An audio version of this interview originally appeared on Bullseye, a weekly radio show and podcast hosted by Jesse Thorn. You can listen to it on select public radio stations, at the Maximum Fun website, and via iTunes.
Jason and Randy Sklar are actors, comedians, and identical twins. Known collectively as The Sklar Brothers, they’ve hosted ESPN Classic’s Cheap Seats, appeared on Entourage and Grey’s Anatomy, and currently host the weekly sports-comedy podcast Sklarbro Country. Their newest standup album, Hendersons And Daughters, is less sports-focused, exploring the construction of Grimms’ fairy tales, disturbing Google search auto-fills, and Scarlett Johansson’s singing voice. They talked to us about doing the thing that’s least expected, from avoiding the predictable twin gimmicks in their comedy to making sports jokes funny to non-sports-fans.
The A.V. Club: Can you guys explain this “Henderson” situation? It’s the title of your CD and it’s the opening bit of your CD.
Randy Sklar: It’s shouted at us in random places. Basically, on the sixth episode of our podcast, Sklarbro Country, we had our good friend Jon Dore, who’s a Canadian comedian, on the show, and we asked him—years ago, in 2002, Jason and I were doing a movie in Toronto, and it was the 30th anniversary of the summit series between the Canadians and the Russians. An eight-game series. Why eight to determine a winner is beyond me, because it could have easily gone four-and-four. Easily. I don’t know what you do then. I guess shootout.
AVC: That’s the Canadian system. It’s more egalitarian.
Jason Sklar: That’s so Canada. That’s so Quebec.
AVC: And the eighth game is held on May Day.
RS: Right. So the Canadians wound up beating the Russians. It was amazing, probably the best series. And this is the Russian team that eight years later the Americans beat in the “Do you believe in miracles?”—
JS: Perhaps the greatest hockey moment.
RS: There’s a thing in sports, especially in basketball, where there’s a poster of the guy dunking on someone. When you get posterized, you’re the person who was dunked on. Because on every famous dunk, there’s a guy right underneath the guy.
JS: Usually a white dude just getting completely—
JS: So this Russian team was “posterized” twice. They were posterized by the Canadians. And their third-greatest moment ever was this series. And then by the American team in 1980, “Do you believe in miracles?”
AVC: They essentially had Dominique Wilkins’ junk in their face.
RS: Constantly. But anyway, we’re watching this—it was the 30th anniversary, 1972—when the Canadians won and this guy, Paul Henderson, has an incredible series for the Canadians. Scored the winning goal.
JS: He scored the winning goal with like a few seconds left. It was their equivalent of their greatest sports moment. They call it “the goal of the century.” Children’s books have been written about this.
RS: You read stories to your kids about, “Don’t ever forget.” It’s more important to forget that than to forget the Holocaust. It was a huge goal. So we ask Jon Dore on our podcast, just because we remembered being up in Canada for several weeks shooting, this thing we see these commercials for, and we were engrossed. I remember at the end I didn’t know anything about the series, but I wanted to buy the DVD set, because it was just so interesting. And we asked Jon Dore if, when you’re having sex with a woman, right as you’re about to consummate it, do you hear in the back of your mind the call of the goal of the century?
JS: Henderson scores!
RS: And he said, “No.” It was something that we couldn’t have predicted, but our fans thought that was hilarious.
JS: Because we got the audio drop of the call, which was pretty fascinating.
RS: Foster Hewitt. Tremendous. High pitched. “Henderson!” It’s great. So then we started to encourage our fans to shout out “Henderson!” just to see if there were any other Sklar Bros fans out there. And people started to write emails that started to become Penthouse forum letters. … “I was in the library. It was 2 in the morning at University Of Michigan. I shouted ‘Henderson!’ and I heard an adorable ‘Henderson!’ from around the corner. Turns out this woman—”
JS: Then you’re like, “Wait a second.”
RS: “I don’t know if that happened.”
JS: No woman listens to our podcast.
RS: So that became the way that people started greeting each other. And we, of course, fanned the flames a little bit, but for the most part, it grew more virally than we could have ever imagined, and so it became this thing where “Henderson!” is the way Sklarbro Country fans said hello.
JS: It’s like a war cry, a greeting.
RS: On The Jim Rome Show, which we guest-host, there’s this thing called—basically “War Eagle” is something that the Auburn Tiger football fans, because they’re the Eagles, “War Eagle” is kind of like, “Go Eagles.”
JS: The “war” is almost like “go.”
RS: It’s almost like a validation of the team.
JS: Right. So Rome fans will send in emails, and it’s a very creative fan base. They’ll say, like, “War bums using shopping carts as suitcases!” or something like that.
RS: “War chocolate-and-peanut-butter-filled Trader Joes pretzels!” Which I would war everyday.
JS: So “Henderson” has kind of become that for our podcast, which is amazing. So we were trying to think what we wanted our album to be called. We had just recorded it almost a year ago in March, and we were kind of like, “What’s the material on this album?”
RS: It was our third album. Our first album was just like, everything we had done for the first eight years of our act. Then our second album was a very specific look at how we were interpreting Los Angeles. That was called Sklar Maps, and we did that one night, one show at UCB Theater here in L.A., and that was a very specific moment in time. And then this one, we’ve had kids since the last.
JS: It’s a little bit more about being a parent. Growing up to the point of, “We’ve got kids now, how do we maintain who we are through this process, which is a process that takes your personality out of your hands.”
RS: I used to see parents, and I was like, “Why did our parents seem so much older than we were when they were our age, when they were 40?” My dad just seemed like an older man compared to me. We’re about to turn 40 in a week. And so, I realized they live through having kids for like 15 years, or 16 years. When you do that, it just makes you older. So we’re saying, “How do you stay young? How do you stay a critical thinker?”
JS: “How do you stay a person who questions life when so much of it—”
RS: “How do you stay funny?” How do you stay all those things, creative, amidst this crazy time where a tiny succubus is sucking the life out of you? And I love being a parent, I love my kids. So we were like, “What should this album be called?” And it was kind of born out of this whole period of time where the podcast was catching on and taking off, and I’ve got two daughters, Jay’s got a son, and we thought, you know, Hendersons And Daughters. And then, two days ago, three days ago, the NBC Sports Network launched, and the very first day they showed the “Cold War Series,” which was Canada versus—
JS: A documentary about that very series.
RS: About Henderson and all that stuff. And of course we got tons of tweets from people saying, “Are you watching the NBC Sports thing right now?” And it was great. But then, someone emailed us that they were up in Canada, at the Canadians’ game, and they got the chance to meet Paul Henderson.
JS: And they knew they were going to meet him.
RS: And they brought our CD, and they have a picture of—
JS & RS: Paul Henderson holding Hendersons And Daughters.
RS: And he explained to him what the CD was and why we called it that. It’s amazing that through technology and where we are in the world today, this guy was able to explain to the guy that we’ve… Paul Henderson is an unwilling participant in this whole weird thing that’s going on with our podcast, and now he knows what’s going on. It’s just crazy to me.
AVC: Does he look unwilling in this photograph?
RS: A little bit.
JS: A little bit, he’s kind of like, “What is this? Why are you doing this?”
RS: “Why am I getting comedy raped right now? And why is it this seedy of an experience?”
JS: We’re like, “You deserve it.”
AVC: Sports have never been a huge part of your act, but they’ve been a huge part of your career. It’s interesting in recent years how you’ve drawn sports and comedy closer and closer together.
RS: It’s like two magnets pushing against each other and it just won’t go that way. And Patton Oswalt is a great guest to have on the podcast, because he understands this, as a nerd of other things like comic books, and movies, and stuff like that. He’s like, “There’s no difference between the sports nerd and the comic-book nerd and the comedy nerd. It’s all nerd-dom, but in different ways.” The thing is, we can’t assume an alternative audience knows too much. There’s a joke that we tell in our act: Our friend Morgan Murphy, who’s a very funny comedian, asked us once in a funny way—and I just love this joke—she said, “Did you guys take 9/11 harder than most people—”
JS & RS: “—Because you’re twins?”
RS: It’s a great question, and I was like, “To be honest with you, there was one moment on 9/12/2001 where I was like, ‘Oh my god, are we next?’” And the sports nerd in us, every time, wants to make this joke—and we do it a lot on stage, but a lot of times to very little laugher— which is, then Jason says…
JS: “… and I called Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson, and I was like, ‘Do not hang out together.”
JS & RS: “They’re going after twins, they’re going after towers.”
JS: Two guys, who in the 1980s played for the Houston Rockets and they were called “The Twin Towers.”
RS: I was like, “You can hang out with Clyde Drexler individually”—another player from those teams.
JS: And we go that far. To us there’s something wonderful to be able to go that far. It’s like someone like Patton making a Silver Surfer joke, or whatever, or Brian Posehn making a deep heavy-metal joke. It’s like, we don’t care. We’re at the point where we can go to that place and that’s fine. I think the closest it comes is on Sklarbro Country, where we say to the people, “All right, we’re going to explain a little bit. We’ll give you the context, but if you don’t understand who Gilbert Arenas, the basketball player, is, then just understand that he’s a parent of small children and he owns a shark grotto in his backyard. It’s enough to own a grotto in your backyard, that’s being a bad parent, but to add killer sharks…”
RS: “And then to kill those sharks, you’re like a whole new level of evil, by letting your kids throw pennies into the grotto.” It’s a fascinating, hilarious story, but I feel like we have to find a way, if we can. Because the crazy thing is, we create so much content for our podcast. We create a new hour every week of comedy that, some of it isn’t up to the same par as the material we do in our standup act, because that takes years to put together, and hone, and make shine, and buff up, and make as strong as possible, and this is just stuff we’re throwing out every week. But I do think that there’s a point where we say, “Wow, we’re creating a lot of material.” There’s been a running thing throughout our podcast about Steven Seagal. He is such a fascinating, hilarious character. He got in a fight with his homeowners’ association, he went in and attacked, with a tank, for his TV show Lawman. He went in and did a raid on this guy’s house in Arizona, thinking that he had stockpiled weapons. Turns out all he had was a bunch of chickens for cockfighting. I’m not sure.
JS: And you don’t even know if they were for cockfighting.
RS: But they used this trumped-up charge they made—
JS: So they euthanized all the chickens, which is a horrible thing, but in our mind, we wished that it went down like this: He euthanized each one individually with his bare hands…
RS: With a clever kill line at the end…
JS: Like, “Cockadoodle-don’t.” “Cockadoodle-die,” and then just snaps the neck. So it’s one of those things where we started to get fascinated with Seagal, and then we started about [Jean-Claude] Van Damme. There was a time in this country where 11 karate movies came out every year. It was like, Bloodsport 6 and Under Siege, and The Karate Kid III. And karate was in our common lexicon.
AVC: And ponytails.
JS: And ponytails. We found out that Seagal had a box of ponytails, perhaps, and like a ponytail wrangler on his staff. So we just started talking about this on the podcast, it became really funny, and just recently we’ve tried to find a way to integrate it into…
RS: How do we find a way into a bit we can do onstage? And I think that’s the next generation of what we’re trying to figure out here. How do we take the material we create on a regular basis, and then put that into our standup act? We’d love to combine the two on some level. Although we do realize, we got this new show coming out on The History Channel, and it’s not about sports at all. It’s more about statistics, even though statistics have a lot to do with sports. We’re glad, because it’s sending us out into a broader area, where we’re still trying to be very specifically in our own brand of comedy, but to try and stay in that broad area is good for us. We don’t want to go so far down the road of sports and just sports.
AVC: There’s something interesting about the dynamic of having two of you onstage. There are classic double-act styles, and you don’t do those things. You’re not the Smothers Brothers. Did you ever try being the Smothers Brothers?
RS: We couldn’t. We couldn’t do that. I don’t think we could do that.
AVC: Because you’re both dumb.
RS: Right. We both play the dumb one.
JS: And our mom liked the Smothers Brothers best. Is that bad?
RS: I think that’s the only conscious decision we’ve ever made, is to not be like other duos that we’ve seen, other teams.
JS: We were really big fans of truthful comedy from a really early standpoint.
RS: That “uncabaret,” that alternative comedy.
JS: We saw a show in 1995. Andy Kindler brought us to a show the Rebar. We’ve talked about this on other shows, but a U-shape of couches…
RS: About 25 people there.
JS: Mark Cohen hosted it. Did Louis C.K. do it?
JS: Louis C.K., Jeff Ross, who was totally himself and really funny, read some poetry and did some very funny jokes. Lizz Winstead told a very funny and yet touching story at which she cried. She was actually brought to tears. Louis C.K. was hilarious and on the show. Michael Ian Black was on the show. Jon Benjamin and Sam Seder did a bit where Benjamin came out of the audience.
RS: He was running for president.
JS: Running for president of the comedy show. It was almost like this student government thing, and then there was a fight that spilled out. It was the way we were funny amongst our friends, and that was a huge “light goes on” moment for us. Where we were like, “Wait, you don’t have to do things the way that standup comedy has dictated you’re supposed to do.” If you’re fat, you do a bunch of material about being fat. It was so dangerous and unexpected, and you didn’t know what was going to come out of anybody’s mouth the whole night. And yet it was the way we were funny when we hang out with our friends. We thought, “Oh my God, we can do this? I can’t believe that that can be comedy.” So I think that opened our minds up in terms of saying, “Well, we don’t have to be the Smothers. We don’t have to be what people want us to be, where one of us is dumb and one of us is smart, or one of us is liked more than the other.”
RS: One of us is the straight man who has to rein the other one in. That felt manufactured, it felt fake to us. And it is fake. Of course it’s fake, that’s show business. And maybe on some level it’s just us saying we’re not good enough artists to pull off that kind of thing.
AVC: God bless the Smothers Brothers, they were tremendous.
JS: They were tremendous, and they still are tremendous. I just watched a documentary on Jerry Lewis, and you think about Martin and Lewis. They were phenomenal. And Jerry Lewis really was this uncontrollable, untamed thing, and Martin was trying to be cool, and he was needing to rein this guy in. And that felt very organic to who they were, the characters they’d developed on their own. For us, we were this weird entity, this storytelling, two-headed monster. We enjoyed the same things, and sometimes double-teaming from the same side of a point.
RS: Like when you’re angry about something. When [Marc] Maron, who is someone who we truly love as a comedian, when he’s angry about something, or Dave Attell, when they’re angry at something, they go after it, and they just don’t let up, and they put the gas pedal down and tear it a new one. What we have is the benefit of two people going one on top of each other, and it’s so overwhelming. You overwhelm an idea. And for us, we’re like, “That’s something we can do that one person can’t.” It’s interesting, and it’s different, it’s a different way to go at something. You take the same angle that would apply to X, and then you just go at with both of us. We thought, “That’s very interesting.”
And it’s only recently that we’ve fully understood—and we love acting—that we also have the ability to play scenes out. We have bits in our standup where we go into this whole thing about fairy tales, about just not fully buying the third act of Snow White, and reading those stories to our kids. It all comes from the truth of reading those stories to our kids. My daughter really likes fairy tales, and it made me question, “How are these stories standing the test of time? It’s the worst writing. It’s so lazy. The fact that “fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman” doesn’t rhyme, and yet you made up the words fee, fi, fo, and fum, to me blows my mind.
JS: How does that get accepted? Why do kids love it? And once a kid loves a story, you’re trapped in this bad story for weeks. You’re like a Chilean miner. You’re like, “When am I getting out of this, and am I going to be alive?”
RS: You’re a Chilean miner, and your kid is the Chilean miner who wanted to run a marathon, and is just kicking up mine dust while you’re just trying to think about your family, and you’ve got to watch this person do calisthenics.
… For us, that relationship, of Snow White and her husband, the idea of kissing someone and then marrying them and living happily ever after, as you’re trying to teach to your kids who they should be with, that is such an unrealistic—you as a parent say, “Don’t ever kiss someone and then get married.” That’s the lesson you would say, “Don’t do this.” And really, because he met her when she was dead, he was attracted to a dead person.
JS: And because she was dead and suddenly came to life, she’s not fully aware that he is a necrophiliac. So now you’re dealing with that.
RS: There’s an elephant in the room. And there’s this discovery of this relationship, which to us as writers and lovers of that relationship, and marriage—we’re both married—and the difficulties of that relationship… and our relationship is almost like a 40-year marriage that we’ve been in with each other. Because it is very similar to a marriage in the way you’re kind of partners in what you do and how we work together.
JS: So we play out scenes.
RS: Playing out the scene between Snow White and her husband eight months after they’ve married, having a tense conversation around the breakfast table, where other things are involved, and the domestication of these people, we want to see where that conversation would take you. As one person, you could play that out, but it would take a long time, and it would be kind of clumsy and cumbersome. For us, we can deftly move from our premise into this scene and then back out again, and we’re like, “That’s what we should be doing more of onstage. How do we take material, and the ideas that are there, and then bust it out into something that only we can do?” And I think we’re figuring that out. We figured it out on this third album, and we’re starting to figure it out more, which is kind of fun.
AVC: You mentioned something about doing jokes about how fat you are if you’re fat. One of the classic ways to become a success as a comedian is to have a hook, a premise for your act.
RS: “I’m a fat guy doing fat guy jokes.”
JS: The angry guy. The angry guy always shocked me, because what if you’re not angry about something? There was a restaurant in San Antonio, it was on the river walk, and it’s a chain, it’s called Dick’s Last Resort. And the theme of the restaurant is that the waitstaff are kind of dicky; they’re kind of jerky.
RS: They’re kind of jerky. They give you some lip back. So we were there at 11:30 at night, the place closed at 12:00. We were shooting for ESPN for the Final Four down there. We had finished work, and we were like, “We got to get something to eat, let’s just go here, it’s right by where we are.” We ask the waitress, “Can we just get a little more water?” and she was like, “Sure, that’s no problem.” And then we left. And we were like, “Wait a minute, was that the end of her shift?”
JS: She was not nearly as big a dick as she should have been.
RS: So we of course imagine her manager watching that whole exchange and calling to her, “Betty, can you come over here for a second? What did you say?”
JS: “They asked me if they could have more water.”
RS: “And then you said what?”
JS: “I said, ‘Sure.’”
RS: “No, no no. What’s the name of this place? What’s the name of this place? What is the name of this place?”
JS: “It’s Dick’s.”
RS: “Now you go over there and dump that water in their laps. You go do that right now.”
JS: So, again, people aren’t angry the whole time. You can’t be angry all the time. So the angry comic, there will always be moments where that’s manufactured, a falsity.
AVC: But you have something that you have to explain to a new audience every time. Just like a white person at Def Comedy Jam has to make people comfortable with the fact that they’re the white person at the Def Comedy Jam, you have to be like, “Yes, we’re comedians and we’re twins.” And so, part of you guys developing your own voice has to be, “How do we make people cool with that? How do we make people fine with that so they can laugh at us doing other stuff?”
RS: Right, because it’s not going to be the focus of what we do the whole time.
JS: That’s another conscious choice we made. I think basically it was like, “Let’s throw the oars out of the boat, and let’s start paddling individually,” because we chose not to make our act completely about being twins. And I would argue that sort of initially seeing of us, it takes a little while to understand who we are and what we’re doing if you don’t really know who we are. We just did a set of standup on Conan. I love the set; I thought that parts of it did well. We had done that set many other places, and it’s done much better. I think part of it is we just jumped out there and we started doing our act, and we had four and a half minutes. Four and a half minutes is just enough time for people to get used to the fact that there are two people who look alike who are talking not about looking alike, who are going in a completely different direction. Because that’s the alternative comedy in us that makes us want to do something unexpected. So there’s this acclimation time. Normally, for us, people are just already there, or we have enough time to get there. I think we thought it was going to go better than it did.
RS: Certain moments did better. Then I went back and I watched Woody Allen’s bit “The Moose.”
AVC: Amazing. Maybe one of the greatest bits of standup comedy of all time.
JS: Of all time.
RS: Definitely one of my favorites. There are clips of it on YouTube of him doing it on TV, basically what we just did on Conan. Not a lot of great response on that. I was mad at the audience that came to see that. And you could tell that there were moments where he wasn’t happy with it. I could tell as a comedian, I was like, “This has gone way better for him in other areas.” I know that feeling, of standing out in front of an audience, going, “This is going to go out to TV, and these people aren’t laughing as hard as they should at this, which we’ve done many times before. We know where the laugh points are.” And I could tell he was a little bummed, or a little flustered. It made him act a little bit differently. But it was just interesting; it actually made me not feel so bad. We didn’t feel bad.
JS: Yeah, we didn’t tank.
RS: We didn’t tank, but at the same time, we were like, “You know, we know that this has done better.” But it speaks to what you are saying; people aren’t used to that. I think we were like, “Let’s just go and be funny right off the bat, and then just get into it.”
JS: By the way, when we’re onstage, I see all the reasons why certain people would hate us, just by the very nature of who we are.
AVC: Number one, you’re very good-looking. Number two, you’re hilarious.
RS: Just dazzlingly good-looking.
JS: Yes. Or just people who are like, “Eh, no matter what they do, they’re still a gimmick.” I can see people saying that. Even though we’ve spent our entire careers fighting so hard to make that not be the case, I can still see people going, “Eh.” And that’s hard, that’s painful, that’s tough, because that’s the last thing we want.
RS: I think that’s also from what we want out of it. We didn’t want to be, “We’re the funniest twins ever.” No. And this is the same with our sports show on ESPN. We didn’t want people to say, “This is my favorite sports comedy show.” We wanted people to say, “I love Cheap Seats. I also love Chappelle’s Show. I love The Daily Show.”
JS: Arrested Development.
RS: That’s what we wanted. Whether people do that is beyond us, and we can’t make that call. But that’s what we wanted. Same with being twins. We want people to say, “Who are your favorite comedians?” “Well, I like these guys, and I like this person, and that person.” Not that it has to be categorized as such, not, “Who’s your favorite comedy team that’s also twins?” There are other comedy teams that are twins.
AVC: The last time we talked you were working on this show for Topps trading cards called Back On Topps. Very funny show. Probably the best trading-card-themed comedy show ever.
JS: One of the tops. Two or three.
RS: That’s a theme in our career.
AVC: You worked on this show with a lot of really famous athletes. I think most comedians get funny because other things were difficult for them, so they worked on being funny, because that was the thing they were good at. So they’re usually not necessarily good at the other stuff. Or at least late-bloomers at the other stuff.
JS: That’s right.
JS: I saw a picture of Chappelle recently, and he’s like, all worked out and jacked up, and part of me—and he’s still one of the funniest people I’ve ever seen or known in my entire life. Go back and watch the special he did in D.C. Forget about Chappelle’s Show, which is one of the best sketch-comedy shows I’ve ever seen. But he worked out, and I got a little, “Oh God, don’t go [Joe] Piscopo on me. Don’t Piscopo the situation.”
RS: You were the skinny guy, doing your thing.
JS: It’s like what you were saying, what are you working on here? You working on your body? You working on this? It kind of threw me a little bit.
AVC: Whereas a professional athlete, I don’t think you can become a professional athlete without working as hard as a person can work, being as driven as a person can be. There are very few professional athletes who aren’t as hard-working and driven as any human being on earth.
JS: Maybe golf.
RS: You still have to work on the game.
JS: You still have to work on the game. John Daly’s a guy…
AVC: That guy’s a schlub.
RS: “Lumpy” Herron.
AVC: Don “Caveman” Robinson the former San Francisco Giants pitcher.
RS: Rick Reuschel, or Rick Rhoden, who had one leg shorter than another. I think that they—we talk about this with athletes a lot. Trying to make it in the comedy world, or trying to make it in the entertainment industry, or trying to make it as an athlete, they’re very similar. You could be doing great on one level, but every time you go up a level, the harder and harder you have to fight.
JS: The funnel gets smaller and smaller.
RS: You need luck; you need things on your side. There are a lot of parallels. And that’s where we connected with a lot of the athletes on Back On Topps, is that we know what it takes, hopefully, for you to be doing this on the highest level. We get it. It’s so hard to get there, and I don’t even think we’re there yet.
JS: We’re like, playing in Europe right now for the NBA. We’re like NBA Europe.
JS & RS: If that much.
RS: But definitely you’ve got to work hard. I think being twins was a weird entity. We were always considered a weird entity, especially when people weren’t taking fertility drugs, and the incidents of twins weren’t as much. It was like one in 89 when we were kids, now it’s like one in 30, which we learned from the stats show that we’re doing on History. It was more of a fascinating thing; there weren’t as many twins out there. So you’re twins, you immediately have people’s attention, and people are like, “This is weird. You guys are weird,” and they’re looking at you.
JS: Weird or fascinating.
RS: Weird or fascinating, but they have their preconceived notions of what twins are like. “Do you guys have mental telepathy? Do you switch on people?” We got a little upset in our minds, saying, “Don’t tell us how to be who we are. You’re trying to create a life for us.”
JS: Even as kids.
RS: Even as kids we knew it. Whether we could articulate it or not. We were like, “Don’t tell us what to do. We don’t want to switch classes. I don’t want to be in his class. It’s stupid. The dumbest idea of a prank or joke. Who are you pulling it on? The teacher?” Mistaken identity thing means nothing unless you’ve committed a crime. It’s such a weird thing, and it’s not fun for us. You’ve just told us what we had to do.
AVC: You really are upset at the idea that you would switch classes.
JS: It’s outrageous!
AVC: You started describing it, and I thought that it was a goof, but you are actually angry at kids who thought—
RS: Kids or adults.
AVC: You would switch classes.
RS: Or adults, it’s a dumb thing.
JS: Or switch on girls.
RS: Or switch on girls. Why would you do that? What type of a person— really ask yourself that—what type of a person would switch on a girl that you were interested in? Would you switch to get to a better girl? I don’t understand.
AVC: A Shakespeare character.
RS: I guess. It’s very Shakespearian. We just didn’t understand where that was coming from. It wasn’t us. So I think we said, right off the bat, “That’s not who we are. Now that we have people’s attention, they’re focused on us because they think we’re weird or fascinating, what can we do that’s different than what they think we’re going to do? What if we did it our way? What if we did something different?”
JS: “What if we were just trying to be funny?” We were huge fans of comedy, even back when we were 10 years old. We were funny. The light shone on us from people paying attention, and we made people laugh.
RS: And there was a tremendous amount of satisfaction. I think there’s deeper roots, in that our dad was a funny guy, and we saw the value in him being able to make people laugh, even strangers. I think that’s where we gravitated toward. It wasn’t filling a deep, dark hole. It was more, “We want to define who we are.” And I think that’s carried through to this day right now, and it sometimes feels foolish when we’re trying to feed and clothe our families. “Hey, we’re going to go into this profession that is really difficult to succeed in, and then we’re going to take the one thing that’s very identifiable about ourselves, and we’re going to not use that. We’re going to swim upstream even further.” So that can be sometimes hard, but I think we’ve made the right decision.
AVC: Tell me about this History Channel show that you’ve got coming up about statistics.
JS: Yes, it’s called The United Stats Of America, and it’s about how statistics tell the story of why we are who we are at this moment. Each show starts with a statistic. One of them starts with, we used to be the tallest nation in the world until 1950, and now we’re ninth. So what happened? We’re behind Belgium.
AVC: Those Belgians!
RS: Waffle-eaters. I won’t even watch In Bruges.
JS: I won’t even eat my fries with mayonnaise.
RS: It’s pretty shocking, and it’s upsetting. But it’s interesting, and it unearths a ton of other stuff about how we live, how we eat, how we work. It ends up being a sociological exploration of America, using stats as the entry point. So that’s an episode. We do one on time. We do one on space. We do one on death.
JS: What are the seven inventions that move us around this country?
RS: Population shifts.
JS: So it’s kind of this way to look at the story of America through stats, and obviously they wanted a host for the show that could bring it to life and make it funny, because stats on their own aren’t necessarily that riveting. But it worked out great for us. We weren’t even in the mix to audition to do the show. It’s the same company [Left/Right] that did This American Life for Showtime, really quality, amazing production company. They care about make it look good, and it looks cool. The graphic people who did the graphics for Food, Inc. are doing the graphics for this, so there are really interesting, cutting-edge, live-action, Minority Report—we slide graphics off the screen and bring new ones up. It’s really neat. So there are great people who are working on it. The guy from Left/Right was driving around to a casting session, and he heard us on NPR doing the little sports report that we do on the Madeleine Brand Show here at KPCC in Southern California, and he was like, “This is exactly what we’re looking for. They’re taking this foreign subject like sports, and they’re explaining it to people who might not understand it, and they’re trying to be funny, which they are.” He’s like, “We’ve got to try to get these guys to come in.” And that’s how we got called in to audition to do the show, and we got it. But it’s kind of a rare situation that works out like that in this industry.
RS: And so we shot all six of them. It started out being a pilot that was for internal use only. They were going to shoot one, not even a finished version, like a rough cut of what it was. Then they were like, “Let’s do six of these.” So now we’re waiting. Hopefully April it will air. And we’ll see how it does. Part of me says, “You never know how it’s going to do.” The shows that really rate well on History Channel are like, Swamp People and Pawn Stars and American Pickers, and this is not that. This isn’t someone finding a Civil War musket in their attic.
JS: Which, by the way, those shows are brilliant. Those shows are like, “Redneck Antiques Roadshow.” Literally like [adopts hick accent], “I found this jar in my closet, what’s it worth?” I’ve been on flights and cannot stop watching those shows for hours and hours, because I’m like, “I want to know, what is it worth?”
RS: “Is it real?”
JS: So you’ve got a beginning, a middle, then they make you wait for the break to find out what happens, and it just goes over and over again, and it resets, and it’s kind of genius. So those shows just draw tons of people, because that’s great mindless entertainment, “Let’s just watch this and turn our brains off.” Ours is a little different. Ours is comedy. It requires attention, focus, learning.
AVC: Minority Report graphics.
JS: Minority Report graphics.
RS: Which are cool to look at, but it’s just different. So we’ll see how it does. There may be a ceiling as to how well this show can do, but I love it, and would love to continue doing them.
JS: We’re proud of them so far. Put it this way: If this is the thing that people know us from—you mentioned Cheap Seats before and Sklarbro Country, we’ve done Entourage and done some other things that people really know us from—but if this is the thing that most people know us from, I’ll be happy. I’ll be ecstatic. That’s all we’ve ever wanted to do in our career, is make sure that the next step of whatever we do is something that if people saw it, we wouldn’t be embarrassed by it.