The Sklar Brothers stand apart in the current comedy scene with their unique style of two-man storytelling and accessibly nerdy material. Primarily known for their hilariously analytical take on sports with ESPN's Cheap Seats and the History Channel's Freakanomics-style look at U.S. data, The United Stats of America, Randy and Jason Sklar have honed a metronomic rhythm in their standup comedy after years of touring together. We recently chatted with one half of the twins, Jason Sklar, in anticipation of their upcoming shows at Comedy Works, discussing how comedy has changed over their two decades in the business, as well as the podcast revolution and why they are not the Smothers Brothers.
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Westword: Most of the twins that I've encountered had a strong bond with each other since they go through the same stages of life at the same time. Were you and your brother close before you got into comedy?
Randy Sklar: Yeah, we did a lot of stuff together as kids. Our parents encouraged us to hang out together, but not make it just about us. That was a big thing with them, that it not just be the two of us in our own little world. We always had each other to play tennis with or throw a baseball around -- which we did for hours on end. And in that time we were always talking, developing a rhythm with each other.
Now we work together, but we have separate families. Being apart is a nice refuge, and we come back together with a renewed energy.
Were you two into comedy when you were kids?
Yeah, we got into comedy really early. Our dad was a funny guy, always making people laugh. He liked comedy a lot, but old-school borscht-belty comedy. He introduced us to Mel Brooks. And I remember he brought home Airplane! one night, and a bunch of families came over to our house to watch it on our old VCR. We couldn't have been more than nine or ten, and there's a lot of boobs and adult stuff in there. And we laughed so hard, more than any other movie. It was a really important thing. We saw the power in it, even if we didn't know we wanted to do that with our lives.
Then we got nerdy about comedy. We saw a young Seinfeld on a Rodney Dangerfield Young Comedians Special on HBO and fell in love with him. And people would ask us in the early 80s, "Who's your favorite comedian?" And we'd be like, "You've never heard of him, it's this guy Jerry Seinfeld." We wished that people would know who he was. Well there's one childhood wish that came true.
Yeah, it's a shame that guy never really made it.
Kidding. But we loved Garry Shandling, the goofiness of David Letterman, Saturday Night Live. We'd come to Sunday School the next day and we'd do all the bits we'd seen on SNL. A lot of people didn't know about that stuff, and they'd think we were coming up with it when we'd recreate it. Again, we saw the power in it. We had people's attention.
On stage you two have a remarkable rhythm together. You never really step on each other's lines, but you're tossing things back and forth so quickly. Has developing that been a life-long process?
Yeah, just telling stories together. If there was a story where we both were there, we would go back and forth when telling it. It just takes listening to somebody. You have to cooperate -- you can't step in and want to be the star.
On a basic level, it's what I've been teaching my daughter: Even though she's not a twin, it's the idea that you're not the only person in the world. You can't just run to the punchline as quickly as you can, there's a way to tell the story where you build it up. You contribute one thing and the other person contributes another. You get a feel for where one another is going to go -- if you need to back off or jump in -- after spending hours and hours together on stage.
You talk about all these solo performers that influenced the two of you as kids -- were there any two-man teams that inspired you? The obvious comparison that comes to mind would be the Smothers Brothers. We didn't really know much about the Smothers Brothers when we were young. My only joke about that has been "our Mom loved the Smothers Brothers more than she loved us."
Right, a take-off on Tommy Smothers joke: "Mother always liked you the best."
I think we didn't really understand it that much. We loved Abbot and Costello. But yeah, we mostly loved solo comics, and that's good because it never put us in a box. It took us years and years to figure out what it is we do, and how to do it different than other people. Singular comedians have funny observations in their bits, and so do we, but what makes us unique is we can do something like deliver six punchlines in a row -- one person can't do that, but having two people to go back and forth with allows that.
There are so many opportunities for twins to do predictable, cutesy roles together on TV. But when you appeared on the Adult Swim comedy Children's Hospital, you decided to do something conceptual -- how did that come about?
That was so funny. My kids hang out with Rob Corddry's kids and my wife is friends with his wife, and we were hanging out at preschool just joking around, and we started riffing on this idea: I thought how funny would it be if we were an evil twin and a good twin, but one of us played both characters in a very complicated split-screen shot. The other person was available, but we'd forgo that. He thought it was great. It was so fun.
For us it was so fun to twist the twin thing that you haven't seen before.
Your latest project, The United Stats of America, reminds me so much of the new non-fiction style of Freakonomics or Malcolm Gladwell. I don't want this to come off as derisive, but it does seem like these conceptual mediums sort of spoon-feed information to people who otherwise aren't interested in non-fiction books and documentaries.
Well, we saw that as a great opportunity to play off of for comedy. The information is dry -- it's like a single, and how do you turn it into a home-run? You try to be as funny as you can with it. And what we found is that people walking away from the show may only remember like two or three facts -- like 99 percent of us live on only 8 percent of the land. It's like: What? How is that possible? But now they know that. Or that we used to be the tallest nation in the world until 1950, and now we're ninth. And we're the fattest. And they won't forget that Colorado is the skinniest state, it's the only state with obesity under 20 percent. These things stick with you.
I would say there's value in that. We're not asking people to make changes in their lives, but you start to hear these things and they stick with you, and maybe you will make changes in your life. Maybe you'll think about the way you travel, or why you live the way that you live.
We loved the production team on it. Left/Right Productions did This American Life on Showtime, they were so smart about a lot of things. It was really fun, but unfortunately I don't think it fit with what History Channel wanted to do, which was have a bunch of shows about crazy professions. It's a business: the ad people promise a certain amount of money, and these shows get incredible ratings, people watch them like nobody's business, so they'll spin that off fifty different ways. So unfortunately there's no room for United Stats on History. Our fanbase loved the show, and it was fun, so it wasn't a waste of time.
Though standup comedy has become significantly nerdy over the last decade, with people like Eddie Izzard, Jon Stewart and Chris Hardwick turning facts into jokes, whereas in the '80s it was so macho and anti-intellectual. And I know that you were in a fraternity and had a show on ESPN, so I wanted to get your take on comedy moving from a sports culture to a nerd culture.
That's interesting, because our ESPN show took on sports from a nerdy angle, looking at stats and history. The thing that excites us about sports are the stories behind it, not so much the lets get wasted at a tailgate party and force our friend to stick his head in a bucket of urine! Which actually did happen at a Cleveland Browns game. That's the kind of stuff we'll make fun of, but not necessarily celebrate.
The pendulum swings back and forth all the time, but the fact that it's swung toward the nerdy side actually favors us. We're always examining things and breaking it apart, which is a very nerdy thing to do.
Yeah, comedy used to be very macho, very anti-women. Look back at Sam Kinison, who I thought was a phenomenal comedian, he was very misogynistic, very homophobic. The other stuff that he was doing was hilarious, but the anti-women, anti-gay stuff just doesn't hold up. Things change and things evolve. Just as the comedy album used to dominate the industry in the '60s and '70s, and now it's the podcast. It's a new technology you have to understand. And those who use it to get through their day on a personal level, it is a little nerdier.
For us, our podcast is the purest thing that we do. We're not standing on a stage trying to make people laugh every second -- there are lots of laughs in our podcast, we hope -- but at the same time we're doing an hour and forty-five minute show. So you can't be laughing every second. You have to set things up, it's taught us to take our time with things. And I think that's helped our standup.
While comedy has changed politically, like what you said about Sam Kinison, do you think that comedy has changed culturally with new technology?
I think so. South Park is so good at skewering that -- they don't celebrate it. Any time culture moves to people getting self-important about their Prius or whatever, they skewer it. Nothing's off limits in that sense. We don't say, "Well, they're doing a good thing so let's not make fun of it" -- everything can be mocked. But I do think the culture has shifted a bit. It's definitely not as politically correct as it was in the '90s.
The Sklar Brothers will perform at 8 p.m. Thursday, June 27 through Saturday June 29 at Comedy Works, 1226 15th Street. Tickets are $17 to $25. For more information, visit www.comedyworks.com.
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For more comedy commentary, follow me on Twitter at @JosiahMHesse.