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An Ode to COMEDY BANG! BANG!’s Chaotic Solo Bolos

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For years, the elegant Mr. S, AKA Benny Schwaz, AKA comedian and actor Ben Schwartz, has gotten behind a microphone with Scott Aukerman to record an incredibly specific and oddly polarizing brand of chaos for COMEDY BANG! BANG!. The structure and rules of the long-running show fade away, and if you’re a longtime fan of the improv podcast, it can be jarring—after all, the structure of the show has become something of a tried and true formula after literally a decade. This chaos comes with a name: the Solo Bolo.

This lightning in a bottle madness has been captured five times from 2014-2017 under the names “Solo Bolo,” “Solo Bolo: Dos Lo,” “Solo Bolo: Trolo,” “Solo Bolo: Cuatrolo,” and “Solo Bolo: Cincolo,” of course, and for the first time in a few years this week as “Solo Bolo: Sonicolo.” Who invented the Solo Bolo remains up for debate (Aukerman frequently says it’s Schwartz, Schwartz frequently claims that to be untrue, if only there were tape to prove it one way or the other), but the concept is simple: rather than engage in the shows traditional guest + character act breaks, the two deliver a freewheeling stream-of-consciousness conversation in which Aukerman is able to drop much of his straight man persona and engage with Schwartz in erratic anecdotes, surrealist jokes, and singing (lots, and lots, of singing). While Aukerman frequently lets guests know that “it’s not that kind of show” in regards to over-the-top vulgarity, that phrase is actually never said across six episodes that feature some of the show’s grossest (and funniest) bits to date—a long-running surreal gag involving Maggie Simpson is in-context among the funniest recurring bits in the show’s history. The jokes are frenzied and hilarious, moving from concepts like “what if two Shaggys from SCOOBY DOO had a conversation” to what things Schwartz yells during sex, each injoke feeling like the crazed thoughts of two friends who have been in a car for a road trip for too long.

 

Even without hearing the duo put that friendship and their respective comedy chops on display for 90 minutes of dazzling, sing-songy improv insanity, on paper you can understand why it reads like something that could be conceivably nauseating to listen to for long stretches of time, that theater kid aura an acquired taste. And while the two’s perception of its divisiveness might be overblown, they’re not wrong to frequently joke about it on the pod (even frequent guest Jason Mantzoukas will take shots at the singing in jest). As a recent Facebook comment put it: “I can’t even listen to them…They are like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. The Benny Schwaz energy is… not for me.”

But that Benny Schwaz energy is essential, particularly given how it affects Aukerman, who becomes less a host and more a performer in these episodes. Anyone who has seen COMEDY BANG BANG on the road or heard the recorded live tapings has likely experienced a small taste of that; on the road, Aukerman frequently becomes as much a performer as he is a host during more lively and physical episodes, and while his ability to play the straight man is inarguably the backbone of the podcast’s success, it’s fun to hear Schwartz bring out a zaniness that by design is frequently being restrained. Even the largest point of contention for some CBB fans, the singing, comes from an equally joyous and spontaneous place (outside of their famed Olympic Song Challenges). In the same way that Marc Maron and Tom Sharpling’s similarly designed side episodes of “The Marc and Tom Show” explore a rocking chair crankiness that’s held at bay on other episodes of Maron’s show, the Solo Bolos are meant to explore something entirely different-feeling and sounding than the standard episode (singing and all).

The goal of COMEDY BANG! BANG! will always be to deliver laughs, and certainly this run of episodes features that in spades, recurring jokes like the signature hand-clapping “Bang Bang Into My Mouth!” song open to one of the show’s best recurring catchphrases “All Joking A Salad,” each classic in the larger cannon. But at the heart of the Solo Bolo is something far more emotionally fulfilling. As both Aukerman and Schwartz make a point to communicate at the end of the episodes, these 90 minutes make some of the stress of their own days go away, a sentiment you’re not going to hear on other episodes of the show and a feeling that extends through the mic. The two’s relationship feels palpable, so much so that even if it’s not your cup of tea, there is something heartening about hearing the chaotic nonsense of deeply connected friends—plenty of podcasts offer that, but for COMEDY BANG! BANG!, it’s a true feeling of respite.

CJ Simonson
CJ Simonson is Merry-Go-Round's music editor. The only thing he knows for certain is that "I Can Feel The Fire" by Ronnie Wood is the greatest closing credits song never used in a Wes Anderson movie. Get on that, Wes.

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