An oral history of the funniest podcast ever

It’s a hazy Saturday afternoon in July and some of the greatest improvisers in the country are assembling in a nondescript office building on Sunset Boulevard in East Hollywood. One by one, they enter Earwolf Studios and greet each other like the old friends they’ve become.

There’s Jon Gabrus, lounging on the couch in front of a wall of colorfully decorated Vans sneakers, one for each of the more than two dozen podcasts Earwolf now produces on a weekly basis. Paul F. Tompkins strolls in looking dapper as ever in a dark green blazer and bright yellow tie with socks to match. Nick Kroll and Mary Holland are grabbing some last-minute nitro cold brew coffee from the office’s built-in tap. Soon, Jason Mantzoukas and Lauren Lapkus have arrived as well, along with the host who will guide them through the highly-anticipated 500th episode of the Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast: Scott Aukerman.

Aukerman, who started his career as a writer for Bob Odenkirk and David Cross’ beloved HBO sketch series Mr. Show in the late ‘90s before going on to co-create the web series Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis, has never been quite as famous as the people around him. But as I learned by speaking to dozens of comedians who have appeared on his podcast and the IFC television show it inspired, he is considered the alternative Lorne Michaels in the influence he has had on the contemporary comedy landscape in America.

Comedy Bang! Bang! is the rare comedy podcast that’s actually funny. That’s because instead of talking about comedy, Aukerman and his guests—typically one celebrity appearing as him or herself and one or more comedians playing outrageous characters—actually do comedy on the show. Specifically, they do the type of long-form improv made popular by the Upright Citizens Brigade theater in an audio medium that allows listeners’ imaginations to take over, leading to blissfully surreal and demented scenarios to unfold week after week.

It is a format that has evolved a lot over the eight years since Aukerman first launched the show as a radio broadcast on the now-defunct Indie 103.1 station in 2009, back when it was called Comedy Death-Ray, the same name as the live stand-up show he was hosting at the time at UCB. As legend has it, it was Scott’s wife (“My wife!”)—and host of Earwolf’s Who Charted? podcast—Kulap Vilaysack who came up with the new name in 2011.

Today, Comedy Bang! Bang! regularly receives upwards of two million downloads a month and has spawned a rabid fan base that tracks the backstories and narratives of every fictionalized character in the show’s repertoire—and helped fuel multiple live tours around the country over the past few years. It has also produced the numerous spin-off podcasts that help make up the influential Earwolf network (co-founded by Aukerman), including Womp It Up! with Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham, How Did This Get Made? with Paul Scheer, Jason Mantzoukas, and June Diane Raphael, and Spontaneanation with Paul F. Tompkins.

Over the course of the week leading up to the release of the 500th episode, I spoke to or emailed with as many of the comedians as I could who made Comedy Bang! Bang! the hands-down funniest podcast of all time.

Read more at The Daily Beast.