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From BBYO to the Big Screen

February 25, 2019
Ethan Fine

St. Louis, Missouri, United States

Randy and Jason Sklar were born and raised in St. Louis. The twin comedy duo now lives in Los Angeles, years and miles away from where they first started performing. “The first time we stepped on stage was in high school, and we did stand-up,” Jason said. “We kind of did a mix of some material that we ‘borrowed,’ actually stole from comedians that we loved back in the mid-1980s, and then we wrote some original material ourselves.”As long as they could remember, the Sklars have been comedy fans. Whenever any sort of comedy would come on TV, they would find it and practically study their favorite performers and their techniques.

“We were enormous comedy fans and comedy nerds back in the 80s. We watched whenever we could, watched any comedy we could find,” Jason said. “There obviously wasn’t Youtube and there wasn’t the Internet, so we waited for comedy to come on TV, and we consumed it voraciously.”

These two claim that their Judaism actually helped them get to where they are today. They became even closer during their time in BBYO and encouraged each other to make the others laugh.“We would send audio tapes and videotapes back and forth to kids we met through BBYO, because back then you couldn’t Facetime or Skype. We would go around St. Louis and we would basically make comedy bits and videotape them, and then send tapes back and forth to each other, and try to make each other laugh,” Jason said. “We were heavily influenced by that.”

Jason continued to tell how his friends in different states and cities would send hilarious videos, and him and Randy would compete to always make something funnier. They would interview random people, from their teachers at school to the woman who cleaned their house, they’d create fictional scenarios, something they still do today in their stand-up performances.

Randy and Jason were later accepted to and attended the University of Michigan. Afterwards, they intended to both go to law school and become practicing attorneys. However, one decision would change their lives forever.“Our attitude was, ‘Anyone can do that. We’d like to try something a little more difficult, a little more challenging, and potentially more rewarding,’ said Randy. “We don’t want to wake up and regret that we didn’t try.”

The twins decided that there were enough lawyers and the world didn’t need two more. Instead, they would pursue comedy, at least for a year. Initially, they planned on deferring their acceptance into law school for a year, but as they became more involved in the world of comedy, they realized that they weren’t sure they ever wanted to go back and study law. Luckily, the boys’ parents were incredibly supportive of their decision. They knew that no matter the outcome, Randy and Jason would learn in some way, shape, or form.

“They knew we needed to try it and see if it worked. They didn’t want to be the people to be like, ‘Nope, you need to go to law school and do this right now.’ They wanted us to try and succeed, but they wanted us to make our own mistakes, and if for some reason this didn’t work out, that we went through it all the way and understood why it didn’t work out and move forward. It’s a very evolved way of thinking,” said Randy. “I’m really proud of them and really grateful that they let us make our mistakes, let us fail, and let us try what we were doing, and let us succeed.”

Both brothers will tell you that making it in the comedy business is nothing even remotely close to easy. Randy and Jason tell tales of shows-gone-wrong, but never let that slow them down.

“Truthfully, you’re not good at the beginning when you do it. You just aren’t,” continued Randy. “You have to make your mistakes.” They also consider their sudden fame complete luck. Neither expected their plan to work out or for them to get big, but perfect timing allowed them to break through. “We lucked out because we moved to New York in the mid-nineties when comedy was shifting. A whole new movement in comedy opened up called Alternative Comedy,” said Jason.

Comedians such as Louis C.K., Janeane Garofalo, and Marc Maron helped jumpstart this new movement.. “Everyone was pushing each other to try and create something unique, creative, and special,” Jason said. “It allowed us to go in different directions and it influenced us to want to be the type of comedians that we would like.” The twins knew that they never wanted to be the ones to capitalize on just that, the fact that they are twins. They didn’t want to be the “shticky,” gimmicky type who dressed alike and annoyingly bounced off of one another.

Their biggest break came after reuniting with their old Sunday School teacher, who eventually became prominent within the world of ESPN. Once again, luck was on their side.“Our old Sunday School teacher went on to become the Editor-in-Chief at ESPN Magazine, and back in the late 90s, early 2000s, when ESPN Magazine was really taking off, and ESPN Classic was emerging as a channel that they thought they wanted to have original programming on, he and his writing partner, they were asked to create shows for ESPN Classic,” explains Jason. Randy and Jason later went out to breakfast with the editor, who mentioned that the station was looking for a new show. The twins immediately knew that they had an idea worth listening to.

“He very graciously asked all the right people and we got to pitch out a show and they listened to is. It was luck again. We came at a time where ESPN Classic was trying to program original stuff, and they really let us spread our wings and create a show that connects with people today.”

This is just a little bit of the story of two Jewish boys from St. Louis, Missouri, who went out on a limb, struck up some luck with the right people at the right time, and made it big. Not many can consider Zach Galifianakis, Larry David, Bob Odenkirk and Will Ferrell their friends, neither can they say they have worked with them. Jason reflects on his very meaningful experiences in his career,  “We’ve been very lucky. We’ve worked in this business a long time and we’ve been super fortunate.”

Ethan Fine is an Aleph from Mid-America Region: St. Louis Council in Esperanto AZA #2486. He is incredibly excited to share his love for both BBYO and journalism!

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