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The Sklar Brothers Find the Comedy Behind the Numbers in ‘United Stats of America’

The Sklar Brothers Find the Comedy Behind the Numbers in 'United Stats of America'

As identical twin comedians, Randy and Jason Sklar represent an unusual statistic all their own. And the brothers’ own love of stats shines through in their work in sports-related comedy, from their series “Cheap Seats,” which ran on ESPN Classic for four seasons, to their “SportsCenter” segment “The Bracket” and their popular podcast “Sklarbro Country.” With their new series “United Stats of America,” which premieres on the History Channel tonight, Tuesday, May 8th at 10pm, the funnymen expand their fondness for numbers into broader territory by exploring topics like how long we live, how we spend our time, how we spend our money and how the average American is growing in size. Indiewire caught up with the siblings over the phone to talk about this new hosting gig and how humor and statistics can complement each other — after all, as Jay explained, “In order to lampoon something, you have to understand it first.”

How did you see your background in sports relating to this larger world of statistics in the show?

Jason: The sports world is built on statistics. When you think about the steroids scandal, yes, it’s about steroids, people ruining their bodies, kids following a bad trend, but it’s also about how these statistic in the steroid baseball era will stand up against statistics from the time before people were using steroids. It’s all about the stats.

What Randy and I tried to do in the comedy we did about sports and statistics in the past was to find what the human element is connected to the statistic. As we got involved wiht the show, we realized that it was the same thing. You start with a stat — 99% of all Americans live on 8% of our land. There’s so much in that that speaks to who we are and why we are. That’s what ends up being fascinating to us.

Randy: We have this enthusiasm for stats. I work fantasy football leagues, so statistics mean a lot to us. They define a career and there’s a story behind, say, why Derek Jeter is still doing well and could be get 3500 hits — these are all things that we ask ourselves in our spare time, as a hobby. To bring that lens to regular everyday life, well, we already know how to use statistics in a casual way.

Jason: To add to your Derek Jeter thing — the statistic is that he’s nearing 3000 hits, that’s interesting. But to link that to the number of women he’s had one-night stands with…

Randy: If he only had 1500 hits, would he be able to pull that off? Probably not.

How much were you involved in writing? Were you able to shape the show to your particular comedic voices?

Randy: We have to give a lot of credit to History and [production company] Left/Right for allowing us to be so collaborative. We were very involved in the writing — that came from a desire to fully understand what we were talking about. The more we understood what we were doing, the more we were able to put things in our own language and to find jokes to say about it, to find the humor in it.

We come from a stand-up comedy background. We’ve been doing comedy for 20 years, had a couple of TV shows, podcasts, movie appearances — we wanted to bring our audience over to this show. The result is a show that you haven’t really seen before. It was important to us to put it in our voice.

Jason: We’re fans of stats, but we’re not statisticians, so on some level we’re like the audience. We’re trying to understand and grasp what all these stats mean, with help from experts and the production. But underneath all that, Randy and I are comedians, so anytime we do something, it’s our goal to be as funny as possible. They came to us with scripts, and allowed us to put things in our own language.

The episodes are arranged around themes — any personal favorites that were of particular interest to you?

Randy: My favorite was the death episode. Western culture has a view of death that’s interesting in that we don’t really talk about it — we’re afraid of it. That’s why horror movies make so much money, because everyone’s afraid of the topic of death. We’re afraid of snakes and planes and a sequel to the movie “Snakes on a Plane,” that those things are going to kill us, but are we afraid of the right things? The whole search in that episode was for what’s America’s number one killer, what we should be the most afraid of. We’ve got this backdrop of the 500-pound elephant in the room, and that tension, it speaks a little louder to me and allows our humor to come through.

Jason: A 500-pound elephant would be pretty small.

Randy: Yeah, it’s a tiny, adorable elephant. Did I say 500-pound elephant? I meant 500-pound gorilla.

Jason: A 500-pound elephant would be like a big dog.

Randy: I got my kids a pet, and it’s this 500-pound elephant. And maybe it’s the kind of thing that you and your wife had a problem with, and the 500-pound elephant would be the 500-pound gorilla in your room.

Jason, in the episode I saw, you sat down to eat a three-pound hamburger with a sumo wrestler. How much of it did you actually finish?

Jason: I got through a fourth of that burger before wanting to throw up. It was so much meat. When I think about regular Americans who are not competitive eaters or training to become sumo wrestlers eating that amount of beef — it made me understand vegetarianism. 

Randy: I was there when Jason was eating it, and the more meat he ate, the less funny he got.

Jason: It’s so true.

Randy: He was trying to make jokes, but the bun got in the way.

Jason: It felt like I’d put another person inside of me. 

You guys have worked on several TV shows over the years — is there any chance we’ll ever see “Apartment 2F,” the sitcom you did for MTV in 1997, on DVD?

Randy: Part of me really wants it to come out on DVD. When you think about who was in that show… Zach Galifianakis was a series regular, along with Michael Showalter. Stephen Colbert was on the first episode, and Amy Poehler, Jeff Ross, Jim Norton, Patton Oswalt, Arj Barker — all these incredible comedy people.

We did that show when we were 25 — 15 years ago — and we were very green. There are moments where I watch that show and cringe at our acting abilities. But it’d be cool to see the show on DVD. I think “Cheap Seat,” the show we did on ESPN Classic, has a better shot at coming out first, but we’ll see. Maybe “Apartment 2F” will see the light of day.

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