The Sklar brothers search for Middle America

The day after Trump won the presidency, America was shocked, divided, thrilled, and terrified. Most spent the day either commiserating or celebrating with people who reinforced their own beliefs, but not Randy and Jason Sklar. The two comedians, and twin brothers, had shows to do. Not a few shows in New York or L.A., but a cross-country tour that would take them to places as diverse as Tulsa, Oklahoma; San Francisco; Houston; Portland, Oregon; and Vice President Mike Pence’s home state of Indiana.

Luckily for us, they decided to record the tour for a new long-form Audible documentary called Sklars and Stripes

While several of the rooms were ones they played before, the pair knew this would be anything but an ordinary trip.

“We really wondered if we had it in us to make people laugh after such a crazy and in many ways devastating outcome for over half the country,” they told the Daily Dot via email. “Would they be able or even want to come out and laugh?”

This is coming from two comedians who are 20-plus year veterans and spend 15-20 weeks a year on the road. They started their carriers in New York, but have traveled all over the United States, racking up an impressive list of credits, including appearances on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Curb Your Enthusiasm, their own show on ESPN, and a Netflix special, to name just a few. That they thought this election might keep people from laughing is sobering.

“The election may have changed comedy a bit,” they admit. “People are digging in a lot more on their stances and that’s not good. Healthy debate has gone by the wayside and extremism and the nuclear option has been normalized. Facts are no longer relevant or even used and this is bad for all forms of art.”

While comedians like Patton Oswalt or, on the other side of the fence, Larry the Cable Guy, can expect audiences who know, and for the most part, agree with their perspective, the brothers are likely often playing in rooms where a lot of the audience hasn’t seen them before. For some reason, unlike music, comedy tends to attract people who think it’s a one-size-fits-all medium. Meaning the two decidedly liberal comics might be wading into some unfriendly territory.

Not that they planned to back down. The interplay between tension and release is where comedy lives, and they knew it’s something you don’t back down or shy away from.

“When everyone was retreating into their respective bubbles post-election, we really went out in the belly of the beast and tried to make people laugh, despite their differences. We went hard after uber liberal thought in Portland just like we went after Mike Pence in Indiana,” they said.

But this approach has its drawbacks in a divided country, where people on both the left and right can easily become angered by a joke.

“Liberals are offended by a lot and that’s bad for comedy,” they said. “There are some rooms that are so politically correct that you can’t even be politically incorrect to prove a point and you never want to be limited comedically. You never want to tiptoe around any subject in comedy. Conservatives love to call liberals snowflakes, but the second you start to poke a hole in their theories or thinking, or take a shot at one of their guys, (and by guys we mean, white guys), their feathers get rankled as quickly as the liberals if not quicker.”

But don’t be fooled by their annoyance at feeling restricted by both sides of the political spectrum. The Sklars have no love for Trump and openly talk about supporting Hillary Clinton.

“We were devastated when Trump won,” they said. “We are both liberal and were looking forward to seeing a woman president, for our wives, for our mom, for our daughters. It would have been amazing and Hillary would have been great. Trump was and is a misogynistic, racist, homophobic psychologically unstable, philandering, crazy, rash, impulsive, mentally weak, demagogue who is making our country worse and the world less safe and undoing all the great stuff that Obama put in place, to appease the white nationalist segment of the population.”

But while they clearly don’t care for Trump, he’s not as easy to write jokes about as some might think.

“You almost have to approach it like shit jokes. You can’t make an obvious shit joke, it has to be clever to hit. Same with Trump. The less obvious you are, the more creative the premise, the more successful it can be,” they said.

The Sklar’s annoyance at both liberals and conservatives is not about who they agree and disagree with, but the natural instinct of any artist to push back against boundaries, no matter who sets them: We’ve lost the middle a bit and that’s not great for comedy. The middle is where you get people on the right to see the folly of some of their ways and same with the people on the left. It’s our job as comedians to try and get both sides to laugh at themselves. It’s becoming increasingly harder to do.”

Part of the way they tried relating to their divided audiences on this tour was to write some jokes geared directly toward the people in whatever town they were playing, which led to some surprising results.

“There were moments in Kansas City where we felt the audience cheered a little bit too much when we suggested that there be a wall built between Kansas City, MO. and Kansas City, KS. and that Mexico/Missouri should pay for it,” they said. “We were happy to get the laugh but then thought, what are we unleashing here?”

Even though all the divisiveness and anger present in the country can make things challenging, the Sklar Brothers still seem to be enjoying their roles. After all, no other job allows a person to speak their mind so honestly and directly to such a large number of people.

“In some ways, pushing back against it feels good,” they said. “We have a voice, and so to call out what we see as unjust or racist or womanizing, feels like the only thing we can do.”
David Britton

David Britton

David Britton is a writer and comedian based in Rhinebeck, New York who focuses on internet culture, memes, and viral news stories. He also writes for the Hard Times and is the creator of StoriesAboutWizards.com.