people, then after it got to UCB I started noticing that I didn’t know any of the people anymore. Now, it’s a different audience every week. Maybe there’s a few regulars -- or maybe I just don’t recognize faces anymore.

Comedy Death-Ray sells out every week. Have you thought of moving it to a larger venue?

We actually moved from a larger bar to this small theater because I didn’t want to be in a larger venue. We’ve done shows at theatres up to 1,400 seats before but I just prefer the small ones. The great thing is, lately, it’s just been selling out no matter who’s on it. Sometimes I’ll only release the names of three people that’ll be there and plug the rest in with things that I know people’ll enjoy. I can put up whatever I think is funny. There’s a lot of freedom there.

Shows at UCB are known for being done for no money. What’s an advantage to do a show that’s not about money?

It would be nice to have it be about money -- but it was always just a hobby that we enjoyed doing. The nice thing about it is that I get to see my friends a lot more than any normal 40-year old person. Normally you get to a certain age and you lose touch with people, but every Tuesday I see at least ten friends -- some of them people that I’ve been hanging out with for 15 years. That doesn’t happen a lot when you get older.

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It seems like you do a lot of things for free.

In showbusiness you have to do a million things for free in order to get the paid things. If I wasn’t doing the Comedy Death-Ray stuff, I’d be less interesting, or I would be around comedy less which would make me less funny.

You’ve got to kind of not look at it like -- “if I’m not going to get paid to do something, then I’m not going to do it.” I always said that I wasn’t going to do the MTV Movie Awards because they don’t pay you anything to do them -- I don’t mean zero, I just mean really shitty. So for ten years I didn’t do it, then last year Andy Samberg was hosting it, and I was like “I’ve always wanted to meet that guy, I really like his album, and his work,” so I agreed to do it and it was a great thing. [Aukerman was award show's Head Writer.]

How was your first Comedy Death-Ray Radio recording?

When I first started I had no idea what I was doing. I loved radio, but I got the show on a Wednesday and did the first one Friday morning. I was terrified that I would run out of stuff to say so for the first show I stacked the deck with Rob Huebel and Tom Lennon. Rob and I had just gone to a Michael Jackson Auction and a Back to the Future convention, so I thought "at least we could talk about that." With Tom Lennon, I thought “at least he’s really funny” -- "it’ll kind of come out okay." The first show ended up being us constantly talking over each other.

You’ve recently launched Earwolf. What's that?

Earwolf is a podcast network that myself and Jeff Ullrich started. We have a studio over by the UCB Theatre. We have a really expensive, brand new website, and an iPhone app -- we’re doing it right. Hopefully some day down the line someone’ll figure out how to make money off podcasts. But for now it’s all free.

We want to put out a bunch of shows that we produce and have there be a hub where people can find them. We figure that banding together can get us notice a little more than everyone being separate. The shows will have sort of the same aesthetic -- funny LA comedians doing stuff -- but each show will be different. We have some shows in the pipeline that are a little more genre-specific, so we’re not just doing a bunch of comedians sitting around talking to each other -- there seems to be a lot of that out there.

We’re trying to be the place where good comedy programs can be found.

Why do you think the podcasting boom centers in Los Angeles?

A lot of that is because they only sell microphones in Los Angeles -- a lot of people don’t know that. For a while they only sold headphones in New York, so people could listen to podcasts in New York, but they couldn’t record them. It’s a problem. I don’t have the solutions.

Also, I don’t want anyone else to start podcasts. There’s too many out there. So don’t start podcasts, Kids. Let me start them all.

What are some of your favorite podcasts?

Never Not Funny and Pod F. Tompkast are two great ones.

What’s your favorite restaurant in LA if you’re paying?

There’s this really cool place on Sunset and Bronson called Arby’s. You can get a lot of sandwiches for a low price. You don’t even need coupons.

And they have Horsey Sauce.

Yes, because “horseradish” is such a tough word to say that you must infantilize it a little bit. Actually, that is making me very hungry talking about it. You know, if I’m paying, or if someone else is paying, what’s the difference really? I’m a rich man. I’m very well off. I don’t even look at price-tags anymore.

What’s your favorite restaurant in LA if your agent is paying?

My agent has never paid for a meal since I’ve known him. My agent’s never paid for one goddamn meal. Nothing. Anywhere. Please. Take me out one day. Let me know that you appreciate me. I’m trying to think if my manager’s ever paid for me a meal...

Scott Aukerman was a recent guest on The Gentlemen's Club podcast.

Follow Caleb Bacon on Twitter @thecalebbacon.

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