In September, the original comedy production and licensing juggernaut Comedy Dynamics announced that it had acquired something involving stand-up comics that wasn’t actually stand-up comedy. From the minds of filmmaker Aaron Feldman and executive producers (and twin brothers) Randy and Jason Sklar, the documentary Poop Talk was — in the words of company CEO Brian Volk-Weiss — “going to be an instant comedy classic film like The Aristocrats before it.” Of course, whether or not it becomes as popular as The Aristocrats and other similar comedy documentaries before it remains to be seen.
Judging by the screener I watched and the subsequent conversation I had with the Sklar brothers, however, there’s a good chance Poop Talk will float around for a while after its debut in select theaters and on VOD last Friday. After all, it’s an entire movie about poop that features conversations with scientists and philosophers, as well as comedians like Kumail Nanjiani, Nicole Byer, Adam Carolla, Rob Corddry, Nikki Glaser, Pete Holmes, Jonah Ray, and Eric Stonestreet. As Randy Sklar frames it, “We found that some really interesting stuff came out of it… No pun intended.”
I’ve talked to the Lucas brothers, so this won’t be my first time interviewing twins.
Randy Sklar: I love those guys.
Jason Sklar: Those guys are awesome.
You two are friends with Aaron Feldman, the filmmaker. Did he approach you about making Poop Talk, or did you take the idea to him?
Randy: He came to us. Aaron’s someone we’ve known for years. Great filmmaker, really smart guy. He sat us down and I remember we were having coffee in Silverlake and he said, “I have this idea for a documentary. I would love for you guys to help me with it, but I understand if you don’t want to do it. Please still be friends with me. It’s about poop.” And we were like, “Uh, yeah, I don’t know if we want to do it.” He asked us to think about it over the weekend. It was a Friday that we met him. I’ll never forget. He said, “Think about it and tell me the types of movies you would make using this subject matter. Is there a version of this that you would do?” So we did. That was a great way to put it to us.
We thought about it over the weekend. It’s the most universal act that a person can do, other than being born or dying. Everybody poops. Everybody. You can be celibate. Not everybody has sex, but everybody poops. Then we started wondering why this was a difficult thing for people to talk about, ourselves included. What is the thing that makes it difficult? So then it suddenly became a documentary about how people deal with a difficult subject, and that’s fascinating and interesting to us. We decided to collect our funniest friends who were willing to do it, mostly comedians, and get their perspectives. We figured they would have great stories to tell, mixed in with really great philosophy about the act itself, because as comedians we’re kind of like modern-day anthropologists.
Jason: Unlicensed anthropologists.
Randy: Yes, unlicensed anthropologists. Anthropologists who never went to graduate school. But I think we have a unique perspective because we’re always thinking about the human condition. We wondered, “What stuff would come out of that?” And we found that some really interesting stuff came out of it. [laughs] Is that too much of a pun? No pun intended.
Jason: When we pushed for it.
Randy: When we pushed hard enough.
When I first heard about Poop Talk, many of the press materials billed it as a comedy documentary like The Aristocrats. I thought of it as a lost episode of CNN’s The History of Comedy series. In other words, interviews with comedians doing bits concerning a particular subject. After watching it, I felt this both was and wasn’t the case. The comedians and non-comics interviewed don’t really do bits. They actually talk about poop.
Jason: I think it took a little pressure off of the interviews when we told them, “Look, we’re just going to have a discussion. If you have a funny story and you want to go off on that, we’ll let you go there. But we’re also going to get to your attitude about poop and why you think people behave a certain way. We’d love to hear your take on it.” And because Randy and I were running the interviews — we actually interviewed almost everybody — we were able to pretty quickly understand what sort of tone each person was going to take.
For instance, Rob Corddry, who’s one of the funniest people we know, was very open about doing it. He honestly wanted to share personal stories from his past, and his attitudes about using his own toilet. His own pooping practices. He became very real and honest and we thought that was as fascinating as if he was doing a bit about it. What we learned from making the whole film was there will be plenty of funny moments, but if we can make this thing compelling, and if we can make it socially relevant, then this may become a much deeper film that can connect to more people. Not just comedy fans.
Corddry’s story about pooping with the priest was great. And you’re right — it was very personal and it seems odd, but it was undeniably intriguing.
Jason: It sounded so odd. I was like, “This could take a turn towards something horrible and it could reveal some kind of traumatic experience. Is this turning into Spotlight 2?” And yet, it actually became this incredibly philosophical discussion of pooping. Which makes complete sense because never are you more thoughtful about your life and other things than when you’re pooping. It gives you time to think.
It also made me giggle because Corddry once interrupted a phone interview to politely tell me that he was about to flush the toilet.
Randy: He’s so open about those things. He was the perfect person to have and he was refreshingly open about it all. So was everybody else. I mean, every story that we heard from friends we never really broached this subject with — they were all great. Like Bobby Lee’s story about going back to Korea and pooping in the hole in the backyard where his grandparents pooped. He realized there were generations of poop down there, and that he was pooping on top of it all. To me, that told a family story. It connected Bobby to his past.
Jason: In that moment we also got to understand Bobby’s family heritage, as well as the fact he visits his family often in Korea. We began to understand where he came from, as well as wonder why we had never asked him about his family before. I’ve known Bobby for 10 years. He’s a really good friend of ours.
Randy: I’d say almost 20 years.
Jason: Every time we see him at the Comedy Store, I give him a big hug. We always joke around with him and talk to him. But I’ve never asked him about his family, and suddenly there we were talking about it, all thanks to poop. We were talking about the way he feels about his grandparents in Korea because of poop.
Including Lee’s interview, there were quite a few bits about non-Western toiletry practices. Maybe this was the intention, maybe not, but it felt like the film was championing other methods of pooping.
Randy: We certainly feel that way. I mean, why has the bidet been so suppressed in this country? For people who have access to one and use it, they more often than not proclaim it to be the greatest thing in the world. I don’t remember who said it, but somebody said, “If you had poop on your arm, would you just take a dry towel and wipe it off? No! You’d go wash it off.”
Jason: You’d wash it off.
Randy: I had never heard it put that way before, and I think it’s fascinating. If every hotel had a bidet in it, I think that would start a big change. I think people would start thinking about it differently, then.
And then there’s Eric Stonestreet, who was very upfront with you guys — at least on camera — about how much he did not like the subject. How did you convince him to talk about it anyway?
Randy: That was so great. The second we felt his discomfort, we pushed him a little bit more to talk about the fact that he was uncomfortable. And when he started listing all the places he had never pooped before, the ensuing discussion was amazing. I loved it so much because it was usually a sports arena. He just started listing all these places and we thought it was so funny.
Jason: I literally had to bite my tongue and not laugh out loud when he said, “I’ve never pooped at Qualcomm.” That phrase, to me, is the funniest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.
Randy: We could’ve named the movie that, I’ve never pooped at Qualcomm. And as guys who… Jason and I we aren’t public, neither of us love to be out in public and do it. We related to him. I’m like, “I get why this is uncomfortable for you. You’re awesome for just coming here and telling me.” And it’s so funny, in that moment I was like, “Oh yeah, on the show he does a lot of confessional stuff on the show.” And it’s like, “Of course Eric Stonestreet knows how to make as soundbite perfect in every way because this is what he does on Modern Family. He’s hilarious in the confessionals. This is perfect.”
Was there ever a moment during an interview when the interviewee had to take a break to use the restroom?
Randy: No, but that would’ve been the greatest. Oh my God. [laughs] What if they left the mic on? If that had happened, I would have asked them to leave their mic on. We would’ve gone in with them. Trust me.
[Laughs] That’d be your The Jinx moment.
Randy: [Laughs.] Or we could have conducted the interview with the closed door. That would’ve been hilarious. “You are going to finish this interview while you’re on the toilet.” That’s what we would’ve done.
Everyone came prepared, I guess.
Jason: Everyone either cleansed themselves right before they got there or held it in.
Randy: They probably held it.
Writing and producing content like Poop Talk isn’t necessarily anything new for you guys, between your comedy specials and the United Stats of America show. Even so, is documentary content like this something you want to do more of in the future?
Jason: I will say this, we certainly had an amazing experience. It was an incredibly positive experience making this film and seeing it come together. The fact that it’s getting distributed at all is great, too. This isn’t a big budget film. It’s a tiny, tiny budget film. We called in as many favors as we could, and now we’re going to be in 10 cities come opening day. It’s kind of an amazing accomplishment, and it was so encouraging and positive that we would absolutely do another one if an opportunity we liked came about. Our goal, our hope, is that this reaches a lot of people. We want even more people than we can imagine to go out and see this film and connect with it. Who knows? Maybe it will move the needle of this discussion, or change the way we view it. If that happens and we have an opportunity to do another film like it, we would absolutely take it.
Randy: I think we are very thoughtful about the way we approach everything we do — be it our stand-up, our podcasts, or writing for TV. United Stats of America is a great example of taking some fact that most people know and blowing it up. Figuring out why it is the way it is. That’s how approached the subjects we covered on that show, and it’s the same way we tackled Poop Talk. As comedians, we’re constantly asking the “why” question. “Why is this? Why did I just do that? Why do we all do that?” This is consistent with everything else we’ve done, so it doesn’t feel like a major departure.
What bodily function will you tackle next?
Randy: Let’s just hit masturbation. [Laughs.] Just kidding.
Randy, there’s a moment at the end of the film when you’re talking to your daughter on the phone. You bookend the film with it, actually.
Randy: That was a real moment. She just wanted to know if I was done filming and I thought it was amazing. We’re actually very open about pooping in my family. They don’t care. They’ll just go on a plane and not flush. I’m like, “Who are you? You guys are just unbelievable.”
Jason: I was like, “In some countries that’s an act of aggression, to leave a poop in a toilet.”
Randy: I don’t know the details of how World War I started, but I think someone left a poop in Archduke Ferdinand’s toilet and that put the wheels in motion. That’s how the great war started. That’s like what an assassin does in a Tarantino film. “Wait a minute, someone’s been in here.”
Jason: I have a nine-year-old son and a four-year-old daughter. My daughter’s learning how to poop on the toilet right now. She’s potty trained but she prefers to put on a diaper and poop in it, which I think is hilarious — though I still have to clean it up, so I don’t love it that much. But I am doing my best to not attach any shame to her process. My son, neither. I can hang out near the bathroom while he’s going and just have a conversation with him. Our goal is to normalize it as much as possible so that people feel more comfortable with it. It’s just a bodily function that we all do, and we can normalize it by starting with our kids.
Definitely, but back to your daughter’s phone call, Randy: At the end of the film she asks, “Are you done with your poop talk?” Is that where the title came from?
Randy: It is. There was a moment when we considered the title Fecal Matters. I just thought it was great, killer title for it. But then, at the same time, we weren’t entirely sure. We worried we were being to smart for our own good. Though “fecal matters” would be a great logline.
Jason: No pun intended.
Randy: How about “talking shit?” Or “shit talk?” Not to mention all the things you could do with emojis. Anyways, I just think we realized that this is a grassroots movie, and we wanted as many people as possible to see it. So we decided that if we called it Poop Talk and the title itself came from that one moment, maybe that would somehow connect with more people. Because the truth of the matter is adolescent and teenage boys and girls would totally love this movie. Adults too, but definitely their kids. We didn’t want to cut anybody off.
Speaking of people enjoying Poop Talk, I was telling a friend about it and mentioned your story about hearing the wrestler King Kong Bundy in the airport bathroom. He’s a huge wrestling fan and he wanted me to ask you guys if you had the chance to experience it again, but with another wrestler, who would it be and why?
Randy: Who would it be? The Undertaker, I hope.
Jason: I was going to say Big John Studd.
Randy: Jason says Big John Studd and I say Undertaker. Either way, you want it to be a big guy.
Jason: Hearing Undertaker take a dump? You can’t come back from that.
Randy: That’s the mark of death. The literal skid mark of death. [Laughs.] Oh my God, that was a highlight of our lives. Certainly since we were such wrestling fans at that age. This is perfect.
Randy: First of all, I’m glad you’re laughing about this because it brings such joy to you. And number two…
Jason: [Laughs.] Number two.
Randy: [Laughs.] Number two, I’m glad you’re laughing because we think it might be the key to success for this movie. We made it for very little money, and we had no designs that it would go to theaters, be available on demand, or that Comedy Dynamics would even pick it up. We had no clue. We just wanted to make the funniest, best, and most truthful thing about poop that we could. And we did. We’re very happy with it. This is one of those projects that people will see and want to talk about after. We truly believe that this may be, of all the projects that we’ve done, the most universal thing. Or maybe not. It’s not a summer blockbuster. It’s showing right after Valentine’s Day. So who knows? Maybe, hopefully, it will catch fire.
Sometimes poop catches fire.
Jason: Leave it on someone’s doorstep.
Randy: It depends if you’ve eaten at Chipotle.
I come from a family of all boys. Poop jokes are our thing.
Randy: That makes me so happy. You clearly get it. You understand what we were trying to do.
Well I don’t want to keep you two too much longer, but I did want to ask about your stand-up. If I’m not mistaken, the last special you put out was back in 2014. Do you have another one in the works, or was touring on the back burner while filming Poop Talk?
Jason: We shot a stand-up special with the folks at Audible last February in Chicago at Lincoln Hall. It was so much fun. It’s an hour-long special and we sold it to Seeso. Of course, as I’m sure you already know, Seeso is not longer with us.
Randy: It was supposed to premiere in September on Seeso. They had a whole marketing plan and everything, but then they decided not to do it once they folded. So all of the released and unreleased content they had is up for grabs. I know that some people are looking into it. I don’t exactly know who, but we know that Audible is part of Amazon, so there’s always a chance it might end up there. Either way, we have it in the can and we love it. We’re super proud of it.
Jason: Basically someone has made a bid for some of Seeso’s leftovers and they’re deciding whether the deal is good. If they say “yes,” then the special will wind up being on whatever platform they’re buying for. We don’t know what that is. As soon as it happens in the next couple weeks, hopefully, then we’ll know.
Randy: The best possible case scenario is that Poop Talk comes out, does well, and then our stand-up special comes out on the heels of its success. If the deal doesn’t go through, then it will probably go to Amazon Prime, which would be awesome too. Now we have a half-hour of new stand-up material, so we’re already halfway done with our next hour. Hopefully we’ll be able to film it and get it out there in the next year.
Jason: Pick up another half an hour, we could be looking to film another special at the end of 2018, beginning of 2019.
Poop Talk got a limited release in select theaters and on VOD last Friday.