Randy (right) with Jason Sklar: "Jay and I never wanted to just be alone, the two of us. We always wanted to share with other people."
Randy and Jason Sklar open a three-night run at the Comedy Club on State starting Thursday. The twin brothers from St. Louis preside over one of the most successful comedy podcasts, the weekly SklarBro Country, and its shorter companion podcast, Sklarbro County. They are also about to debut as guest stars on the CBS Monday night sitcom Partners.
The podcast reveals the pair to be natural talk show hosts, able to riff on news and sports headlines one minute, pull a revealing personal story from a guest the next and launch into a ridiculous sketch with an impressionist after that. Recent highlights include a surreal conversation with Richard Simmons, some St. Louis reminiscing with John Hamm and talking a dispirited Bruce Jenner off the ledge.
Randy Sklar spent a few minutes on the phone with us this week.
The Daily Page: You guys started promoting this Madison show on your podcast months ago. You've really been hyping it.
Randy Sklar: We've found that if people are going to travel for it, we have to give them plenty of time to get there. If people are looking for flights, we want them to get there cheaply. If people are driving, we want them to be able to plan their work schedule around it. I just received a tweet from someone saying "I'm driving through St. Louis right now to get up to Madison tomorrow."
It's crazy that people are traveling that far, but it's because of the podcast. Before, if the club was good, we could bring our fans to it and maybe sell out one show in a weekend and draw good numbers. Maybe the early Saturday show would sell out. After doing the podcast for two years, Thursday could sell out. Probably the early show Friday and both shows Saturday will sell out.
Do you look at the podcast more as a way of advancing your comedy or playing a role as hosts or curators, introducing your fans to the other comedians you like?
For us, it's content first and also bringing people together. We've been collaborative our entire career. Anything we've done, from Apartment 2F to Cheap Seats to the podcast, we feel like it's a chance to riff with some of our favorite people.
We do Jim Rome when he's gone every couple of months. Sometimes we do it between five and ten times in a year. And things would happen in between those times and people would tweet at us and say, "I wish you guys were hosting Rome this week because Favre just texted a picture of his junk to somebody."
Around that time we had done Jimmy Pardo's podcast and Greg Fitzsimmons had a podcast, Marc Maron of course, but it was the early days. The attitude was that we had to get out there and do it ourselves. We kind of went down the road of potentially doing a radio show with some people, but it didn't work and it was taking too long. So we started doing the podcast as a way of having a weekly voice getting stuff out there.
Luckily we did it when we did and we could capitalize on the Jim Rome listeners and the Twitter followers we had, our stand-up and all the other stuff we were doing and really push to build it to a place where it developed its own language. We felt this is the show we would do if there was nobody to give us any notes and we could do it exactly the way we wanted and see if we could build something that we're really proud of that fans love, the purest form of us.
We thought it's got to have content, we have to work on it every week. Sports can drive it but we want it to be about other things as well. We want people who aren't really into sports to say that's where I get my sports, this is how I find out what's going on.
One of the parts of the podcast that I think is really a gem is what you guys do with impersonators. Is that something you guys decided to incorporate deliberately from the start?
We talked to a friend of ours, Chris Cox, and knew that he did some impressions. When we hung out with him we would gag around. He does voices on American Dad and Family Guy and a really good Vin Scully. So we thought, we could never get Vin Scully for the podcast, but what if we could get Racist Vin Scully on? Or Jerry Jones? We just started riffing with him and Cox has the unbelievable ability to improvise as the character, think like the character. It's incredible to watch.
Cox likes to map it out a little as we go, but with a guy like James Adomian who can do these really interesting impressions, it's more improvised. Like Tim Gunn. Everybody knows Tim Gunn, but how funny would it be if he was a huge MMA fan? And that's something very specific to our show now. Adomian is a tour de force where he drives it so much. We just tell him, this is what we're doing, this is what we're going to try and get out of your character, let's improvise and see what happens.
Jason Nash, who does Bryant Gumbel and Bruce Jenner, is more of a guy who doesn't necessarily get the voice dead on. But we thought, what if we really emasculated Bruce Jenner, really showed what the Kardashians have done to him, made it ridiculous. Nash is so good at writing, he comes up with the best way to bring that out and we can just play the role of almost concerned parents. With Gumbel, he seems like such a pompous know-it-all. Let's blow that up to the point where he's making fun of his brother Greg at all times.
And Dan Van Kirk does the most amazing Mark Wahlberg ever. He's been working on the show, writing stuff and we realized that he's a real rising star and he sort of watched and listened to how all these other guys did their thing. He's got the voice perfect, the attitude perfect and he knows how to improvise really well in the moment. It makes us laugh, so let's bring it on the show.
On the Richard Simmons podcast, you talked about your dad and how he was a community builder. That seems to drive a lot of what you guys do as well, from the code words your fans use ("Henderson!") to the memes that you circulate (Nash as Gumbel: "It's enough to make a guy fly private!"). How much of that is instinct and how much is a strategy to build your audience?
It's part of our nature. Jay and I never wanted to just be alone, the two of us. We always wanted to share with other people. I bet we learned that from our dad. We're about to start a show for the Nerdist YouTube channel and we just found out we got some sponsorships for it so immediately, rather than saying all the money is going for me and Jason, we thought of some people we know who are great writers. Let's bring them into this, share it with people.
When it comes to building an audience, we learned from Jim Rome, too. He's so good at creating language amongst his audience that everybody knows so you're kind of an insider. The thing we like to do is get that language going, but make it open and accessible enough so that people listening for the first time can jump in at any point and then go to the back catalogue.
Two-man comedy was really prevalent in our parents' generation...
Oh, yeah. Everybody was a team in the '60s.
But it seems like it was all built on opposites. Fat guy, skinny guy. Man, woman. Smart guy, dumb guy. You guys obviously have to approach it differently. Is it harder to be funny as twins than opposites?
We could try the smart guy, dumb guy thing, but it would be inorganic. And that's funny, because we started to use the character Dumb Randy on the podcast.
Yeah, but he's not really that dumb.
Maybe we can figure out a way to work that character in to our stand-up, but we couldn't sustain it for the whole time. Our attitude was that we should do something new that nobody had ever seen before with twins. Do this kind of two-handed comedy with both of us surrounding a topic, popping in and out of sketch if we wanted to illustrate a point. Use the stage and the fact that there are two of us, but at the same time restrict ourselves so that Jason has all the knowledge and Randy has none or vice-versa.
It's really helped us. It was something we worked through and it has ended up being sort of a post-modern comedy team, our take on the comedy team. We didn't set out to do that, it was just what was most comfortable to us right now and that's how we wrote our material.
It seems like the economics of making it in stand-up comedy are all based on the performers being solo acts.
That's the hard part. Look, where we're at in our career as far as what we can command on the road, if it was just one of us it would be amazing. It would make our base salary for the year, just doing the dates we have. But we have to split it, which is a huge bummer. And it's not great for the clubs, either. What we've sort of crossed over into was we took this route that we're twins and we're going to be in comedy, but we're not going to make our twinness the center of everything we do, which is swimming upstream. It's hard enough to make it and then to deny the one thing that everybody else wants you to be, but if you can get there it's so much more rewarding.
Look at a guy like Peter Dinklage, who I find very inspirational. He's a little guy who could have accepted every role as a little person in every movie. But he has swum upstream and he now is considered an amazing actor, forget about his size. I think it's kind of the same as us. If you think of two buddies in a buddy comedy, that's what we want to try to be. The fact that we're twins makes it different and unique and interesting.
So the hope at this point is that comedy clubs will be happy that we come through the door and bring our fans and they're smart fans, they're courteous, they're comedy loving and respecting. It hopefully makes the club look good because they're booking us and then we can command a little more money and you can get to a place where you can do theaters and the money makes more sense.
This year is the 30th anniversary of the World Series between the Milwaukee Brewers and your St. Louis Cardinals. Do you have memories of that series?
Oh yes. It was amazing. That was like such a big series for us. The Cardinals weren't really good when we were younger, but they got good with Whitey (Herzog) Ball and it was just incredible. I truly, truly loved that series. I love how we played fast and small ball, but at the same time Willie McGee broke out and had an incredible series. I remember how cold it was in Milwaukee. It was really cool.
You don't seem to find characters in sports like that anymore. Gorman Thomas, Rollie Fingers...
Cecil Cooper. Mike Caldwell. I remember all those guys. Yount. Darrell Porter.
In your opinion, was there a better time to grow up loving sports?
Oh, I think that if you were a Cardinals fan last year, it was the greatest World Series ever. I think sports is great all the time and it keeps reinventing itself. That's why it's great that it's the engine driving our shows.