Durham, N.C. — Part of me, not an insignificant part, felt weird about paying money to watch a podcast.
Another part of me, a less significant part, questioned why I felt weird about it.
No part of me was let down by attending a live taping of Comedy Bang Bang in Durham’s Carolina Theater on Tuesday night.
When we talk about the most consistently funny things in our lives, many of us name family members and friends and we can and should count ourselves lucky for that. My grandma has a wicked sense of humor. So does my friend Brian.
Professional comedians are so much funnier though, and I think that is a distinction that needs to be made. Sure, grandma knocks off a couple of one-liners after she serves chicken and dumplings, and Brian makes me laugh when he recalls that story from college, but imagine going out on a different stage in front of a different group of people every night and making them laugh for at least an hour.
That’s professional comedy, and that’s what the Comedy Bang Bang tour is doing. Scott Aukerman, Lauren Lapkus, Paul F. Tompkins and Neil Campbell laid waste to that Durham venue, and they also signed hundreds of autographs after they destroyed the crowd, including all four inking my ticket in the photo accompanying this column.
Ninety-nine percent of my live comedy experiences have been of the stand-up variety, which probably explains the odd feeling I had before Tuesday’s show. It wasn’t that I thought it wouldn’t be funny. I was sure it would be. I love the CBB podcast and TV show, and the quartet of performers needs no introduction to true comedy fans. Those four are proven comedy commodities.
Nevertheless, watching a podcast in a very nice theater is just not something I could have imagined myself doing as recently as a couple of years ago. That speaks to the power of an always entertaining podcast and, I’m hoping, to my willingness to embrace different forms of comedy.
Campbell’s opening set, which featured his hilarious Time Keeper character (aka Maxwell Keeper), was a perfect start, and Aukerman expertly playing his host role during chats with Mike the Janitor (Tompkins) and Amanda Calzone (Lapkus) had the room roaring with laughter. It was totally improvisational, which added to the excitement and made crowd members feel like we were part of something totally unique because we were. Aukerman, Lapkus and Tompkins have never said and done the funny things they did the way they did them on Tuesday, and they won’t repeat them in future shows. As much as I love stand-up comedians, rarely can they offer the same promise of delivering something completely new each night.
A couple of times my laugh, which is admittedly loud, seemed to distract a woman sitting in the row in front of ours so I adjusted, throwing my head back like Robert De Niro does in the movie theater in “Cape Fear” and guffawing toward the ceiling, or the heavens, if you want to be grandiose.
I like to think that the Comedy Bang Bang performers heard my laugh better that way, because laughter is the best way I know to thank someone for being funny, other than buying tickets to comedy shows, of course.
After experiencing CBB live, any weirdness I felt about attending a comedy podcast taping is long gone. In fact, it’s kind of weird that I felt weird in the first place and I’m looking forward to seeing others, although I can’t imagine one being better than Comedy Bang Bang.
Watching them try to top CBB should be fun though.
Tony Castleberry interviews stand-up comedians and grows an exorbitant amount of hot peppers in his garden every summer. He also writes for Raleigh & Co.