The Sklars taped 'What Are We Talking About?' at the Majestic and made Madison a big part of the finished product.
Last Friday, Netflix Instant View started streaming the new comedy special, Sklar Brothers: What Are We Talking About? The performance was recorded just two months ago (Feb. 22) at the Majestic Theatre here in Madison. In addition to already appearing on Netflix it will be available as a CD and on iTunes on Tuesday, so needless to say it has been a busy two months for the Sklars and their crew. 'What Are We Talking About' provides a fine introduction to the Sklar sensibility to those who are not familiar with their brand of comedy, and it also should please longtime fans of the duo.
Randy and Jason Sklar are twin brothers who have been a staple of the alternative-comedy circuit since the 1990s. As I discussed in my Isthmus preview of the Majestic performance, the Sklars often mention Madison in their weekly podcast, Sklarbro Country, because they and their comedian guests give high marks to the Madison comedy audience due to the success of Comedy Club on State. Recording their special in Madison was a deliberate choice, because they consider recording a special to be a “victory lap” for their material, not a time to experiment with unfamiliar audiences. So while I knew of their affection for Madison, I was pleasantly surprised how much play Madison received in the final edited special.
The Sklars often reference sports in their stand-up routine and their podcast, and What Are We Talking Abou' presents itself as a sports event with pre-game, halftime, and post-game analysis. From an NFL Network set, host Rich Eisen discusses the performance with former-athlete analysts. The Madison crowd becomes a significant part of their parody. Michigan alum Eisen throws in a few good jabs about how the Madison audience will likely be hammered in the second half. Nothing groundbreaking here, but it is charming and nice to get a tip of the cap for Madison every once in a while. The Majestic itself looks great, but that could be due to the fact that almost everything except the stage is kept very dark.
The special has a brisk, deft pace, and just as the “victory lap” label suggests, the material is polished and very funny. The Sklars have a distinctive rhythm and their back-and-forth delivery is a pleasure in itself. They deliver short blunt jokes and long-form bits with equal skill and vigor. Some of their pop-culture-of-the-moment material might have a shorter shelf life, but their longer bits, like their tale of being trapped on a plane with Richard Simmons, will remain funny for a good long while.
In the insider’s department: Much of the camera crew were local videographers, including my friend Eric Nelson (whose film 'Inside & Out' played at this year’s Wisconsin Film Festival). He was stationed with a handheld camera, stage right, and from the final edit it looks like many of the audience reaction shots were his handiwork. I was tempted to frame this review as an analysis of every crowd reaction shot, and try to post all of them to see if anyone recognizes themselves or friends. (I’m not in there.) But I will say that the cutaways seem very brief and have an odd rhythm. Perhaps that is just subjective since I was trying to find myself and the shots seemed too short. But who the heck evaluates the audience cutaways in a comedy special review?
The end of the special includes an example of what people in the arts who move to Madison call a “Madison Standing Ovation,” which refers to how Madison audiences give a standing ovation to just about anything, very quickly. Now, in this instance everyone knows that the performance is being recorded, so it is also likely that some wanted to be as enthusiastic as possible for the cameras. But check out those folks in the front row, who stand up immediately before the Sklars can even pivot to get off the stage. Madison audiences still need to learn the lesson from 'The Incredibles': If everyone is special, then no one is.
If you enjoy What Are We Talking About I highly recommend subscribing to the Sklar podcast, Sklarbro Country (and its supplement, Sklarbro County), which not only gives you weekly doses of the Sklar Brothers, but also introduces you to many other like-minded comedians and performers.
James Kreul is the co-founder of Madison Film Forum.