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Interview: Talking Poop and Politics with the Sklar Brothers

February 5, 2018Ben MK

The Sklar Brothers are one of the most unique comedy acts out there. After all, how many comedians do you know who are not only siblings, but identical twins as well? They have a stand-up special on Netflix, and a brand new documentary as well, called Poop Talk, which features a who's who of comic talent — from The Big Sick's Kumail Nanjiani to Modern Family's Eric Stonestreet — taking about, you guessed it, poop. It's a lot less weird than you might think, but it's also just as funny as you might imagine.

I caught up with Randy and Jason Sklar to talk about their new doc, as well as what it's like being a comedian in America in the age of Donald Trump.

First off, there's quite a roster of talent in this documentary. What made you guys want to be a part of it?

Randy: So here's how it kind of came about: Aaron Feldman, who directed the movie, is a longtime friend of ours; we've known him since childhood. He's a really good filmmaker [and] approached us a while back and said, "I have an idea for a documentary, and I'd love for you to be a part of it, and help me gather people," and we said, "Sure." He said, "It's about poop," and we thought, "I don't know if that's really on-brand for us; I don't know if we can do this the right way." And he said, "Ok, think about it over the weekend, and you come back and tell me the type of movie that you would make on this subject, and if it sounds like something that we wanna do, we'll do it."

So we thought about it, ruminated on it, and came back and said, "Here's how we would do this movie: If we could have a very real, very honest discussion of this subject that feels taboo, yet everybody does it." If you are pooping, it means your body is functioning correctly. Why is it that people have such a hard time? We have a hard time talking about it. We didn't even initially want to take this on. And let's dig into that and have a really honest — and funny — discussion about why this is a difficult subject. And he said, "Let's make that movie, that sounds awesome."

So then we went and reached out to all of our friends, people we've known for years. [We] reached out to the Kumail Nanjianis and Pete Holmes and Eric Stonestreets, and Nick Swardson and Doctor Drew and Adam Carolla and Lauren Weedman and Jamie Lee and Aisha Tyler, all these great people, and they all said, "Yes, I would love to talk about this," or "This is something that's difficult for me to talk about, I really think what we come up with will be funny."

Jason: And it just became a portal into the human condition, and once we realized that through talking to some of the people, we thought, "Oh wait a second, maybe there's a little bit of depth to this movie that, when added to the natural comedy that exists and the great comedy that the comedians provided, you have something special. And I think that's what we realized when we saw the final product.

Have you watched the doc yourselves? One of your fellow comics featured in the doc, Steve Agee, said how he’d probably never watch it because the whole topic makes him uncomfortable. How about you guys?

Randy: Yeah, Steve Agee... He'll watch it, he'll watch it! We watched it, and we love it. We love how it was put together, we love the message that comes out. And I think Pete Holmes, in many ways, was like the philosopher of the whole movie. [laughs] He kind of really spoke to the soul of what we were trying to do, that like maybe if this discussion is a metaphor, it's good that we're getting it out, we're releasing it somehow. And whenever you keep something inside of you for too long, it's not healthy. To let it go and release it, which is kind of what we were doing with this movie, feels in some way cathartic, and that to us is what we were aiming for.

You guys are pretty outspoken, like on Twitter, for example, and obviously people appreciate that. How'd you come to find your comedic voice and who were some of your comedy idols growing up?

Randy: You know, comedy is this long process. The first time we stood onstage we were 14 years old. We've really been doing it since we were 21, and we're 46 now. 25 years, that's a long time to develop a voice. And the process at the beginning is you start by imitating the people that you loved. We were huge fans of Seinfeld, before he even had his show; huge fans of Letterman, and the subversiveness; Gary Shandling, again the subversiveness and alternative nature of his TV show, and his stand-up was just so appealing to us. We were huge fans of Saturday Night Live, and of course Eddie Murphy.

It all spoke to us, that being funny around people was a very powerful thing. And I think as we grew in the industry and realized that we have a little bit more of a voice, we were like, "Alright, how do we take the platform we have and, in a funny way, point out what's wrong with the world?" And I think over time it's developed. Obviously, in this past year, politically, it's hard not to. You know what I mean? [laughs] It's hard not to stand up and use your voice when you feel like there are injustices. And you know if you can make a joke about it, make people laugh about it, the people that are against you are sometimes confused if they're laughing.

But I will bring it back to this poop documentary that we did and say that, listen, everybody poops. This is the grand equalizer, and I think it's funny no matter what side of the aisle you're on. It's not like if you're a Democrat, when you take a poop it cares more about people. [laughs] Or if you're a Republican, you take a poop, and it only cares about its tax bracket. This is something that everybody does, and so we loved this project for the very nature that it brings people together. And Jason, you can talk about going out on the road, and the project we did for Audible.

Jason: We just completed — and it'll come out in the next couple of months — an audio book. 10 cities around the country; the project's called Sklars and Stripes. And in each city, we gave ourselves a challenge. By the end of the weekend, can we write 10 minutes of material about that town? About what we experience, about what they're going through, about the way politics affect the town. Any issue, local landmarks mixed in with the food, the culture of the town... can we tap into those things, and in 2, 3 or 4 days write 10 minutes of material about that town. And we did, in every single city, and it was really fascinating and really fun, and it was a documentary about what it means to be comedians.

It's a documentary about how a comedic observation turns a funny bit into a polished bit of comedy, but really, the first weekend that we went out to perform was the weekend after Trump got elected, and we performed in San Diego. And then for the next 13 months, we did 10 different cities over that time. And we really see America, in a time when what we would argue would be America's most tumultuous year, politically and socially. This past year, we got a chance to go, not only to blue states and blue cities, cuz we are Liberals (and we don't try to hide that), but we got out of the bubble.

We left Los Angeles and went to Missouri, we went to Kansas, we went to Texas, we went to Oklahoma, Colorado and then California and Oregon, and Wisconsin. So, we went to a lot of places that aren't necessarily in the same political zone as we are, and we talked to a lot of people from all sides. Certainly, you know, that was the big issue of this election, is that people were only listening to their own side giving them their "facts." And we had to go out into the country and mix it up and try to make everyone laugh. And so, I think we learned a ton. I'm so excited for this project to come out, because it ends up being sort of an audio diary of the first year of the Trump administration in America.

That kind of ties in with my next question. The world has gotten substantially more grim and serious over the past year or so, with controversy after controversy, threats of potential nuclear war, etc. Aside from the topical stuff, how has that affected your comedy material? Has it made it darker in any way?

Jason: Oh man, that's such a great question. Randy, you want to take this?

Randy: I think we have to deal with it. Yeah, it does make it darker. We as parents, we have kids, so we are putting generations of new people into this world that have to deal with it, and so, you know, we get very mad when people don't clean up their messes, and we get very mad when there's stuff that's left for our kids. And you wanna figure out what are the ways in which we can take that and manifest that in a comedic way. And comedy is best when the darkest thing in the world you can laugh at. [laughs]

That's what comedians do. Comedians look at a very tragic situation, or a very difficult situation, or in the case of this movie, a taboo situation, and say, "What is funny about this? We're uncomfortable about this. What's funny about it?" You talk about all the things that are going on right now, there is a lot of fodder that gets used in our stand-up.

So aside from your audio book, what's next for you guys? Do you have anything else upcoming?

Jason: Yeah, we have a stand-up special that we filmed in Chicago the beginning of 2017 that was supposed to go to Seeso and premiere on Seeso in September, but then Seeso sort of changed its format. So now that special is up for grabs. Audible made it with us, and they're putting it out into the universe to try and find a landing spot for that. And if it finds a separate landing spot away from Audible and the Audible family, which is Amazon, then it'll go there. But if not, then it will end up hopefully on Amazon Prime.

So we're really excited. We're proud of this special. We feel like it's sort of the material that followed the last special we did on Netflix, up till the beginning of last year, and we're ready. It deals with Trump a little bit, it deals with parenting, it deals with our lives and where we are at this moment. So we're excited to get that piece of material out there. So that is a new one-hour stand-up special that will hopefully be out by April. We think it will.

And then the audio book, Sklars and Stripes. We wrote 10 minutes of material for each city; that's 10 cities, that's approximately 100 minutes of new stand-up. And so we're gonna pick the 6 most universal minutes — around 6 from each city — and have a new comedy album called Sklars and Stripes, which will come out the same time as the audio book, in the next couple months.

So we have a lot of exciting things. And the thing that matters right now to us that's is the documentary. We think there's something in this doc that sparks a different conversation — one that isn't only about politics, one that isn't about necessarily a subject that's super divisive. Yet it is something that affects all of us [laughs] so we feel like it's almost a brief reprieve from everything else in the world, and we think a lot of people are going to enjoy it.

Well, it did make me consider a bidet, so there's that.

Randy/Jason: I like that! Let's take this day bidet. Hashtag #DayBidet!

Poop Talk is out on VOD February 16th, 2018.

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