<i>What Are We Talking About?</i> by the Sklar Brothers was shot at the Majestic Theatre on Saturday, February 22.
National comedians have been recording in Madison for years. Numerous albums have been recorded at the Comedy Club on State, and podcasts like Doug Loves Movies regularly stop by our fair city. But it has been a long time since we've had a comedy special filmed here.
As seen in F.Stokes' "My Simple" music video the Majestic looks especially great on camera. The size of the theater is also perfect for a special like this. In wide shots you can see twins Randy and Jason Sklar in the same frame with the audience. This gives viewers a more intimate look than traditional HBO specials, which are often recorded in cavernous venues where the comedians could be delivering most of their material in front of an empty room with audience reaction shots added in later. The Majestic's layout makes it easy to imagine yourself there in the audience, and not just because it is a local theater.
The Sklar Brothers themselves are fantastic. For anyone familiar with them through their popular sports and comedy podcast Sklarboro Country, the same themes are present in their stand-up. But the well-rehearsed, sharp material is much tighter than anything on an improvised podcast. In an before the taping of the special, the brothers described the special as "a victory lap." It is truly a great showcase of the work they've put into their unique twin act.
My only knock is that the special's sound mixing isn't great. The mics used to pick up audience laughter are turned up and down sharply, which means you can hear the levels rise and fall. Nearly all comedy taped in front of a live audience has audience mics to give big jokes some extra oomph, but they are usually used with more subtlety than the ones in this special. It is not a problem with the Majestic. When an episode of Dan Harmon's podcast Harmontown was taped at the venue, the audience mixing was great. I didn’t even notice that there was any tweaking when listening to the episode.
There’s nothing about the Sklar Brothers' special that feels like it had to be filmed in Madison. None of the material itself is very Madison-specific. Sure, there's some general patter about Wisconsin: We like cheese and the Packers, and our winters are cold. The only Madison joke is about the binge drinking at Big 10 schools. Madison has a lot of sports fans, so they can catch the references that peppered the Sklars' material, but most cities have a lot of sports fans. The brothers don't even go for any Madison gimmes. Their only political bit involves poking fun at Occupy Wall Street.
Randy and Jason Sklar don't have any major Madison ties, either. They are from the Midwest, but their portion of the region is St. Louis. Most of the comedians who have recorded CDs at the Comedy Club on State are from Wisconsin themselves or have been performing in Madison for years.
So why did the Sklar Brothers choose Madison? For starters, we have great audiences. Comedian Marc Maron has talked up Madison on podcasts and TV, and not only because Just Coffee sponsors him. Other comics regularly mention the Comedy Club on State as a venue with excellent crowds.
Madison occupies some sort of small-city sweet spot. We have smart audiences who appreciate smart comedy, without having so many entertainment options that the audience gets diluted. Chicago is a way bigger market, but there are dozens of comedy shows competing for every potential attendee. Plus, it's a big deal when TV cameras come to town to film anything other than a political protest.
There's also our town's relationship with drinking. It hurts us in many ways, but comedy shows are often boozy affairs by design. In other cities, this can lead to wasted people in the audience yelling and heckling. Madison tends to behave better; we hold our alcohol pretty well.
This can be a double-edged sword for local comedians. They get used to performing in this town where audiences are filled with love and generous with laughter. It is a sobering sensation for many local comics when they realize Madison is the exception and not the rule.
For a national comedian, however, it is a great place to record an album or a special. The Sklar Brothers have put together a fantastic victory lap for themselves. I hope it will inspire other comedians to bring a camera crew to town.