North Sklars: Randy Sklar on sports and the appeal of Minnesota
The Sklar Brothers have been doing their thing for so long that the initial novelty of them being twin-brother comics has eventually given way to a deeper, more significant identity as two of the funniest people talking about sports today.
Standup isn't the only outlet for their comedic and acting talents; they've appeared in everything from the web-video trading-card spoof Back on Topps to a Doritos radio spot where one of their voices had to be digitally altered so it wouldn't sound like the same guy talking to himself. And sports isn't the only thing they can hang a great routine on; their standup albums--2004's Poppin' the Hood (recorded at Minneapolis's own Acme Comedy Co.) and 2007's Sklar Maps--creatively goof on everything from newscopter hyperbole to real estate bus bench ads.
But it's their cult-favorite, ESPN Classic series Cheap Seats and the comedy-scene podcast Sklarbro Country that have solidified their reputation for irreverent, geeky enthusiasm towards all things ridiculous in the world of athletics. Sklarbro Country is the best way to hear them elaborate on their rapid-fire banter on a weekly basis, bouncing jokes off each other and piling up escalating riffs on news and ideas until they threaten to bury themselves under what they call a "reference avalanche."
It's a bit like sports-talk radio, only the meathead belligerence is replaced with a giddy, pop-encyclopedia sharpness and the grunt-metal music is replaced with indie rock. It's the kind of sincere goofiness that turned Foster Hewitt's call of Paul Henderson's 1972 Summit Series-winning goal ("HENDERSON!") into a fanbase catchphrase. A brief but animated talk with Randy Sklar revealed a lot about their process, their background, and their connection with the Twin Cities.
How difficult was it to develop your two-man dynamic, riffing off each other in a live-stage context?
I think it was really born out of the way we would just tell a story in real life. So it was pretty organic. It wasn't a decision, like, "We have to do it this way!" Although, to be honest with you, there were a lot of people who tried to push us in a direction like, "One of you should be the straight man, the other guy should be the joke man." We were like, "That doesn't feel right." It doesn't feel organic, we can't differentiate our characters to the point where it doesn't feel real, that's too hard for us. We couldn't carry that through to sustain a show. We might be able to do that through a 15-minute set of comedy, but not for a whole hour-long headlining set because, which one is the evil one?
We'd both seen team comedy before, what if we could do it in a way that felt different? And I think that it's only now, in the last couple years, that we've really understood how to best use what we do. We bring up a standup premise and tell some rapid-fire jokes, both of us attacking the subject like some two-headed monster. But in order to illustrate those we can bounce into a scene or a sketch between two characters, which is difficult for one comic to do.
When did you start getting the feeling that doing comedy material largely based around sports was starting to click?
We were always sports fans growing up in St. Louis. We watched sports and we played a lot of sports, and I think we just had this sort of nerdy obsession with players. We'd be super-obsessed with [Cardinals baseball player] Jose Oquendo, because he was this weird utility guy who played all nine positions. Or relief pitchers who only came in and made one appearance, or someone like Mike Laga, the only guy who hit a ball out of Busch Stadium, but it wasn't a home run, it was a foul ball.
It was kind of fun having that weird knowledge in our back pockets--that was us as kids. I think we realized that there weren't a lot of people in the world of sports taking the same care to create standup comedy in that sort of a way, and applying that to the world of sports. This is an area that we really love and know really well; it's not like we're gonna talk about fixing cars and stuff, because that's not what we do. We'd have to research all that. This [sports knowledge] is stuff we already have. How can we take that and make it funny? So the opportunity presented itself with Cheap Seats, and we took it and it was just a great entryway into that world.
Speaking of Cheap Seats, Mystery Science Theater 3000 is one of Minnesota's proudest comedy exports. The cast appeared on Cheap Seats at one point. What was it like working with those guys?
I loved it. We met them at a symposium--San Francisco Sketch Comedy Fest in 2002 or 2003. Cheap Seats was an idea that was still in development at that time, and we told them about it. We were huge fans of theirs and we were so touched that they revealed they were fans of our standup. We said, "We're doing this show, this is what it is, and it's similar to your thing but it's different. We love you guys and of course we're influenced by how funny and great you are."
It was a really great exchange, and we said, "Do you want to be a part of it? We'd love to have you on." It worked out really well. They're such good guys. I really like them so much. They're so whip-smart and funny, and yet they don't feel like they're part of the industry at all. They represent Minnesota in the best possible way.
What's your general impression of the Twin Cities as far as both its comedy and its sports fanbases?
I love the Twin Cities. I think [they've got] great sports fans, from the days of the North Stars to the fact that hopefully the Timberwolves will still be around. And, of course the Twinkies. You gotta love the Twins.
I think Minnesotans are so interesting. I actually think Minneapolis is probably the coolest city in the Midwest. But the weather really screws you guys. We did these commercials for the Minneapolis Star Tribune in '96. Part of our contract was to do 20 days of public appearances in Minneapolis as these characters. We went to the Winter Carnival, Nicollet Mall, food festivals, and we saw a minor league hockey game in St. Paul. We went to all these Minnesota things, like the Walker Art Center, and we really became familiar with Minnesota. It was so much fun and so cool.
And then we had a friend of ours who managed the band Detroit, which was big in the late '90s in Minneapolis. We got super-into the Minneapolis music scene, which is an incredible scene. It kind of mirrored the comedy scene we were involved with in New York. For us, it was like we really kind of understood and have a lot of praise for creative people in Minneapolis. We view Minnesota and Minneapolis with a tremendous amount of respect. When we did our show at Acme, people would come out and they were super-smart--a lot of young people who really got what we did. We weren't ever fighting with our audience, and it was so much fun.
I'm going to mention some notable names in Minnesota sports, past and present, and just feel free to say whatever comes to your mind about these particular individuals.
"House of Pies." I've always wanted to have a restaurant called Kent Hrbek's House of Pies.
Which one? 'Cause there's nine personalities.
If it were 1999, he'd be the very definition of Eurotrash. But he could be a savior.
The favorite son. I love him. I think he's a Minneapolis staple. And he seems like a funny guy.
Oh my God. To take hockey from Minnesota to Dallas, it's literally like trying to put fake breasts on a kid. It just isn't right.
Fred Smoot was the party boat? I always thought that would've been a really funny kids' show. Pair it up with Blue's Clues. Fred Smoot's Booze Cruise. Just him and an imaginary dog, hittin' on women.
I love him. I'm a Conspiracy Theory conspiracy theorist.
IF YOU GO:
Randy and Jason Sklar
June 16 through 18
Acme Comedy Co.
8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday
10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about arts and culture events in Minneapolis & St. Paul and offers you won't hear about anywhere else.