Talking Shit with the Sklar Brothers

sklar-brosThe Sklar Brothers have been talking a lot of shit lately. Literally. The duo are the executive producers of a new documentary about bowel movements called Poop Talk, which debuts tonight at the Lower East Side Film Festival in New York. The film is an open and earnest look at, well, pooping, featuring a ton of comedians like Paul Scheer, Pete Holmes, Nikki Glaser, and Nick Swardson, along with actual experts in the fields of gastroenterology and evolutionary psychology. I talked to the Sklars about overcoming their reservations about the film, moving their podcasts to a new network, and their upcoming new comedy special.

When I first saw that you guys were involved in a documentary about poop I thought it was some kind of publicity stunt. How did you get involved in this project?

Randy: Aaron Feldman met with us and said, “I have this idea for a movie I’m thinking about doing and I wanted to know if you guys wanted to help me out. It’s a movie about poop.” Jason and I had the same initial reaction you did. We were like, “This isn’t our style, our brand of comedy. It doesn’t feel right. I don’t think this is something we want to do.” He very smartly said, “Why don’t you think about it over the weekend?” We did and our thought was, “Could we do a smart, interesting, honest discussion about this subject?” It’s something everybody does, yet people don’t talk about. I mean, some comedians talk about it when they reveal embarrassing things. But how did it get to this point? It’s important to us. Cities were built with the idea of, “How do we get rid of it?” So how could we make it funny in a way that people won’t expect? We went back to him and said, “The only way we can make this is if it’s filmed this way.” He said, “Great, let’s try it.” We started contacting all of our funny friends who we love and thought would give really honest, funny, great stories about it, as well as experts to tell the story. What we came up with is what we felt to be a very compelling movie.

I did an improvised storytelling show once where one comedian starts a story or bit and other comedians tag in to either build on the story or segue to another theme. It started off kind of slow, but once we got on to the subject of shit everybody got involved and started one-upping each other with embarrassing stories. The place was going nuts. Once one person felt safe enough to tell their story everyone wanted to open up.

Jason: Pete Holmes talked about this in the documentary. Comedians have this weird alpha posturing because they have the microphone and control of the room, but they do a very beta thing often, which is to talk about themselves and their own vulnerabilities. I think when people who aren’t comedians hear people talk about their most embarrassing moments they immediately tap into their most embarrassing moments, whether they are conscious of it or not, and it becomes even funnier. The more honest you can be and the worse you make yourself, look audiences react in an explosion of feelings, no pun intended. It’s a relief. I hate to use those words because they are very pertinent, but Randy and I talked about this movie as a metaphor for shitting because for so long we have held in these stories, feelings, and attitudes. When you hold in a shit for too long it starts to get painful. When you actually purge it and release there is a feeling of euphoria and relief. I think that’s what happens in this movie. We felt a cathartic release just listening to people share.

Randy: Some of the comedians and people we talked to have been friends of ours for 20 years. I didn’t know their relationship to this sensitive of a subject until we sat down and started talking. I was learning stuff about our friends, people we knew and have hung out with for years, for the first time.

The people I know who are the most open and detailed about it are usually people who grew up in a big family with one bathroom, people with kids, and people who have had a medical procedure that has affected their normal routine. There’s something about this everyday thing becoming even more present and unavoidable that causes people to drop any stigmas they may have.

Randy: That’s a great point. My attitude was that I didn’t like talking about it. Before this movie I didn’t like talking about it. I didn’t like going in public. But doing this movie and hearing all of these stories definitely made me more comfortable with everything. It has changed my overall habits. I don’t know if it’s going to do that to the people who watch it. I think it’s just going to be entertaining. Most of the documentaries I watch are pretty serious and downtrodden. It’s rare to come across something that affects so many people, yet takes a humorous look at it. I’m really proud of what we were able to accomplish.

Jason: My dream is that someday people will be able to watch this documentary on their phones while they’re shitting.

Okay, let’s shift gears a bit. How are your podcasts doing?

Jason: We recently moved our second podcast Sklarbro County, which is the non-sports podcast, from Earwolf and renamed it Dumb People Town and relaunched it. It’s really taken off thanks to the awesome work by the people at Feral Audio. They were so successful they increased our audience size by five times. We were loving doing the show and felt that we were creating something special, but we were concerned it wasn’t reaching enough people. We started to think, “Maybe we don’t have this podcasting thing figured out.” We brought it to Feral and they were really able to get the word out and the show’s been really taking off. It’s been such a success that we are going to take Sklarbro Country over to Feral as well in July. We’re going to take it out of comedy and into sports and take a little bit deeper dive into sports, which is what we’ve been doing lately. We’re really trying to put the focus on sports while still being as funny as possible. I think for a long time on Sklarbro Country we were like, “It’s our job to explain sports to people who don’t like sports.” Then we thought, “What if we actually embraced the sportiness of it and do what one of our favorite shows on television does — John Oliver’s show — and really embrace the issues?” Go deep into an issue at the top of the show and give our opinion and theory as to why, for example, ESPN has been failing, what’s up with colleges recruiting 13-year-olds, or what has really happened with Tiger Woods and why is he in the predicament that he’s in right now? We’re trying to be the funniest sports show in the sports section of podcasts rather than trying to be a comedy show that tries to make sports palatable for people who may or may not like sports. We are super excited. We can’t wait to hopefully get a bigger audience to join in.

Earwolf is an established podcast network and you’ve been with them for a while. What went into the decision to leave them for Feral?

Jason: We had a great run at Earwolf. We were the second podcast at that network. It was Comedy Bang Bang and then us. We had a great long run and some amazing ups and downs over there. We love Earwolf and have felt very connected to them through the whole process. They were very helpful in making the move too. But we felt like they had other, newer podcasts that they were committed to making a success. Our podcast has been around longer and they felt that they had done what they could do to make it a success, but we thought, “Maybe there’s a chance that this could reach a new audience.” We noticed what was going on with My Favorite Murder and Harmontown over at Feral audio. Dan Van Kirk, our co-host, said, “You should talk to these guys.” We talked to a bunch of other podcast networks that we love and respect like All Things Comedy, Maximum Fun, Nerdist. They all were interested, but when we spoke to the people here at Feral their attitude was, “This is wrong that you’re only getting this number of people downloading this podcast. It should be probably closer to here and we want to work to get it to HERE.” They gave us real goals and said, “This is how we’re going to do it.” They set out year goals and have already met them in four months.

You guys also have a special coming out called Hipster Ghost.

Yeah, that’s going to be on Seeso on September 14th. We shot it in February in Chicago at Lincoln Hall. It was such a fun thing. We shot it with the folks at Rooftop Comedy and the folks at Audible. We also shot a really fun runner throughout the special with Michaela Watkins and John Ennis. We’re really happy. I think this is the best hour…as comedians you just hope that you keep evolving. I think this is our best hour of standup yet.

Photo by Troy Conrad.

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