Comedy Sweet Spots: The Sklar Brothers' Guide to the Golden Cities on the Comedy Trail
Randy and Jason Sklar, the twin-brother hosts of Audible's new docu-comedy 'Sklars and Stripes,' share what they've learned about some surprisingly funny cities.By Randy and Jason SklarApr 20, 2018 4:05 PM
All the world’s a stage for comedians (and brothers) Randy and Jason Sklar, hosts of the new Sklars and Stripes docu-comedy, where they travel around the country and spotlight what makes America’s cities unique and wonderful. Here they shine the light on some cities they love to flex their comedy muscles in.
It goes without saying that performing stand-up comedy in New York and Los Angeles is a special experience. Having lived in both cities, we know that the talent level is high—the number of quality rooms and venues is mind boggling. Every night there are multiple must-see comedy experiences in both cities. They are cities filled with amazing comedians you know, and up-and-comers whom you will soon know. In other words, it’s a comedy nerd’s dream.
But as headlining comedians we’ve had a chance, in the last decade or so, to hit almost every city in between New York and LA, and we have found some incredible comedy scenes in cities you may or may not expect to find them. Here’s a list of our top five golden cities on the comedy trail.
Jason: Portland has grown so much as a city, we feel it needs its own professional baseball team. But it has to be the most Portland team ever: guys with old timey handlebar mustaches wearing gloves the size of their hands. Nobody on the team has enough power to hit a home run because they want to be truthful to the deadball era that they are trying to emulate. And, they don’t have a stadium. You have to follow them on Instagram to find out where their next “home game” will be.
Randy: Any city that has a bookstore that is one whole city block long, that isn’t shuttering its doors, is a place where you want to do comedy. For several seasons, the TV show Portlandia beautifully skewered this progressive town that is always trying to stay one recumbent unicycle wheel ahead of Austin in the weird department.
Jason: Located in the super cool, southeast part of the city is Helium Comedy Club, a beautiful upstairs room in a refurbished loft space that has quickly become a staple in a city that for years hosted the killer Bridgetown Comedy Festival, mixing fantastic, young, local talent with established comics from SF and LA. Helium has provided a home for incredible comics like Ron Funches to emerge and grow before moving down to LA.
Randy: The mixture of excitement about living in Portland, the cutting edge of progressive thinking, a self-awareness enhanced by Portlandia, and the overabundance of casual stripping in the city make it the perfect place to do comedy, and Helium the perfect venue in which to do it.
Randy: Madison, Wisconsin is like a fried cheese curd. It is the creamy, cheesy, socialist center to an otherwise crusty-fried-outer-edge of a state that is trying to kill you with its evil governor, Scott Walker, at the tip of a union-busting battering ram.
Jason: And don’t forget, Randy, Madison is a college town filled with well-read academics as well as government workers, (it’s a state capital), and it has a burgeoning restaurant scene that caters to the tech companies that are starting to set up shop. So crowds are smart and well fed.
Randy: Comedically, Madison boasts one of the best comedy clubs in the country: Comedy Club on State. You descend down the stairs toward comedy heaven. The nearly 300-seat basement room is a haven for comedians of all types as smart audiences pack the place in an effort to laugh some warmth into their frostbitten limbs. The club is run beautifully by an amazing Greek family, specifically Anna and Eva, the two daughters (like the sisters from Frozen, only cooler and more iconic), who just understand how to book a comedy room that sits a few doors down from a store that repurposes old sweaters into mittens. How Madison is that?
Jason: Don’t forget the comedy history that has been woven into the fabric of this town. Zucker, Zucker, and Abrams started Kentucky Fried Theater in Madison in the 1970’s. And the Onion started in this town as well. It may be freezing nine months a year outside, but inside the comedy is as hotter than a Plaza Burger dripping with Plaza Sauce.
Jason: Minneapolis is Portland in the 1990’s, covered in two feet of black slushy snow and chemical salt that will destroy any good pair of shoes that you own. Minneapolis boasts a killer arts and music scene and has one of the best comedy clubs in the country in the Acme Comedy Company. Acme was the first club we’d ever headlined at, back in 1999 when we co-headlined with our buddy, Nick Swardson. Back then, and today, it remains an incredible room, where smart and comedy-savvy audiences pack the place to be challenged. And the cold drives crowds indoors to enjoy comedy. Also the room is set up perfectly for the crowd to be focused on the comedy. All seats face forward and the low ceilings trap the laughs and make strong sets feel even stronger.
Randy: The comedy scene in Minneapolis, like a good tray of hot dish, is loaded with talent (Acme has one of the best open mics in the country on Monday nights that constantly sells out), ensuring that the host and feature acts that they pair you with for the weekend will set the table beautifully for the headliner every time.
Jason: Minneapolis is such a cool town that now artists who have lived in Brooklyn and LA are heading back there. Our good friend, indie rock darling, Har Mar Superstar, just moved back to Minneapolis from NY and LA to live for good, thereby solidifying for us that the town is a happening yet affordable place for artists to live and for their art to be supported.
Randy: With all the great sculptures on the grounds of Minneapolis’ famous Walker Arts Center, we asked the audiences in Minneapolis when we were last there, when the Garrison Keillor statue would be erected. It would, of course, be a statue of Keillor gently cupping a woman’s breast without her consent … it’s titled, “Dairy Home Companion.”
Randy: 145 new people move to Austin every day. And we joked on stage at the phenomenal Cap City Comedy Club, that it only takes 15 seconds for you to be in a conversation with someone from Austin before they start complaining about how great Austin USED to be, aka “The Austin 15.” Even the people who newly arrive in Austin get down to the baggage claim where there is a band playing up above them at the freakin’ airport, complain about how great Austin used to be when they were back up at their gate.
Jason: BBQ, fried chicken, killer music venues, and every festival under the sun makes this city a hotbed for smart, art-loving folk. The annual Moontower Comedy Festival that we participate in every year is proof that this is a town that loves its comedy. Cap City, just a stone’s throw north of downtown, is a beautiful room where locals like Baskets’ great, Martha Kelly, work regularly, signaling the fact that special, national talent call this awesome, weird city home, and for good reason. Add that to a group of strong local comics who push each other to do inventive and amazing material and you have a killer scene.
Randy: In the time it took us to write this paragraph, three more condos were built in the downtown Austin area.
Jason: The Mile High City has perhaps the best comedy club in the country: Comedy Works. The downtown club, situated near a highly foot trafficked area, Larimer Square, is a comedian’s wet dream. Like Madison and Acme, you descend a flight of stairs to ascend to comedy heaven. The low ceilings and completely front facing chairs in a stadium seating configuration create a room where laughter bounces around in a way that simply doesn’t exist in any other room, anywhere.
Randy: We recorded our third album, “Hendersons and Daughters,” there at the downtown Comedy Works, and we aren’t alone. Dozens of our contemporaries have recorded their comedy albums at Comedy Works. The local comedy scene in Denver is overflowing with talent, so much so that headliners will have different hosts and feature acts all weekend long because there are so many great comedians in the area. Last time in Denver, our feature act Aaron Urist had one of the most amazing sets we’ve ever seen!
Jason: Adam Cayton-Holland from the hilarious TruTV show, Those Who Can’t, makes his home in Denver rather than LA, and is a happier person for it. The midnight Grawlix show he created with Those Who Can’t co-stars Andrew Orvedahl and Ben Roy was arguably the best alternative comedy show in the country for years. We can remember multiple times, running from our last Friday night show at Comedy Works to the Grawlix show to do a set just to be a part of Denver’s incredible alternative comedy scene. Those nights with Adam, Andrew, and Ben were magical and reminded us just how special Denver is as a comedy town.
Randy: Plus, with weed laws so relaxed in Colorado, every hotel room is always booked with people who are already laughing at the jokes in their head, the downtown is packed with happy, fit, and high people in search of a good time.
Jason: And the city provides incredible experiences. Last time we were in Denver, we were told by everyone to check out Casa Bonita, the Mexican restaurant with indoor cliff diving. Everyone said, ‘go there but don’t eat there. Definitely go but don’t put any food in your mouth.’ When we went, the host said, “Welcome to Casa Bonita, please don’t eat anything here.” Even the cliff divers told us just to order drinks as they dove by. Denver is a city where people WANT to live and their level of happiness is off the charts compared to the rest of America. Laughter comes easily to this smart group of people. And if all else fails, just shit on Boulder, they love that.
No matter where we go, we just love to travel the country as outsiders and write local comedy that connects with people in the cities where they live. We’ve had a blast doing just that for Audible in our new docu-comedy Sklars and Stripes. We hope you enjoy it!