Bestcast asks podcasters to discuss the three most memorable episodes of their podcast. Note: ties are allowed/encouraged.
The podcaster: Along with twin brother Jason, Randy Sklar has done just about everything in show business. He’s starred in the cult series Apartment 2F and Cheap Seats, as well as well-received web series like Back On Topps, Layers, and Held Up. He and Jason regularly guest-host for sports-radio giant Jim Rome, and they recently hosted The History Channel’s United Stats Of America. The Sklars have released three comedy albums, the most recent being last year’s stellar Hendersons And Daughters, and continue to tour the country. They’ve popped up in movies and television shows like Entourage and The Comebacks, but they seem to have found their ideal vehicle in Sklarbro Country, a popular Earwolf podcast about sports, comedy, and indie rock that combines interviews, irreverent commentary about the weirder side of sports, and in-character appearances from resident impressionists James Adomian (Jesse Ventura, Tom Leykis, Tim Gunn), Chris Cox (Tiger Woods, Matthew McConaughey), and Jason Nash (Bryant Gumbel, Bruce Jenner).
Episode #107, “A Tale Of Two Richards”: Richard Simmons, James Adomian, Dan Van Kirk
Randy Sklar: We met Richard Simmons randomly. We were in New Orleans flying back from doing a thing for The Online Music Awards where The Flaming Lips were playing in eight cities on a bus tour within 24 hours to break Jay-Z’s record, and they were broadcasting it.
The A.V. Club: You were providing color commentary?
RS: Yep. And talking about what was happening on the bus and The Flaming Lips. We had to anchor this huge thing, which was actually really fun to do. But we were exhausted, so I only say that to let you know that, A) we were exhausted, and B) because MTV paid for it, we were in first class. So those are the two details you have to know: We’re exhausted, and we’re in first class. We’re in the lounge before the flight, and Jason and I are literally almost falling asleep knowing that we still had a little work to do, with computers open but falling asleep. And all of a sudden we hear behind us this high-wattage voice, like, “Hello. I know you. Get over here!” It was like a gay tornado. Like a gaynado just swooped in. We didn’t even turn around and look. It was like, “Oh great, this is the one flight attendant who knows everyone in the first-class lounge, and I just want to fall asleep,” and I turn around and it’s fucking Richard Simmons, and I was like, “Oh my God. This is the greatest moment ever.” So he gets on the plane and we get on the plane, and he is right in front of us. It’s a very small first class. The craziest first class ever. It was Laura Dern, her mom, Diane Ladd, Ben Harper’s kids. I know they’re [Dern’s] kids, too. And so they were in there, and then it was Richard Simmons and his handler, Jason, Diane Ladd’s husband, me, this attractive black woman, a 6-year-old black kid, and then a guy that kind of looked like Wood Harris, Avon Barksdale, but it wasn’t. It turned out to be RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan.
AVC: That sounds like the makings of an alternate-universe Hollywood Squares.
RS: We’re thinking, “If this plane goes down, we’re not even getting mentioned.” So Simmons is on his knees on his seat. He’s like a 5-year-old kid. I have 5-year-old and 7-year-old kids. If my kids were doing what he was doing, I’d tell them, “Sit down like a normal person.” That’s what I would say to them, but he was Richard Simmons, and he’s talking to everybody that started coming on the plane, and we struck up this thing and we started talking to him, and it’s so funny to fall into that Letterman role with him, where you’re kind of fucking with him but you also like him. And he was like, “What’s going on with you two? Are you guys twins? What are you doing over here?” He asked, “What do you do?” And we answered, “We’re comedians.” He was super-interesting and he was all wound up, and then he fell asleep. Like a toy that gets wound up, wound up, wound up, and then falls asleep. And he brought his pillows that I found out were the pillows he slept on as a baby in his crib, which was far too much information for me to know, but it just showed what an open person he was.
It was bizarre, because in the middle of the flight he tried to hit on me and said he wanted to take me to Italy and kiss me on the lips. Then I said to Laura Dern, “You’ve got to help me out, Dern. You’ve got to help me out here.” Then he takes my hand and he pulls my hand down to his mouth and he starts sucking my thumb. I was like, “Okay, do you realize if I did that to a female passenger on the plane who I did not know, you would know immediately who the air marshal was.” And I’d say, “Okay, sorry about that. Didn’t mean to suck this thumb.” It was like sexual harassment. But whatever. I got out of this. I spoke to his manager who was with him, his handler, and I got his card and I said, “Richard, you know we do this podcast. Would you ever want to be in it?” And he said yes, but I don’t know what this guy is like. He could be such a flake and it could not happen, but we stuck our booking people on it and we got in there and stayed on him to do it, and he said he doesn’t do anything anymore, but he did the interview with us, which I thought was just incredible.
And then we have Simmons on, and we didn’t know how we wanted to handle it. Dan Van Kirk wanted really badly to be there for that one. We’re like, “It’s a regular Sklarbro Country episode. Why don’t you come along and be a part of it, because it’d be great to have you there and I know that Simmons would just love you.” And that was the whole first day, “Dan Dan Dan Dan Dan,” [Simmons] starts singing at the beginning. It was everything that I expected it to be. There was singing. There was laughing. There was crying. I mean, it was everything. His emotion is right underneath the surface. What I was struck by, and what was so cool is—not cool, but interesting—to find out was that he is such an overtly boisterous, huge personality, yet he’s an incredible introvert in terms of his social life. He said people haven’t come to his house in seven years. He’s only friends with the woman that cleans his house. You understand that he needs these moments in life to survive or else he dies. His story was amazing.
What J and I really connected with was the fact that what he did was very podcast-y, how he became who he was. He said in the podcast, “I was too nervous. I wanted to be a Broadway star, but I was too nervous to audition. I couldn’t audition.” So he said, “What I did was, I moved to Beverly Hills and I scraped and scrapped and I became a waiter and I took every last ounce of money that I had and I opened up an exercise place.” That exercise place was Slimmons. Then the next thing you know, somebody comes in to exercise at Slimmons, because people were talking about it. People are saying, “Let’s go over to his place. This guy’s having fun. He’s doing aerobics.” And so one of the people from the Jerry Lewis Telethon that they did in Vegas saw him and said, “Would you come on our show? Do what you do here, but do it here.” And he said yeah. And the next thing you know, the people from General Hospital saw him on the telethon and got him on General Hospital for three years. And that launched him.
AVC: Did you feel sorry for Simmons? He seems like a pretty melancholy figure underneath it all.
RS: I felt bad, and I’ll tell you why: Because he does have a heart of gold. He wants to do well by people. There’s no ulterior motive. He’s just a guy who loves people, and so I’m like, “I wish you had like six or seven really good friends. I don’t care if they’re batshit crazy, but I wish you had a group of people that you just like.” I want it to be like Larry King and the Octomom. Whatever it is, I just want it to be fun for you, and it just made me sad that he doesn’t have that, and I think it’s hard. We didn’t really get into it, because I don’t know how comfortable he was with it. It was like when we did the interview with Adomian, we really got deep into what it’s like to be gay and trying to do it on your own and not have the gayness be the center of your comedy. We can relate to that. Our twinness is not the center of our comedy.
What I think is hard for Richard Simmons is that he’s such an icon for middle America, especially Bible Belt people, that for him to say to them, “I’m gay,” I think he would lose a major portion of his audience, and maybe people wouldn’t treat him the way they did. So for years, especially for years before it was okay to come out and be gay, I feel like he had to really be in the closet. I don’t even know if he’s fully out yet, so I think he chooses to live this kind of life of—like, what happens if he gets in a Travolta scenario, where he starts being social and cavorting around, and then all of a sudden someone threatens to tell his whole story and drag his name through the press if he doesn’t pay them off? You know what I mean? I think there’s crappy people out there, and he’s just being protective of himself, so it’s a bummer.
Episode #9, “Hamm It Up!”: Jon Hamm, Chris Cox & Episode #94, “Stalking An Old Nugget”: Jon Hamm, Chris Cox, Dan Van Kirk
RS: Love him. Flat out love him, and our connection to him runs very deep, because he’s a St. Louis guy and we share all those things and we grew up at the same time. It’s funny when you think about him on Mad Men. I think about him as an older guy in the 1960s, so he seems so much older. He’s like our age, and also for a long time he was going to Largo and watching comedy in the late ’90s and living on people’s couches and whatnot. His story’s well-documented, but he would come to Largo and watch the comedy that was going on there, and we’d be performing there. So there was a moment where he was looking up to us and all the other people there. So he walks into that room with us, and there’s a contemporary thing that we’ve got going on. He’s got a reverence for what we do, and of course we love him and think he’s an incredible actor and a really funny guy. What I couldn’t believe was how quick and off-the-cuff he really is. To me, he’s an Alec Baldwin-type guy, who you’re like, “I didn’t realize you were that funny.” He can do anything, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into doing a podcast and kicking around ideas.
We did a riff on the second episode about having Australia’s Thunder From Down Under male stripper revue perform before an Oklahoma City basketball game, and Jon—this was his choice—immediately, without asking, without even telling us, went into an Oklahoma City Thunder fan who’s super-straight yet really into what the “Thunder Down Under” were doing. The character is a bit confused, like, “I like ’em. They’ve got good rhythm.” It was such a funny and great choice, and I was like, “Oh man, I just love that you’re here, because it just means that we’ve got such a shared history.”
Put it this way: When the Cardinals won the World Series last year, and we were shooting our United Stats show, we were out of town a bunch and Hamm was on the set of Mad Men during the playoffs, me and Jason and Jon were emailing back and forth to each other. I wish we could print that email. I’ve got to find it. But it was an incredible email chain. We were cracking each other up. When the Rally Squirrel came out last year, he took a screen grab of it and then sent it to us. It was just fun. He’s one of the best supporters of the show. He’ll go out knowing that he’s going to get paparazzi, knowing that he’s going to get pictured wearing a Sklarbro Country T-shirt, and that’s like the biggest wink and a nod to us. It just shows us that he cares about it. He’s just a great dude.
AVC: It almost seems unfair for one man to have so many gifts.
RS: Yeah I know. Well, here’s the thing: What I love about him, and what I can forgive for all that is, I know how hard he struggled leading up to that, and I know how many times he thought, “I guess this is not going to work out.” He was teaching acting at his old high school for a brief period of time and he was living on people’s couches for real. I have friends that knew him really well in the mid-’90s, and that was what he was doing. He could not make it and couldn’t do it. It just goes to show you how difficult it is. But then give him an opportunity and look at how he’s blossomed. He reminds me of Zach Galifianakis, who has been great all along, but then once America got a chance to see what everyone in the comedy community knew, we’re like, “Oh yeah, of course they’re going to fall in love with him. And of course he should have a career where he makes $20 million a movie, because he’s one of the best comedic people of our generation.” The same with Hamm. I feel like he was a guy who didn’t have the right chance or opportunity, and then Mad Men comes along and you’re like, “Oh yeah, this guy is a movie star and he is great.” I’m proud of him and I’m psyched for him, because he wasn’t a guy who came out here when he was 22 and just started landing movie roles. He had to really struggle for a while. So the struggle, I think, keeps him grounded and makes me say, “Yeah, man, get whatever you can because you deserve it.”
Episode #31, “Soaking In Sklar”: Patton Oswalt, Chris Cox & Episode #70, “The Sklarbro Rippers”: Patton Oswalt, Jason Nash
RS: Oh, man. I could not love this person any more than I do, and we’ve always been friendly with him and friends with him. We had him on Apartment 2F, our show on MTV.
AVC: It seems like you had everybody on Apartment 2F.
RS: A lot of people came through there. Kind of like our podcast. That and Cheap Seats were a chance for us to really interact with the people that we love and throw a rope to all of our friends in the comedy community. Patton, we knew him from back then and loved his comedy. And then there was like a brief period of time when I feel like we kind of lost touch and lost connection. He was writing a bunch of things and we were working on our stuff, and we didn’t really cross paths as much. Actually, there was a little period of time where it was like, “I don’t know if he likes us.” I probably caught him on a weird night at UCB, and I was like, “Man, I don’t know if he does or doesn’t,” and then you know what? We reconnected. He started listening to our podcast because someone had told him about it. He listened to somebody on it and he became the biggest fan ever of our podcast.
And then two other things happened that intertwined our lives. They hired my wife—she’s an interior designer—and so they got this great house and my wife was working really closely with them. And then in the process they had their daughter, Alice, who’s fantastic, around that time, and they were looking for a nanny and we were starting to wean off of our nanny. And so we started to share our nanny with them, and having somebody take care of your kids is a big deal, and so as a result, she would bring little Alice over to our house, and so Alice and my two kids, they’re like three little sisters. So they’re very, very close, and I feel close to him and them through that, and of course my wife is really close with him as well.
But Patton then just became the biggest proponent ever of our podcast, and I think he really said it the best the first time he came on the show. He said, “I’m telling all of my nerdy friends, take the craziest character that is ever invented in a comic-book series, or like James Bond villain. They don’t even come close to comparing to these athletes, these kids who have all this money. Every kid is like a James Bond villain.”
AVC: There are athletes with shark grottos, like Gilbert Arenas, which definitely feels like something a Bond villain would have.
RS: Right? And [Arenas] has got kids under the age of 6. If I had just a grotto in my backyard, I’m a shitty parent. You put shark in that thing and it’s like, what? Who in their right mind thinks that that’s okay? Only a kid who’s basically had his dick sucked since he was 8 because he had basketball talent, and everyone’s telling you that you’re right, and then you make the big NBA deal and you’ve got millions and millions of dollars and they’re like, “Motherfucker, I’m going to put in the shark grotto.” By the way, it’s not a black-white thing. It’s an athlete thing. And I think Patton really clued into the fact that these are real stories about real people who are just crazy. You couldn’t invent it. You couldn’t imagine it.
I wasn’t there because we were doing our show, but he gave the keynote address at the Montreal Comedy Festival, and I don’t know if you’ve read his address, but he mentioned us. He’s trying to focus what he wants to do, and I think he sees what people are achieving with podcasts and specifically what we’re doing with Sklarbro Country, and I think he is like, “I love it. I love what you guys are doing. I love the fact that you’re doing it exactly the way you want do it and it’s reaching tons of people and it’s energizing people.” He just gets it and he’s such a proponent of it. But the fact that he supported us in that very huge public moment and said that is something that meant a lot to us.
AVC: Oswalt has evangelized far and wide on behalf of Sklarbro Country, even though he’s not a sports fan.
RS: That’s right, and we are trying to capture people like him. There’s some sports references that you may not get, but if there was a really hilarious podcast about comic books and it was just funny and accessible and it had people that I love doing it, I’d want to jump on board and hear it. Like if Patton did one, I’d want to listen to that, because maybe I don’t know all the things, but I bet I’d learn some stuff. And if it’s really funny, how great would it be to jump into a new world? That’s why I chose that as one of my favorite episodes, because everything came together. And when he read the Jason Elam excerpt, it was a masterful bit. We put it out there to him and he got the book online, read it, did the passage, did all the work himself. He came so prepared, which was also a huge sign of respect. He wants the show to be great and he wants to be great on the show, and that to us marks how important that show is to him.
(Tie for third) Episode #75, “New Year’s Extravaganza”: Chris Cox, Jason Nash, James Adomian
RS: I love the idea of the fake interview, or the real interview with a fake person. But you have to have somebody who can really improvise well in order to do it. Chris Cox is so good at becoming the characters. I’ll never forget the time he came up with Tiger Woods. I asked him if he could do Tiger Woods when all this shit was going down, and he started to try to do it, but the voice was too high. So I said, “I love it. I think you’re a little high on it, but you’re almost there.” He said, “Let me keep working on it.” Comes back three days later and has it perfect. I mean, perfectly down. And I was like, “Oh my God. This guy’s amazing. Not only does he have it perfectly down, he can improvise as Tiger Woods.” And when I don’t look at him and he’s doing Matthew McConaughey, I feel like I’m talking to Matthew McConaughey. Cox goes away and the character is there and really, really funny. It feels like J and I are interviewing Matthew McConaughey. And it’s so much fun and you never know where it’s going to go. We’ve learned to be a little looser with it. We used to write it out more with Cox, but now we’re a little looser with it.
As far as the Adomian goes, Adomian is a tour de force. When he’s doing Jesse Ventura, he comes in and we say one thing: Disagree with everything we say. So if we say, “Jesse it’s great to have you.” He’ll say, “Why is it great to have me? Why did you think that it would be great to have me here contributing?” With Tim Gunn, no one knows much about Tim Gunn. He’s a mystery. He’s this good-looking, sharp older man who dresses really well, but how funny would it be if he was super into MMA? Tom Leykis is one of my favorite new ones. Everything he does is just genius. So he does his thing.
Nash approaches it from a totally different perspective. Nash, he kind of gets the voice but he doesn’t nail it perfectly, but it doesn’t matter because he takes one element of the character that we usually work on with him, like Bruce Jenner, who is so emasculated. He’s the most emasculated person who tries to play it off like he’s not. Really funny. Bryant Gumbel is always making fun of Greg and is the biggest rich douchebag you know, who thinks that everything in the world is possible to him because it is. Nash has come up with so many lines like, “It’s enough to make a guy fly private” [the character’s stand-up comedy catchphrase]. We’re thinking about making, “It’s enough to make a guy fly private” T-shirts.
AVC: Whose idea was it to have Gumbel be an aspiring stand-up comedian? Was it his idea or was it something you came up with together?
RS: We did. We all came up with it together. He’s a stand-up comedian, but he does observational comedy about being really rich. And Nash took that, and Nash just goes, he writes so much stuff that we don’t see. So when he gets into it and his elaborate plans for Greg, I can’t keep it together. I hate breaking up on there, but I’m also like, “Dude, if it’s making me laugh, I’m going to try and use it and try and make it funny.” We’re not just doing that for effect. It’s not like the old Carol Burnett Show. It’s really cracking me up to no end. I mean, he’s just great.
And now Dan [Van Kirk] is doing the [Mark] Wahlberg thing, which is incredible. Dan was working on the show, helping us come up with stories and whatnot. He was shadowing us, not just on Sklarbro Country, but in everything we do. He was getting some stuff together and he’s like, “Hey, would you guys take a listen to this thing that I did?” And he did the Wahlberg thing. It was so funny. We’re like, “Can we use that on the show? Would you be upset if we used that on the show?” He was like, “Yeah, I’d be upset if that went out to 50,000 people, 100,000 people. That’d be great.” And then he started doing [Steven] Seagal, and he’s starting some other things, started doing some other characters. What’s amazing for us is, I feel like we are slowly but not so slowly introducing him as a comedic force. He has grown up through this podcast, so we’ve introduced him as a comedic force to this team. He came to Montreal with us, did the podcast with us, and people knew who he was by the end. People were drawn to him in a way that we are, and it actually makes us so proud of him. We’re like his comedy dads. What we’ve learned about him is that, especially on the live shows, he’s so clutch in the moment. He’s so good with a crowd. We’ll have a great guest on and do an amazing show, and even have other characters on, and then the last character we bring on is Wahlberg, because we know it’s going to bring the house down, and it does every time.
Usually at the end of the year, I take a little trip with my family. Most of our stuff is topical, we can’t bank up a ton of episodes. It’s not like we can do 12 interviews, and then bank it up. So before the end of the year, the two shows that I like to do are the music show—because music is such a big part of our show—sort of what’s our favorite stuff and stuff we’ve heard throughout the year, and then the character show. And the character show is just a way of saying, “Let’s look back on this year with some of our favorite characters.” The characters love to interact with each other. Cox loves interacting with Jason Nash. One of my favorite moments in the show is when he said, as Bryant Gumbel, to Cox’s Woods, “Tiger, Tiger, can I ask you? What is golf?” It’s the dumbest question ever, and of course Cox just handles it so well. “Well, you know, Bryant. Golf is a game.” It was so funny and such an organic moment and that’s when you see that these little bits that we’re doing at the end of our show—which we feel like are the dessert on the end of the show, and a lot of people say it’s the climax of the show—sometimes the highest points of the show are the 10-minute interviews we do at the end with the fake characters that have taken on a life of their own. They can exist in this world on their own in a very funny way, and I have to say there’s nothing more fun than trying to police 12 characters running around the room. It showed us that our show is more than just interesting interviews and trying to be funny. Our people talk about sports and anything in life and comedy. It’s more than us breaking down the stories of what happened this week, which I love to do. It’s straight-up comedy.