I just did an interview with The ssklar Brothers for KY Forward in advance of their three nights in Lexington this week. To further push their dates at Comedy Off Broadway this Thursday-Saturday, I thought it’d be fun to post the full Q&A. These are some smart dudes and it would be a shame to let their excess wit and commentary go to waste just because I couldn’t fit it in my article.
If you don’t know the Sklars, check out standup snippets on YouTube or listen to their comedy/ sports podcast Sklarbro Country. I’m not even a sports fan and I love it!
An Interview with The Sklar Brothers
How has your standup career changed since you started doing a regular podcast? Has it impacted your ability to tour? Grown your audience noticeably?
Randy: Stand up has been fantastic since the podcast has caught on because we can promote our upcoming gigs to OUR fans in cities where we’ll be, well up to 2 months out before we come to town, thereby ensuring that all our fans in the area know that we will be there. Podcast fans are the best. Just having 50 of them in a show of 250 people can dramatically alter the energy in the room and we love meeting our fans after the shows, hearing what they like about the podcast. It gives us a clear indication of what’s really working with them. So now stand up is really a great chance to meet the people who consume our podcast. We’re still not at the point where we are selling out shows before we get to town based on our own podcast promotion. That’s where we’d like to be ultimately. Not there yet, but working towards it.
On Sklarbro Country, we get jokes about sports and wacky crime reports. Do either of those topics pop up in your current standup set?
Jason: Yes, some of the things we’ve discussed have made their way into our stand up. Maybe a kernel of an idea will then get expanded in the stand up. We try not to be too topical in the stand up, because we want the material to never seem dated. Sometimes you can’t avoid that. But since we create so much material on a weekly basis for Sklarbro Country, we want to be able to at least see if any of it can cross over into being stand up bits.
You’ve said before that you try to write material for each podcast episode. How much time does that typically take per week?
Randy: We are constantly looking at working on upcoming podcasts. We work on it every day that we can. If there are 5 great stories, two great big ones and 3 great quick hits staring us in the face on a Monday morning, we can write the show in a couple of hours, but a lot of time is spent culling through stories and at times working through them to see if they are ready for primetime as it were. It takes a day or two to get the show in order.
With all the opportunities comedians have to be heard off the stage in 2013 (podcasts, YouTube, dozens of talk shows, etc), does that feel like a blessing because you can gather new fans or a curse because it’s easy to burn through material?
Randy: There is a bit of a double edge sword aspect to revealing material on twitter and then in the podcast or on stage or on youtube shows or other podcasts. if people hear it a few times, they may feel you are being inauthentic and that sucks, especially because sometimes a joke is so good, or you really like it, that you write it in a short form on twitter, then expand on it elsewhere. That’s just the process of working material out. And sometimes, you can do that best on a podcast, more than on stage in smaller shows around LA. We sometimes get flack for using a joke or idea on more than one thing and while that bums us out a bit, we have to look at it like a work in progress somewhat. We may add something to it the second time that really unlocks a whole new angle on the bit, either right there or down the road.
Given that you’re ready to record your next album, I’d imagine your set is pretty concrete at this point. Is there much improv or expanding bits on the fly going on in your set now?
Jason: We are pretty set with our next album but always looking for ways to add new material. We’re finding that the new material is doing the best when we take it out on the road which is always a good sign that the writing is getting better. That’s our goal. Also, we did our last 1/2 hour stand up special in 2009 and our last album in 2011, so there are a few bits on our last CD that we’ve never done on TV. We are making a CD out of this new hour special so we are just trying to balance not having a lot of repeat material from our last album. So we are constantly looking for new bits to plug in to replace those that may have appeared before. But again, there are new twists and add-ons and angles on some of the bits that we had before on the last CD so they are worth putting on again in a more evolved state.
You two seem to be pretty open to experimentation within your set. What’s your idea of the role of improv within your style of performance? Do you think being a duo act make that harder or easier?
Randy: We are open to experimentation within our act. We like to keep some bits looser so that there is that opportunity to come up with something in the moment. It keeps us on our toes so much more on stage so we’re not just launching into the material, setting something in motion that cannot be changed. Like an NFL offense, you’ve got to account for a blitzing weak side linebacker of sorts. We have to be nimble enough within the material to change things up on the fly, call a material audible. The looseness can sometimes make us break up on stage which, while we don’t love to do that, is sometimes fun and let’s audiences into our process of riffing and whatnot. That’s again where the podcast has helped, in giving us the confidence to riff on a subject in the moment and see where it leads us. Being a duo makes that kind of riffing infinitely harder because you have to nonverbally communicate or just sense where the other person is taking things and go with it. It’s a tremendous exercise in listening on stage. But somehow that degree of difficulty is enticing and when conquered feels like you’ve really earned something.
Your dynamic onstage doesn’t follow any of the well-trod archetypes from comedic teams (dumb vs smart, wacky vs stiff, etc), but stays true to both your voices. Were you ever pressured to conform to pre-existing idea of how twins/brothers/duos function in comedy? How far into your standup career did it take you to decide you weren’t going to play into those roles?
Jason: As for our style, we were told many times at the beginning to define our characters much more. One of us needs to be stupid and the other smart. We would always process that note and say, but we’re both stupid and smart at times. It takes away the ability to be subtle and locks us in even more than we like to be. Also, at times, it’s not very truthful. We also had to at least try to do something different, something that we hadn’t seen before. And who knows, maybe that resistance to forming archetypal roles in our act has been the reason we haven’t been more successful. Who knows? We may never know. This is a way that we feel the most comfortable, being a two headed monster on certain bits, coming with overlapping examples in a rapid fire fashion, playing two different characters in a sketch we jump into. Not having fully defined roles allows us to weave in and out of those things more seamlessly. And I don’t blame anyone for seeing our act and saying we should go for what has been successful in the past. We just know that even if we had gone that route, it wouldn’t have been as truthful to who were..
You’ve mentioned on your podcast your appreciation for KY Sports Radio and an interest in UK basketball. As someone not from the area, what’s your take on Kentucky and it’s fans in the arena of college basketball right now?
Jason and Randy: Got to respect what KY has done in terms of recruiting. They are insane. We may check out a practice while we’re in town just to see what’ it’s like to watch 8 future NBA players running a weave into a layup drill. KY fans have come to expect excellence even though a lot of their kids are one and done. You would like to see kids stay in college a little longer so that if they ever did want to finish their education, there wouldn’t be much to do to mop it up, post NBA, but there is no denying the product put on that floor year in and year out. Incredible. Duke does it every year with kids who typically stay all four years (with some notable exceptions), but to have to reload like Caiipari has to do is insane. Also, now that Louisville has been such a top notch program in recent years, it just makes this instate rivalry that much better, more heated and as a fan who doesn’t’ have a dog in that race, we can only say, it’s good for the game.