There’s a reason that people use so many sports references in their daily lives: it’s a world full of analogies and metaphors which apply to countless situations having nothing to do with balls, bats, or nets. And it’s precisely that universality which Randy and Jason Sklar have capitalized upon in their weekly podcast, “Sklarbro Country,” in which they use current events in the world of sports to talk about any- and everything else. Meanwhile, they themselves seem eager to be similarly versatile, appearing on camera, on the radio, at clubs, and just about anywhere else you might possibly go to be entertained.
IFC recently caught up with Jason and Randy Sklar to discuss their experiences as podcasters. In additions to detailing the differences between the world of audio performance and, say, stand-up, they talk about how they originally envisioned Sklarbro Country, and where they hope it will take them.
(Explore “Sklarbro Country” and more in IFC’s new podcast section!)
IFC: Maybe just to get started, talk about how you got involved in doing podcasts to begin with and sort of what the learning curve was for you to get sort of acclimated to that as opposed to something like live performance.
RANDY: It wasn’t a hard transition because our desire to do podcasts was born out of us doing radio. Like we had previously hosted Jim Rome’s show several times a year, and that was national, like 220 markets, a really big deal. And we sort of finished up and we’d get a ton of feedback doing that, but kind of after the fact. And I feel like it really allowed just the natural rhythms of how we talked to sort of come through. And once Twitter started to kind of come up, and we could interact with our fans on a regular basis, things would happen like the Tiger Woods situation or Brett Favre, and it would be like, “I wish you guys were guest hosting Rome this week so we could hear your take on it.”
JASON: Right around that time, I remember talking to Chris Hardwick who had already started to do podcasts. And he was just saying podcasting is so personal. They were connecting with fans in such a great way.
RANDY: He said, “you guys have to do a podcast. You already have a following. People know you from Cheap Seats and filling in for Jim Rome on the radio show. People already sort of know what you guys are about. If you can figure out what type of podcast you’d like to do, it’s such a great way to connect with your fans. And you’ll see when you go do standups that those fans will start to come out to your shows.” And that seemed really attractive to us, and so Scott Aukerman and Jeff Ullrich approached us right in that same moment and offered us a chance to do it in their studio. We struck a deal with them where they would build the website and support the show. And it would be the first sister show to Comedy Death-Ray which later became Comedy Bang Bang. And that seemed really exciting to us, mainly because our idea was to do a comedy show, but we wanted to align ourselves with the kind of comedy that we do and we love, which is alternative comedy. And there was no bigger representation of that than Comedy Bang Bang/Comedy Death-Ray. So being affiliated with that was like a huge wonderful opportunity for us. So we couldn’t pass it up.
IFC: Did you have to make an adjustment to make sure that you guys were distinguishing yourselves from one another when you were performing on the radio? Or was that ever an issue at all?
RANDY: We never really made it an issue. And there are a lot of times when I will say on the air, like I’ll throw a question to Jay and I’ll say, “Jay.” And I think over time people can determine the differences in our voices — if you really listen to a podcast, you can. But we don’t really make a concerted effort to play such diverse characters. Maybe that’s a good thing and maybe that’s a bad thing, but we just want it to be organic. And so I don’t think our fans really care, to be honest with you. I think they—if they know who’s who then great. If they don’t, they’ll still a comedy.
IFC: How do you guys balance, or how much do you have to balance addressing things straightforwardly and seriously, and then balancing that with comedy? Do you find it pretty naturalistic just making those transitions back and forth?
JASON: I don’t think we try to be serious for one second on our podcast, unless we’re being truthful. And I think there’s a difference between being truthful and being serious. And I think there are times when we are sort of thinking about our philosophies about life. I have to say that’s a good distinction, being truthful versus being serious. Because I would say that a comedian like Louis C.K. is as truthful as can be and he is fucking hilarious. And everything he says is the truth and it’s all hilarious. So there is that distinction.
RANDY: Yeah, it’s our goal to be truthful as much as possible, and to try to be as funny as possible. Well the good news about that is if you do say something truthful that isn’t that funny, you’re still telling the truth. And so that’s kind of a good thing and that’s a guiding principal on our podcast. But it’s not our goal to be serious. Our goal is to have people laughing the entire time.
IFC: In the preview of your podcast, you talk about how you use sports to talk about all these other subjects. Was that a totally naturally foundation for your podcast? Or did the experiences you have you to use that as sort of a basis to be able to pontificate about whatever other subjects you were interested in?
JASON: You know, I think it was a combination. I mean, we have experience talking about sports because we filled in for Jim Rome for a long time. And there was something really wonderful about trying to convey that human element to non-sports fans, and to create that connection. And also, there are a lot of comedy podcasts out there that just talk about straight up comedy or just talk about the world, but don’t have necessarily a portal into the world. And a lot of them are wonderful and other ones are forgettable. But our goal is to go in using sports as an entry point, but then talk about the world and our philosophy on the world, and our attitudes towards life. And if we use sports as our entry point, then hopefully we’re being unique. Hopefully we’re being unlike any other sports podcast, and unlike any other comedy podcast in that we’re really using sports as a backdrop. But really the show is about life, people, decisions people make, and our philosophy on the world.
RANDY: And what we try and do is put ourselves in whatever story we’re talking about. So how does this affect [us], right now in our lives? We try to put ourselves in the situation of what would we do in this situation if faced with what this person was being faced with in that instance. And I think we put our guests in that spot too. And it gives you a wonderful jumping off point to [improvise] with people, and creates scenarios on the spot. And it becomes a very active podcast. The other thing about sports is that there are stories that come out every week. And what we realized after doing all of the 100 episodes of this show for two years is that there’s a tremendous motor — that the sports world can generate stories. And I think we turned a lot of people on to the world of sports, but through our way of explaining it that would have normally not even given it a second look. Because I think what we’ve figured out is that there is a nerd-dom in sports — it’s the same as if you love music, or comic books, or movies, or television, or whatever. And if you capture that, that’s universal.
IFC: How much interactivity are you able to have with your audience? Is there any sort of marked difference between that and, say, doing a live performance where you’re feeding the energy of who’s watching it?
JASON: I think that it’s definitely different than doing it live. I mean, we used to think that perfuming live was the purest version of us. And I think it is a very pure version because you are making all of the creative decisions. Your performance relies on audience reaction. And so you do make subtle changes on the fly if your goal is to have a successful standup comedy. So you do make adjustments and you want to entertain people and have the majority of the audience have a good time. With podcasting you don’t have that immediate response — but I will say this: our fans are not shy about telling us what they like and what they don’t like. And if we get multiple responses about a specific thing that we’re doing in our podcast, we’ll talk about it, and we’ll change it.
RANDY: And I think it’s great to get that feedback from our fans, because enough of those individual comments together saying the same thing points to something that we need to focus on and pay attention to. Positive or negative. And it’s pretty cool to get that feedback via our Twitter account. It’s great to have certain elements of the show that we really spend a lot of time working on quoted. If they respond to certain characters that we bring on and do stuff with, that to us is great. It’s almost like hearing the feedback from an audience, but it’s more measured. People can actually sit there and say, “I like this about this that you guys did.” It’s a wonderful form of doing standup for 50,000 people and then getting their feedback afterwards in a thoughtful way.
IFC: What are you guys working on now or and/or coming up in the near future?
JASON: We have a lot of stuff. We just added a second podcast release every week. It comes out on Tuesday called Sklarbro County, which is a shorter, sort of looser version of the Sklarbro Country – a chance for us to try new things, new characters, do format stuff. Dan Van Kirk who does the Wahlberg on our podcast, he helps us comb through the stories and he kind of leads the discussion. And it’s a chance for our fans to see our process and how we break down stories. And it’s fun. To me it’s a little different, and in addition to the regular episode that everyone gets on Friday, it’s a little snack to tie people over. And we’ve had a great response on it after the first two have aired. So we’re doing that. We’re doing a new show for MyDamnChannel.com for their YouTube channel called The Tweekly News, where we sort of take a look at the world topically through Twitter. And that’s like a 3-5 minute weekly show that we’re going to start airing this week. I think we’re set to do 10 or 12 of those; that way they could be an ongoing thing. We have our History Channel show, The United Stats of America which has three more episodes. And we hopefully get a chance to do more of those. We’re about to shoot some stuff for H2 which is The History Channel’s second channel, some interstitial programming, stuff that we’re hoping to kind of put together as like a potential pilot type of a deal where they can see our idea for a type of show that we want to do but it’s stuff that will air on History or H2. We’re doing a thing for Crackle.com, which is Sony’s website called The Smoking Crackle movie, where we pop up interstitially between the chapters of a movie that they’re showing like “Deuce Bigalow European Gigolo.” Sometimes the worse the movie, the better it is, because we pop up and poke fun at things that are happening throughout.
RANDY: Like continuity errors.
JASON: We make fun of just characters and stuff there. It’s actually a really fun thing. So we’re going to do three more of those. And we’re still doing our standup — we are going to have some live date stuff. We want to kind of be in L.A. as much as we can because we have families out here, and it’s hard to be on the road without them. So we’re trying to consolidate our work here in Los Angeles. And if we do get The History Channel show picked up a second time, it’s going to mean that we’re going to have a lot of traveling to do. So the rest of the time we want to try and stay close to home.