The Sklar Brothers are making a push for that oft-referred to, but rarely explained, “next level” in comedy. Riding on the wave of their popular Earwolf podcast, Sklarbro Country, having just dropped their new album Hendersons and Daughters, and appearing on Conan (see video below), the inimitable comedy team of Randy and Jason Sklar has made their mark on the comedy world. Laughspin caught them getting ready for Conan to discuss their album, podcast, being twins in comedy that want to be more than that, and more.
Both of you are really fun to watch to the point where I’ve noticed over the last 10 times I’ve seen you, you make an observation and almost go into a sketch and it’s a really fun act-out that you guys have and it’s so quick. You guys just keep going over and over it?
Randy: Though the act-out stuff we like to keep kind of loose because we want to be able surprise each other in an acting sense. We know where we have to get, but “how we get there” we try and throw curve balls to each other on stage because it keeps us on our toes. So I think what we’ve realized is that for us to be effective as a comedy team and especially the way we do it because we’re not a straight man and a funny… we’re not the Smothers Brothers. We could never be that. That’s inorganic.
That we have to present a stand-up premise with some jokes in it and rather than show examples like a singular comic would, the way we demonstrate it is by acting out a scene and showing our chops as actors in this moment and then we get to be really real. To me, I love that element of it. That’s what makes it more unique. And, it also takes it away from being twins into two man comedy.
Randy: I’ll listen to Nichols and May albums and, while some of the comedy doesn’t hold up to where it is now, there are little things that they do with each other that are so real, that are so funny to us and we’ll take a lot out of that. I mean, we’ll take a lot out of Bob Newhart who’s only one person, but he loved to do the thing where he was having a conversation with someone else out there and we just loved that he painted the whole scene.
Jason: Also, there were these imperfections. When people talk in real life, they talk over each other and there’s a little bit of overlap and then it gets clean again, then there’s a little more overlap, then it’s clean and that’s how we kind of deliver it on stage and I feel like that has become our cadence and I don’t think you see that a lot in another acts.
There aren’t a lot of teams, first of all; then there aren’t a lot of teams who sort of have a flow like we do and we’ve worked really hard to develop that. You know, try to have somewhat of a style so you feel like this cannot be replicated by anybody else. That’s your goal, I feel, as a comedian. I mean, one of your goals. Your goal is to make people laugh, then the next goal is to be original as possible.
Yeah, You guys are something totally different.
Jason: It’s like a postmodern take on the “team” which is it doesn’t have to be polar opposites, you don’t have to be a character that’s so inorganic to who you are. It’s harder to be truthful when you do that. And we come from a school of comedy, alternative comedy in the 90’s in New York. You know we did the Uncabaret for a long time with Beth Lapides. That was a really great show for us. I feel like it forced us to focus on what is really happening to us as people and what is our experience and then how we chose to make that theatrical and how we chose to write around those real feelings and real premises; that is our comedic style. If you’re always locked into being this idiot on stage while the other guy is trying to constantly rein you back in, if that’s not organic to who you are, then you totally lose any ability to be truthful about yourself on stage.
You brought up alternative comedy. That term is getting thrown around a lot lately. What does the term mean to you?
Randy: It’s so funny because I feel like it doesn’t mean what it originally meant. I feel like alternative comedy started to sprout up in the early 90’s as a reaction to stand-up clubs and the back end of the comedy boom where so many people got into stand-up and there was stand-up was on every channel. A&E had a stand-up show. It’s like if today, A&E has a stand-up comedy show, someone’s dying and it’s going to be a “cold case file.” Back then VH1 had a show. MTV, Comedy Central had their shows, but comedy was every-comedy was like reality TV now or those housewives shows. Everyone had one. I think alternative comedy, like any time a profession expands beyond the diehard-core people who care about doing it and more people see it as a fast track to being famous and having an acting career and all that stuff, then you get a lot of derivative versions of stand-up out there. So, alternative comedy was going to be a reaction to that type of comedy where you have a joke every two seconds. If you’re a fat black woman, you don’t have to tell any jokes about being fat and black.
Jason: I think what was happening was comedy was becoming really predictable in that what he was just saying. Someone came up on stage and you could tell by the way he or she looked what their act was going to be. I think what people were doing in rooms that weren’t comedy clubs is that they were like, “Let’s get back to what’s really funny and dangerous and unpredictable. It doesn’t matter. We don’t know how this is gonna go. It’s unpredictable.
Randy: It was beautiful.
Jason: For us, Randy and I, that was really exciting because, we wanted to be twins, obviously we’re twins, and do comedy, but we didn’t want our comedy to be about us being twins. I feel like in the old paradigm, you almost had to deal specifically with being twins throughout your entire act. And for us, to be able to shed that… alternative comedy rooms never asked us to or even deal with it or address it if we didn’t want to… it would have been bad if we did in those rooms. So, it forced us to get out of that zone and just starting to create in a much more innovative way by the regular comedy scene and I think it did wonders for us. In the original conception of alternative comedy, it was great and it allowed for a whole new branch of comedy to explode. What do you think it means now?
Randy: So many of our favorite alternative comedians headline mainstream comedy clubs. I think it’s another avenue for people to come up if they can’t get stage time at the Improv or, this is just in LA, but I just know that they’re like, you know, the Eugene Mirmans of the world and all those people who do those shows in New York. I feel like they don’t get a ton of joy doing sets at Stand Up New York. You know what I mean? Go out to Brooklyn and you do a show in front of a bunch of people who understand what you’re trying to talk about. It’s fun.
Jason: I think it has a kind of hipster vibe connected to it now. But, it’s stand-up for comedy fans. That’s how I would describe alternative comedy. I think it tends to be stand-up comedy for a fan base of people who already have comedy knowledge so that you can skip sort of the formal, sort of -isms that go along with stand-up comedy and it almost strips down that wall a little bit. Then, comedians can get to their more personal, intimate, bizarre, weird, not heavily written, more so improvisational stuff, but then the flip side is there are a lot of great one-liner joke writer guys who kill it in the alternative rooms as well.
Randy: I think there are a lot of people in alternative rooms who just picked up the worst traits of what alternative comedy is, like being “non-comedy” so much so that it’s just not funny.
Jason: You got to have jokes. There are amazing mainstream comics like Bill Burr, Dave Atell, and guys like that who don’t do the alternative rooms and who are the funniest people out there doing stand-up. Then you got guys like Louis C.K. and Marc Maron who do both and those guys are themselves. They’re so themselves on stage that they can do it both places. People like Todd Barry and Greg Behrendt are people who are like that. Todd Glass is another person who’s like that. Chris Hardwick is another person who’s like that. You know, Steve Agee is another person who can live in both worlds. Randy and I try to be that as well. We don’t do a very different act when we do clubs like Comedy Works in Denver then when we do at UCB and Meltdown Comics here in LA.
Randy: Sometimes, I feel like we’re not alternative enough. We definitely struggle with that.
Personally, I hate those labels. Granted, comedy is really subjective, but if someone’s funny, they’re funny. Whether they tell one-liners or stories or they do something totally different, if it’s funny, it’s funny.
Jason: I think you can go too far in the direction of comedy nerdom and hipster like vibe to where that crowd has got their arms crossed and they’re like, “We’ve seen everything,” and now they’re going to judge you against the greatest set that Patton Oswalt — who we love and are huge fans of, or like David Cross – has ever done.
Randy: To take a step back from that, the reason we love to do it is that it’s just fucking fun. I mean, I love, love making people laugh like I love coming up with an idea, observing something, trying to make it relatable to people, but also put our spin on it and then have people laugh at that. To me, it’s like building a fucking cabinet out of nothing.
You guys have families, and you do stand-up, then you write sketches for Atom.com, then you do Sklarbro Country. How do you manage juggling all those things?
Jason: I don’t know how we manage it. To be honest with you, sometimes we don’t manage it at all. I mean Sklarbro Country I love. I love everything Sklarbro Country has done in terms of energizing our fans and making us new fans and certainly it has made going on the road and doing stand-up incredible because our audiences are now… I don’t know if they’ve necessarily gotten a lot bigger, but they’re now definitely filled with our fans or definitely 60 to 70 percent of the people at the show are specifically there to see us.
I just wish it was a more viable income source so that we can justify taking time to work on it because Randy and I made the stupid decision or wonderful decision to try and differentiate our podcast from most comedy podcasts and to really write a lot of our podcast and so we write a ton of material. Maybe 40 minutes of material every week that’s sports related material and that’s like a new stand-up act. Now, not all of that is stand-up caliber material, but it’s opinions and takes on topical sporting events up to about 40 minutes a week.
That’s an insane amount of work. It really is. It’s as much as it sounds like it would be and we created and set that bar on the first few episodes and now we’re in that and I love actually doing it, but it does take a ton of time and it takes a ton of energy and, you just wish on some level, “Man I wish this just paid a ton of money so we can like not have to hustle and do other things.”
Randy: It’s difficult. The people who are most shit on are Jason and me because we’re the ones who take it the most. We’re trying to be good husbands, trying to be good fathers, trying to be good community members and with our friends and stuff, then also be a part of the comedy community. We’re trying to be good people and I think the bottom line is, there are only so many hours in a day.
I think the stress has taken a toll on us physically, but you know what I’ve learned from people who are very good at what they do. In every single case, you have to make sacrifices. Something has to give in your life. That’s why I think people that are the best at what they do are shitty in relationships or they lose this or they’re terrible with their money. I know we can’t be out every night doing shows because our families wouldn’t allow it. You just have to find where the balance is.
Jason: We’re doing a show on the History Channel, which can we can’t divulge about too much yet, but it’s coming out in 2012. We’re doing six hour long episodes. It could just be those six and that’s it and we’re back to where we started or it could be this massive launching point for us and if it is, I say great, we’re ready.
I hope it’s massive because there needs to be something besides Larry the Cable Guy on the History Channel. I mean God bless him, but he’s not for me.
Randy: People love him.
Jason: He’s not for me either. I’ll say this about Larry the Cable Guy: I think his work in the movie Cars is great and he’s really funny and they utilize him well and, when my son imitates, my son’s 2 and a half, and he goes, “That’s funny right there,” I think, “OK, that’s pretty funny.”
Randy: I get why he’s universally loved.
Jason: Because my 2 and a half year old can laugh at him, I don’t know if that’s something. I don’t know if 2 and a half year olds would laugh at any of our material and it’s designed that way, but you got to give him credit. He has broad appeal.
With all of that being said, where do you want Hendersons and Daughters to take you?
Randy: We loved comedy albums when we were kids. I want people to look at this album and say, “This is these guys at their best doing what they do best.” Now, it’s up for other people to judge where that fits in the pantheons of what people think, but I’d like to hope that people would be like this is one of my favorite comedy CDs that I bought.
It’s definitely, I think, our best work to date and I think the other two CDs we’re building towards this and so, also, I think it’s the precursor to an hour long special that we’ll ultimately do, but I would love for it to sell really well. I would love for it to do really well on iTunes and people to be talking about it as a stand-up album. I mean, I love that we created and went out and did something that was kind of old school, which was we made an album and I think it speaks volumes about where we are in our lives right now and I’m really proud of it.
Jason: All these doubts start creeping in the second you start listening to yourself, but I just listened to the actual CD and I was really happy and if I’m really happy with what we did, then that’s a good sign because Randy and I are the first to criticize what we’re doing and be disappointed and say, “Ahh, we could have done that better.” What you have to remember when you do a comedy CD, a comedy CD is just a snap shot. It’s just a photo of your stand-up. All those bits, since we’ve recorded them six months ago, have grown and expanded and changed. We understand the set-up better. We understand the premises better. I feel like these are such good shows [for the album], recorded at a great club in Denver, at Comedy Works. The crowd was definitely psyched to be there. The material connected. I’m proud of it and I think it’s the best thing we’ve done, so I’m really excited.
Jason: I listened to the album in its entirety and there’s something in doing that. I know we come from the iTunes culture where we pick two songs that have the most bars lit up, meaning the most people have downloaded those songs, but I would encourage that if people are interested in this album to buy the whole album and listen to it in its entirety because I think there’s an arc to the whole thing. It is an album about two guys trying to negotiate a new life as parents and as fathers in the world and I think from start to finish. It tells a kind of bit of story and it’s worth getting.
Randy: We really have a lot of respect for comedy, especially the people that do it really well. At our heart, we’re like fans of the craft of comedy. That’s how we started and we still are and so we treat it with a lot of care and we hope a lot of other people will too. Putting out an album for us, it takes about two years to get to that point, like four years really, to get an album of material that we really love, so we’re excited and I hope people enjoy it.