Pot Jokes Are Really Important to the Lucas Bros
We chat with the twin brothers about their new stand-up special 'On Drugs' and how they're trying to shift the narrative about weed.
By now, even comedy fans who don't immediately recognize the names of Keith and Kenny Lucas should know their faces. The 31-year-old twin brothers have been doing stand-up since they quit law school a decade ago and since then have appeared separately and together on sketch shows, sitcoms, podcasts, and movies—everything from The Grinder to 22 Jump Street to their own animated series Lucas Bros. Moving Co. In every format, they maintain an immediately identifiable look, wearing baseball caps, thick glasses, neatly trimmed beards, and college-dropout casual-wear.
Now the Lucas brothers are bringing their relaxed style to their first stand-up special, The Lucas Brothers on Drugs, debuting today on Netflix. Keith and Kenny spoke to me by phone (always making sure to identify who was talking) about why they dress the way they do, how they developed their unique call-and-response comedy patter, and why they tell so many jokes about weed.
VICE: This special was originally called "The Nixon Special," which would've been an apt name, given that you talk about Richard Nixon's drug policies and have big pictures of him in the background throughout. Why change it to "On Drugs?"
Kenny Lucas: I was trying to think of a title that would reflect our interests and philosophy. My favorite philosopher is John Stuart Mill, and his most pivotal work I think is "On Liberty." So… "On Drugs." And we do talk a lot about drugs as a general topic. Not just our affinity for it, but also the war on drugs and how that impacted our lives.
Keith Lucas: "On Drugs" opened up the theme for us and made it more efficient to connect up our jokes.
Kenny: We're so intimately connected to the drug culture from a variety of aspects. We went to law school, we do drugs, we grew up during the crack epidemic, our father went to prison for drugs. I think subconsciously all our jokes come from that place.
In the 90s, when you grew up, did you get that sense that comedians and TV shows and movies and music were open again to bringing up drugs in a positive way?
Keith: Yeah, when I think about it in retrospect, a lot of the things that we consumed reference drugs. Particularly hip-hop. Mainly hip-hop.
Kenny: That was it. [Laughs.] Not television.
Keith: Some television shows referenced it. Or at least implied it.
Why does it matter, do you think, to talk about drugs in comedy and music and popular culture?
Kenny: I can't speak for other drugs, but for marijuana, I believe that it's harmless, and I believe that it should have the same cultural credibility as alcohol or tobacco. I think the more it's mentioned in a popular sense, it de-stigmatizes it, right? You're not going to perceive it as this dangerous narcotic that's associated with crime. You're going to think it's this happy friendly drug that people do when they just want to chill. I think we're just trying to shift the narrative.
Keith: Also, it's just honest… As a comedian, I think it's important to tell a story that you believe in. And part of the story that we want to tell is about our love for marijuana.
Were you guys doing comedy when you were in law school?
Kenny: In my third year, I started to do a few open mics, so I would say "yes," but…
Keith: It wasn't comedy.
Kenny: I wasn't killing it, no. But I was standing on stage, talking into a mic.
You weren't a team back then?
Kenny: No. We were doing it as individuals, and we quickly realized that this would end…
Kenny: We figured we had to come together and lessen the damage.
Have you consulted with Jason and Randy Sklar or any other twins in show business?
Kenny: We talk to the Sklars. They're great. They give us some practical advice. We should do a better job of following it.
Keith: Yeah, the Sklars are fuckin' awesome. They're just good dudes. They seem so well-adjusted. I mean, obviously no comedian is well-adjusted, but to do what they've done... They're pioneers.
Kenny: Pioneers in the twin game, man.
Keith: They're like our Jackie Robinson.
One thing the Sklars do is to distinguish themselves on-stage in simple ways, like glasses vs. no glasses, or beard vs. no beard, but you guys maintain a similar look and carry it over into everything you appear in. How important is it you as comedians to be immediately recognizable just from what you're wearing?
Keith: So much of art is symbolic, right? I think that's cool. We remember Charlie Chaplin as the "Tramp," even though he played other characters, because that one's so iconic. It stands out. You see it and think, "That's Charlie Chaplin," even though it wasn't; it was just a character. I didn't live through the 40s or 50s, but I do kinda miss that campy nature of comedy. It's just fun. Or at least it seems fun, looking back.
Kenny: Chaplin had a great, like, 30 years.
Keith: We wanted to make the characters ubiquitous, like Pee Wee Herman. You can put Pee Wee Herman in anything.
Kenny: It also conforms with our theory of comedy, in the sense that I do believe it's formless, right? There is no one right way. You can do it however you want. But if you're trying to get out one singular POV, it helps if you can maintain it through all these different forms.
Keith: These are all just theories.
Does that explain the parts in your set where you take one joke premise and do multiple variations on it? Is that playing with form?
Keith: We just love the process of joke construction. We wanted to showcase that in the special, by deconstructing how we come up with the joke. It may not be the funniest joke, but just to see the process play out in real time, I think that's fascinating, because it deals with ideas in the moment.
Kenny: Yeah, and again, back to the open, formless theory of comedy, it's like the process is what's most engaging about it. I think it's kind of cool to see two comedians talk out how they've arrived at a similar point.
How do you decide how to divide up the punchlines?
Keith: It's whoever it lands on. We're both prepared to do it.
There's one moment in the special where a line seems actually improvised, and that one of you genuinely didn't know what the other one was going to say.
Keith: Yeah, when we laugh, it's because one of us didn't know where the other one was going with the premise. I generally know where the punchlines are going, but the premise I don't always know, so if he says something I find funny, I just play it out laughing.
Kenny: And we also make late-game adjustments, so like, we'll have our set all organized, but we may decide to tag it with a different joke. We shot this special twice, and the first time we had an entirely different organization, and it didn't go very well, so we reorganized it. It's a very organic process.
Like a lot of comedians today, you guys jump around from stand-up to your own TV show to appearing in your friends' sketches. How would you describe today's comedy economy? Is it as healthy as it looks from the outside?
Kenny: Absolutely. There are so many outlets. And it wasn't like that before. Especially now, with Trump in office, people want to laugh.
Keith: I firmly believe that there can never be too much comedy. We've been telling jokes for as long as we've had the ability to think about things, and as long as we can keep doing that, it's good. The more comedy, the better.
Whenever people talk about their TV viewing habits, they might say that they're three episodes behind on The Americans or four episodes behind on Homeland, but no one's ever behind on Brooklyn Nine-Nine or Broad City .
Kenny: Nope. People are still watching every episode of Rick & Morty. Repeatedly. That's the great thing about comedy. It's easy to digest, but you can still get some good philosophical points in there.
Keith: I was reading this article about the connection between comedy and therapy, and there are actual therapeutic results from watching comedy.
Kenny: There's a huge health benefit to laughing. It's great for the body, and it gets your mind off of the calamities of the world. I feel like 2016 was so exhausting. Now everyone's like, "Just give me comedy." You see all these specials coming out, and great TV shows, and great comedic movies. It's definitely a renaissance.
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