Making a Career of Cracking Wise
What do Randy and Jason Sklar have to kvetch about as they enter a new season of their very own TV show? Not much. Slouched on a couch, cracking jokes and watching memorable sports moments on a wide-screen television sounds like every guy’s dream job. And to think, they nearly signed away their humor away to attend law school.
With more than three decades of shared material, the 33-year-old twin comedians have landed a gig where acting goofy and slinging snide comments at the expense of other people’s gaffes aren’t getting them in major trouble with their parents. “Cheap Seats,” their half-hour show on ESPN Classic, targets professional and amateur athletes — and playfully rips the competitors a new one.
The Sklars play lowly production assistants with a library full of old celluloid, and hours to kick back and comment on cockamamie sports blunders. The identical duo sift through reels of sports history, using their fraternity-meets-dinner-table humor to poke fun at players, fans and coaches.
“Our mom says, ‘Why do you have to swear? Eddie Murphy never swore,’” Randy said.
“Our mom only knows Eddie Murphy’s comedy from when he was on ‘The Muppet Show.’”
Sports fans love the show, which is currently in its second season. Their format has been compared to the Sci-Fi channel’s “Mystery Science Theater 3000” and is garnering a cultlike following. The show’s cast members were guests on this season’s premiere.
At last year’s All-Star game, the Colorado Rockies’ Todd Helton and the Cincinnati Reds’ Sean Casey personally told them they were big fans. Apparently the University of Maryland basketball team members rehash episodes with one another over the phone.
The setup is simple: Pete Rose circa 1970-something getting yet another hit; a Sklar voices-over the play, zinging the obvious gambling cut; a 1970s Steve Garvey is clad in teeny-tiny white shorts. And the guys deliver the appropriate elbow-to-gut one-liner riffing on his fashion sensibility. Some commentary is obvious, but they slip a poignant whammy in there, too. Perhaps it takes dishing comic twins to point out just how skinny and steroid-free baseball players looked 25 years ago.
“What we are trying to do is not be mean spirited, but be specific,” Jason said. “Not attack a person, but attack what they are doing.”
Randy and Jason improvise naturally. Growing up in the same household helped to hone their brand of comedy.
Jason is older (by five minutes) and wears glasses. Randy used to have a beard, and now he has mini mutton chops. The brothers claim to share no secret twin language.
“I think if we had a secret language, it would have to be Yiddish,” Randy joked.
Twin comedians sounds like the butt of a bad joke. Unfortunately, it is not a case of evil twin, good twin.
“Randy is way more organized, loyal and in touch with people. I am more to myself,” Jason said.
“On the surface we seem similar, but underneath you could not find two more different people,” said Randy.
They interrupt each other and finish each other’s sentences, correcting and adding. They’re each other’s fact checkers for information and for stories.
“We deal with little minutiae and pick things out,” Randy said.
In 1997, the Sklars briefly had a show on MTV called “Apartment 2F.” The Hollywood Reporter compared them to Jerry Seinfeld. Unfortunately, the sitcom master never nurtured the younger duo.
“No, and he did marry a Sklar!” Jason said. “No relation. Every Jewish [person] says, ‘Why don’t you call Seinfeld?’”
“I think we have developed our own voice in the comedy world,” Randy said. “Some people describe our voice as similar to the Beastie Boys, with the overlapping like a rap song.”
L.A.-based for six years, both twins are married. Randy has a newborn. The brothers live 20 minutes apart and work together every day.
“We write the jokes. Then we go back and make sure it’s the best way to say them,” Jason said. It’s a constant rewriting process. Comedy can feel mathematical. You break it down and realize, ‘Okay, this is taking entirely too long to get to the funny part.’ We find the most economical way to say it. You want to be Hemingway, not Fitzgerald, when you’re up there.”
When their jokes bomb,“we blame each other,” Randy said, laughing. “If it’s a new joke, we try to figure out what went wrong.”
On “Cheap Seats,” their favorite event is creative breaking (where muscle-bound men smash things with their hands). Choreographed karate also tops their list. “Imagine if we’d said to our parents, ‘We aren’t going to law school. We are going to do karate with choreography,” Randy joked.
Actually, they put their parents through a similar ringer, deferring law school for comedy. The brothers looked to Minneapolis comedian Andy Kindler for advice.
“We asked him to be honest,” Jason said. “He said, ‘You guys definitely have something, but you probably need to scrap all your material and start over. He said if we work really hard at it for the next four or five years, we would have a TV show by [the time we were] 25.”
Jason and Randy have a familiarity about them — maybe they lived in your college dorm or went to your summer camp. If you were born in 1972 and grew up in the Midwest, it’s possible. The Sklars were active in B’nai Brith Youth Organization and in United Synagogue Youth and spent summers at Camp Ramah.
When they were 17, they met one of their writers for “Cheap Seats” during a trip to Israel. Ultimately, their camp friends might be responsible for triggering their careers.
“It was a great, creative time for us,” Jason added. “Instead of writing letters to our friends, we would make audio- and videotapes and try to outdo each other with elaborate productions.”
For Passover , Mr. and Mrs. Sklar traveled west to be with their sons and families. “We’ve done it in Palm Springs [Calif.] before. It was authentic, the whole Jews wandering around the desert thing,” Randy said.
Mama Sklar might be onto something with her dedication to Eddie Murphy’s clean “Muppet Show” comedy. Maybe the smart, ambitious twins have the cult following to play sitcom ball for several innings. They could grow into roles as the Jewish Statler and Waldorf, shouting from bleachers rather than from theater seats. If not, they can keep their humor alive at the Seder table.
Shira Levine is a New York-based freelance writer and world traveler.