In Poop Talk, a new documentary featuring comedians the Sklar Brothers, Kumail Nanjiani, Nicole Byer, Adam Carolla, Rob Corddry and more – taboos against talking about the obvious subject are flushed down the toilet
Everyone poops. Taro Gomi’s classic children’s book said so, and it’s true. Poop Talk, a hilarious new documentary from director Aaron N. Feldman, builds on the premise, using comedians, doctors and other professionals to tell a story that, despite everyone pooping all the time, remains oddly taboo.
The Sklar Brothers – Jason and Randy – are among the film’s executive producers. They’re also standup comics, and identical twins, and their career has been largely shaped by their innate flow, an ability to riff upon riffs that recalls some of hip-hop’s finest squads. More on that in a minute, though, because we’re here to talk about Poop Talk, which opens in 10 cities on Friday, February 16, including the Village East Cinema on 2nd Ave. It was a film the Sklars weren’t sure would be a good fit when the idea was brought to them by Feldman, a childhood friend.
Jason: He came to us and he said, ‘I want to make this movie, this documentary about poop.’
Randy: That’s not us. It’s not our bread and butter as comedians.
Jason: So we initially said ‘no, we can’t do this.’ Basically we said we’re not the guys to do this. We actually said, ‘You’ll probably make a great movie with people who, this is kind of what they deal with.’ (And) he said, ‘Just think about it over the weekend and give me your answer on Monday.’ And we did. We actually had a very deep discussion, ‘Can we do this movie? Is this a dumb thing for us to do? If we reach out to our friends will they never talk to us again?’ These are the questions we asked ourselves.
By Monday, they were on board.
Jason: We thought, ‘here’s a topic that we can actually open up and have some honest discussion.’ It’s a taboo, but we all do it. Republicans, Democrats, we all do it. Whether you release the memo or don’t release the memo.
Randy: Everyone releases their own memo daily, hopefully. I took a hatchet job to mine this morning.
Jason: Some of that steak from last night was redacted.
Think back to The Aristocrats, the 2005 documentary about a longstanding transgressive joke which always shares roughly the same beginning and end, but travels a uniquely disturbing path depending upon who tells it. On the surface, The Aristocrats is nearly 90 minutes of comics telling variations of the same horrifically incestuous joke. But it’s also about societal conventions, and whether we can be shocked and amused simultaneously. Poop Talk mines a similar vein, with comedians mostly at least a generation removed from most of those in The Aristocrats riffing on defecation. But because the taboo is one we all engage in, it has a considerably broader appeal.
Jason: If you’re going to watch this film, you will relate to someone in this film. Whoever it may be. Maybe you’re from another country, and your family has another pooping history like Bobby Lee going back to South Korea. Or maybe you’re from here and you’re totally open about it. Or maybe you’re like Steve Agee and you’re in a relationship with someone and they started openly doing it with you too early. Every sort of attitude is represented in the film.”
Make no mistake, there are disgusting stories in Poop Talk. Jordan Rubin and Nick Swardson recall a gruesome tale that has to be heard rather than summarized here. There’s a dog, but that’s all I’m going to tell you.
But the film is much more than that. It’s educational, albeit in a breezy, amusing way. It unravels global cultural differences. It’s also funny as shit.
Jason: Our goal is to get this out to as many people as possible. Poop Talk is actually something that Randy’s daughter said in the film. It was borne of a real moment that was on camera, so we decided to go with that. Same reason for not getting too graphic. Because that’s not the point of this movie. The point of this movie is to touch on attitudes towards this weird taboo that we don’t talk about, even though everybody does it all the time. In this moment in our history, you think about the way men and women meet each other online. Your Tinder profile or your Facebook page or your Twitter page or whatever, if you’re looking to meet someone all the photos are high-angle selfies with incredible filters that make you look great, and you try and hide every part of you that you don’t want people to see. And it’s like this game we play where we only want to show the best piece of ourselves.
Randy: Which is fine, but it takes away from reality. When you’re pooping, you are at your most disgusting, your most vulnerable, your most human. And it is the thing that connects all of us. And if you can love someone through something like that, then that is true love.
Jason: So when we were talking to someone who’d say, ‘I just showed my wife this massive poop,’ to me that’s incredibly evolved. ‘Wow, you guys must really communicate with each other.’ Or ‘you’re Chuck Berry’.
Randy’s daughter’s appearance in the film – on speaker phone – was a surprise to her until she saw the trailer.
Randy: I said, ‘It’s fine, you’re fine.’ I just kept saying that: ‘You’re fine,’ but I wasn’t answering her question. She said, ‘I know I’m fine.’ ‘You’re fine. It’s fine.’ ‘What are you saying?’ The truth of the matter is that both of my daughters are still incredibly cool with pooping and talking to me and opening the door. They’re super open about it. Now, I know that will probably change at some point, but they’re amazing. They’ll poop on a plane and not flush it. And I’ll say, ‘Wow, you are the ballsiest people I’ve ever met in my entire life.’
Jason: That could be seen as a threat in most countries.
Randy: That’s an act of aggression!Everyone has a shitty story, often immersed in the stink of shame we’ve grown up with around the subject. Comedians Pete Holmes and Aisha Tyler both cover this territory beautifully in Poop Talk, but ultimately it comes down to this: I know that you know what I’m doing when I go into the bathroom, especially if I’m gone for more than 15 seconds and don’t appear to be geeked up on cocaine when I return. We all know what happens in there, but we don’t always want to talk about it. And maybe it’s time we talk about it.
Randy: Jay and I went to summer camp, and it was our first time being away from home, and we didn’t poop for like 14 days, just consuming Jewish food, which is like the worst thing you can do to your system ever. It’s amazing we didn’t have kidney failure. But why did it force us to behave in that way?
Poop Talk has stories of triumph (Kira Soltanovich), stories of obsessive childhood curiosity (Kumail Nanjiani) and awkward public encounters (Brad Williams). Shit can make or break a relationship (Steve Agee, Jamie Lee), recall the perils of childhood (Nicole Schreiber), or visit the future (Adam Carolla). It can be done anywhere (Nicole Byer) or almost nowhere (Eric Stonestreet).
We’ve all got a poop story, and here’s mine: Years ago, I had a roommate who began dating a co-worker who lived two short blocks from us. I’d actually gone out with her first, but as it involved a screening of the Bruce Willis-Ben Affleck giant meteor vehicle, it wasn’t surprising when romance failed to bloom. My roommate saw an opportunity, and more power to him.
“When you’re pooping, you are at your most disgusting, your most vulnerable, your most human. And it is the thing that connects all of us.”
Early in their relationship, he worked her close residential proximity to his advantage by excusing himself whenever he had to take a shit – “I think I left the oven on!” or “I forgot to return Armageddon to Blockbuster!” – and he’d race home to foul up our plumbing instead. It seemed a manageable tactic until one day I heard the door to our apartment unlock and saw him stagger across the threshold; seems he’d violently twisted his ankle on the overgrown roots of a tree in his haste to get home, and then violently shat himself as he crashed to the ground. I laughed for a long, long time that day, and I’m laughing now as I remember the look of layered agony on his poor dumb face. It didn’t actually happen to me, but man do I love telling that story.
Okay, and once I was on a road trip and pooped a little in my underpants, and when I attempted to throw them out the window of my fifth-floor hotel room like any reasonable man would do, the waistband hooked on my thumb and they swung back and hit me right in the face.
First and foremost, the Sklar Brothers are good dudes. They’ve got four comedy albums and numerous standup specials, the latest of which, What Are We Talking About, is streaming on Netflix. You’ve seen them on television and in films, and if you haven’t already listened to their podcasts, they’re free and they’re very funny, and after you finished reading – and ideally sharing – this, you’ll go give them a listen.
View From the Cheap Seats – formerly known as Sklarbro Country – is mostly sports-and-comedy-themed (with lots and lots of great music leading in and out of breaks), while Dumb People Town – with co-host Daniel Van Kirk – collates news stories about incredibly dumb shit people do around the world (though if we’re being honest, most take place in Florida and involve samurai swords). Each podcast episode features special guests, and in the interests of full disclosure, there have been numerous mentions of the works of Legs McNeil, most often The Other Hollywood: The Uncensored Oral History of the Porn Industry, a book for which I did a hell of a lot of transcribing.
Here’s a clip in which the Sklar Brothers explain the premise behind Dumb People Town:
They are also music fans. During the course of our interview, Jason happily confessed to having recently been sucked in to the world of vinyl collecting, joining both his brother and me in a world best summarized by the caption of a recent New Yorker cartoon: “The two things that really drew me to vinyl were the expense and the inconvenience.”
“I just got Roxy Music’s Siren,” gushed Jason. “That album is so good. It’s blowing me away. And I would never have dug into it so much if it wasn’t for this.”
Music has always been a part of their lives. They grew up in St. Louis, went to college at the University of Michigan, then decided against law school in favor of heading to New York City to become comedians. There, their rhythm and flow caught the ear of Neil Strauss, then writing for the New York Times, who called their comedy “a tag team delivery in which one talks over the end of the other’s sentence, completing, adding to or reaffirming his comment (much like the raps of the Beastie Boys).”
Randy: Now, you’ve got to understand: The Beastie Boys are the coolest Jews to ever walk the face of the earth. They’re respected by white culture, respected by black culture, accepted by the rap community. They were into fashion, they were into music, they were into sports. And they were, in our opinion, whatever they had it seemed achievable yet at the same time completely out of this world. So we always looked up to them and to get slightly mentioned in the same sentence as them in the New York Times, that was like, wow. And we realized they had a fun banter back and forth, and if you listen to their songs they’re talking back and forth with each other in rhymes, there’s an interaction between them and then they face out. When you’d see them live, they had fun with each other and the crowd. It was revolutionary. In the same way as A Tribe Called Quest from that time period as well, there was just this chemistry. They listened to each other. (Adam) Yauch would back up and Ad-Rock would come in, and then Mike D would sort of slide in. They were all listening to each other. They were such a key influence on us.
Jason added that the now-defunct Tennessee band Glossary were able to capture a familiar vibe of hitting the road with a purpose. And the deceptively simple lyrics of the Hold Steady’s Craig Finn has also been an influence.
Jason: I look at the writing in his songs, and I’m like, man, I can’t think of any other musician, songwriter, who captures exactly what it was like to grow up when we grew up through their lyrics. One turn of a phrase, ‘Meet me right in front of the Party City…,’ (“Southtown Girls”) and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’ve done that!’ ‘If anything seems weird then just cruise…,’ ‘Yeah, I’ve done that!’ What you glean from that is specificity. That can be just as great as a song where you don’t know who they’re talking about or what they’re talking about. This you know exactly what he’s talking about and you feel it.
The Sklar Brothers are also as comfortable playing in rock clubs as they are comedy clubs. They’re based in Los Angeles, but have spent some time back in New York City lately. Last summer they dropped in on an alt-comedy night at the Knitting Factory, and on February 25th they’ll record Dumb People Town live at the Bell House in Brooklyn, perhaps the city’s most organic music-comedy venue. They’ll be joined by special guests Corinne Fisher and Khrystyna Hutchinson, NYC-based stand up comics who also host the Guys We Fucked podcast.
Jason: Now, we love comedy clubs; we actually are cycling through material for a weekend where we’re doing five shows. But there is something to be said about a packed rock club, or the Bell House. A room like that, where people are coming to that room knowing what they’re going to get. A bachelorette party is not going to show up at the Bell House to see a podcast. Unless it’s the most woke bachelorette party on the planet…How great would that be, a bachelorette party going to a live podcast taping? But that’s the side of us that comes from alternative comedy. We came up in New York at Luna Lounge when Eating It, that classic monster of all alternative shows, the one that started it all in New York, and the Lower East Side like shows at Surf Reality and shows at the Collective Unconsciousness. Those shows in bars or music venues that were created just for the audience for that show. And there’s something so indie and cool about that. And that is very much where our comedy roots are. So getting to come back and do shows like that feels really, really special.”
Poop Talk hits theaters and VOD on Friday, February 16. Exclusive engagements are happening in NYC (Village East), Los Angeles (Laemmle Monica), Chicago (Facets Cinematheque), San Francisco (Roxie), Cleveland (Tower City), Atlanta (Plaza Theatre), Detroit (Cinema Detroit), Boston (Apple Cinemas), Kansas City (Screenland Tapcade) and Minneapolis (Emagine Lakeville)