Q&A: The Sklar Brothers

A&E chats with the stand-up comedy duo about Letterman, Cheap Seats and their acting ambitions.

by Tony

What: The Sklar Brothers

Where: The Varsity Theater

When: Feb 24, 7:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.

Cost: $20-$22

Identical twins Jason and Randy Sklar have made a name for themselves as a stand-up comedy duo by subverting the standard twin formula. Instead of assigning straight/funny man roles on stage, the two are like a two-headed comedy monster, finishing each other’s sentences and talking over each other in a chaotic but coordinated fury reminiscent of the Beastie Boys.

A&E got them on the phone to chat about what it means to be twins in standup, their podcast and acting alongside Elisabeth Shue.

A&E: You two have a pretty unique comedic voice for a twin act. How did that develop?

Randy Sklar: We loved Jerry Seinfeld, Garry Shandling, Richard Lewis and the films of Mel Brooks, Woody Allen. I think the silliness of what we do, at times, comes from our love of David Letterman. We were kids who grew up on him. Letterman had this total irreverent and meta quality where he was making fun of the way things got done; he makes fun of conventions he made up.

Jason Sklar: When we were kids we were big fans of stand-up and we knew as twins that we had a unique relationship. We started in high school, a little bit here and there. We thought “Why can’t we try to do something new and different with the team on stage and have it be more of a two-headed monster? Instead of a straight man and a funny man, let’s create something new and figure it out as we go. You know, the Smothers Brothers, they did that [routine] as well as anyone could ever do it. So we chose this path, and I’m pretty happy with it.

A&E: When you guys were coming up in St. Louis and New York, did people try to put you in that box with your comedy? The Smothers Brothers box?

RS: The crazy thing is we grew up in the ’80s when there was this comedy boom. Comedy was everywhere on TV. You’d see four clubs in Des Moines, Iowa. It was everywhere. People who did a four-minute set on “An Evening at the Improv” were headlining at the fourth comedy club in Des Moines. I think that brought down the art of comedy.

It’s like expansion baseball: When you add two teams the level of talent goes down when you fill those teams, and the whole league suffers. The point is that people were scrambling to get material so if you were a big fat guy you’d go on stage and tell a bunch of fat jokes because that’s what you could do. It became very predictable.

When we came up we thought we should just talk about being twins a bunch, and it didn’t feel right. Now we talk about it but only in a roundabout sort of way. It’s not like, “Hey I switched places with this person!” It gets into a relationship that people are curious about and gives an angle that maybe you wouldn’t think of.

A&E: I’ve heard you guys say in other interviews that you hate the idea of identical twins switching places for class or with girls.

RS: It’s a weird thing. Why? Why do you want that? It doesn’t feel like us, and it feels something that’s been put on us to do. I’m just putting this together as I’m talking to you, for real. I think that kind of questioning of something that’s been thrust upon us really informed what we try to do in our comedy. As twins not wanting to not be what others wanted us to be in that moment we learned that early on, and now we’re trying to apply that later in life. I think a lot of times as a country we’re too busy and too tired and we just accept and if we do we’re going to accept us into mediocrity, and I hope our voice in some small way tells people that you don’t have to do stuff that way. You don’t have to do that.

A&E: Lots of comedians talk about how hard it is to be on the road because it gets so lonely. Has that ever been a problem for you two, since you have each other?

RS: I like the road but in many ways it’s really hard on our families. There’s the pressure of being on the road while my wife is with our two kids. It’s the same with Jay’s wife and his kid. Maybe your water heater floods your basement when you’re away — of course it’s when you’re away. We’ve often said that standup is a single man’s game. When you’re single, you’re on the road and you do shows, you get laid, you hang out and party late, but at 40 that’s not my lifestyle. The good part of being on the road is because there are less distractions; Jay and I get more work done. On the road together we’re more productive but at a price.

A&E: Most people probably know you best from “Cheap Seats” and your sports/comedy podcast. How did you two make that connection between sports and your comedy?

JS: “Cheap Seats” was a great experience for us. It came up because Gary Belsky was actually our Sunday School teacher when we were kids and he went on to become the editor of ESPN The Magazine. So, we were in New York, and we were having lunch with Gary, and he said he sold this show to ESPN Classic, but they needed to find a couple of guys who love sports and who have a really good relationship who are funny. And then he was like, “Pass the ketchup.” We said “Gary! Wait! Why are you not asking us?” At the time we weren’t working so we would do a show anywhere. We would have done a show on New York 1. But also we thought ESPN Classic might be the perfect spot because ratings expectations might not be so high. It’ll give it a life and let it develop, which, too often on other networks, shows don’t get that chance.

A&E: And then that experience folded right into your podcast “Sklarbro Country”?

JS: “Sklarbro Country” was born out of guest-hosting Jim Rome‘s radio show. They asked us and, well, Randy and I come from the school of thought where you just say yes and figure it out later; we had never hosted a huge national radio show. You don’t realize how huge it is until you step into it. We went in and found we had a knack for that kind of a show. We thought we should find a regular outlet for it. We decided to look into this podcasting thing. We started to ask around, and eventually we entered into an agreement with Earwolf, which also does Comedy Bang Bang. Podcasting is great. We love it. It’s completely energized our fans in a way we haven’t seen since “Cheap Seats”.

A&E: Tell me about your new record, “Hendersons and Daughters.”

JS: We’re really proud of that CD. I feel like anyone’s first album is everything you’ve written that you love up to that point. You do that, and then you bury it, then the next albums are snapshots of where you are at that point. “Sklar Maps” was about our experience living in L.A. It was recorded on the night Randy’s daughter was born, which is crazy. This third one is more about becoming parents and thinking about what we want to pass on to our kids. There’s a loose thread throughout about parenting and understanding our place in the universe as people who have children.

A&E: You two have held guest and bit parts in a pretty impressive list of TV shows and movies. Is acting something you’d want to pursue seriously? Or is it just fun to be in so many things?

RS: It’s fun to be in them. Obviously we’d love to be in bigger things, and we’ve done a few that we’ve created ourselves like “Apt. 2F”. That aired on MTV back in 1997, but we didn’t know how to act back then. We’ve come such a long way in 15 years. I love the acting stuff. A lot of our stand-up is veering into performing little scenes, and we love that. We did an episode of “CSI” recently. It just felt amazing to step on the set. It felt like what we should be doing. We did a scene with Elisabeth Shue, of all people! We love it.

A&E: Do you ever feel held back from larger roles because you’re twins?

RS: Sometimes we do feel held back, I’m gonna be honest. But we also don’t like going out against each other because we feel like we cancel each other out. We’ve done it before, but I think what we’ve realized is that we love being together, and this relationship between two brothers hasn’t fully been explored on TV yet, and we feel like we’re the ones to explore it, if given the opportunity. Then once we do that maybe we would feel like branching out. Somewhere down the road we could go do our own thing but not until we fully explore the relationship we have.

A&E: How do you think you would do that? Another sitcom like “Apt. 2F”?

RS: I would love to. I think at this point maybe being a part of an ensemble like “Arrested Development” or “Modern Family“ on a network sitcom would be super fun. That would be great.