Comedian Scott Aukerman talks podcasting empire and turning mainstream TV into comedy

Scott Aukerman has made a career turning the awkward aspects of show business, like talk shows and reality television, into comedy.

"I'm gonna mock this pretty much right when I leave," Aukerman told CBS News' Jamie Wax.

Aukerman has written for the Grammys and Oscars, helped create a podcasting empire and starred in his own TV show. 

His biggest hit, "Between Two Ferns," parodies the limited resources of public access television. It started with a call to his friend Zach Galifianakis.

"He said, 'I've always wanted to do something that's a public access show that's called Between Two Ferns.' That's all he had because he and I both worked in public access growing up and he was just fascinated with the idea that the only set dressing they ever had were two ferns," Aukerman said.

They posted their first episode with actor Michael Cera in January 2008. 

"And we thought, 'OK, yeah, that was great, and that will be it.' And then a few months later, Jimmy Kimmel called us and said he wanted to do one on his show," Aukerman said. "And we thought, 'Really? One more? No one wants to see another one of these, right?'"  

 There have now been more than 20 episodes of "Between Two Ferns" featuring a who's who of Hollywood and, more recently, Washington, D.C. Their episode with Hillary Clinton at the height of the 2016 campaign has been viewed 58 million times. 

They spent four years asking Barack Obama to participate. 

"At a certain point, we just said, 'Oh, OK, he's never gonna do this.' So we never really took it all that seriously until he actually walked in the room," Aukerman said.  

Aukerman's break in Hollywood came at age 25 when Bob Odenkirk, long before his starring role in "Breaking Bad," caught just his second stab at stand-up.  

"And he came up to me and said, 'Hey man, that was really funny. Maybe you wanna, like, write on my show, Mr. Show?' And so, I did. And that is a show business story about the hard work it takes to really make it in this business. Do two performances at least," Aukerman joked. 

The job earned him an Emmy nomination, but his beginner's luck didn't last long.

"There were spots after I did 'Mr. Show' where my car was repossessed and I was gonna lose my home and all sorts of things. So it was -- it was tough for a few years. And then, really, doing the podcast is what turned things around for me," Aukerman said. 

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Hillary Clinton appears on "Between Two Ferns." 


 Aukerman started the podcast "Comedy Bang! Bang!" in 2009, years before podcasting had gone mainstream.   

"I think my very first couple of shows, I think 2,000 people listened to. Now I think I'm getting 1 million downloads a month or something, you know? It's crazy," Aukerman said. 

Last month, he posted the 500th episode of the completely improvised show.   

It's just one of more than 250 shows on his podcasting network, which includes hosts ranging from Lena Dunham to Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Katie Couric. 

"It was a lot of hard work for, especially for the first five years, when it felt like no one was listening and now it's, you know, a publicly traded company and all that it's like a lot of comedians shy away from the business side of it, but I really enjoy that kind of thing," Aukerman said.

For someone who lives to make people laugh, it's surprising that Aukerman is happy if you're not in on the joke. 

"When I was a kid and I watched something, I just was thunderstruck with, 'Oh, that makes sense to me.' And I was happy that people didn't get it. So when I hear people watch 'Comedy Bang! Bang!' or 'Between Two Ferns' and they go, 'I just don't get it, it's not funny,' I love that. Please, I want more people to feel that way," Aukerman said. 

What things are most satisfying to him at this point in his career?

"For me, it's about the PR, you know?" he joked. "I don't know, I get so excited when something's released and people enjoy it. When we put out a new 'Between Two Ferns' episode, I'll sit there on the computer and I'll watch people's reaction to it. And good or bad. I'm just excited that they're watching it."