Thank God the Lucas Bros. (a.k.a. Keith and Kenny Lucas) didn’t follow through with law school. If they did, we probably wouldn’t have played witness to the pop-culture treasure trove that is the animated show Lucas Bros. Moving Co. or their cannabis-fueled antics in 22 Jump Street. And we probably wouldn’t — actually, never mind, they probably would still have the wherewithal to come up with a satiric show about community organizers in Brooklyn. But before that rolls out, the twins are joining forces with fellow comedians-in-arms Jermaine Fowler, Kevin Barnett, Jennifer Bartels, Lil Rel Howery, and Josh Rabinowitz (pictured above) to unspool a sketch-comedy series on truTV. Titled Friends of the People, the show debuts tonight with jokes tied to Morgan Freeman, Steve Harvey, and murderous geriatrics. Vulture caught up with the Lucas Bros., both of whom are writers and exec producers on the show, to talk about some of the bits and their beards. Also below, for your viewing pleasure, is an exclusive sample clip of the show.
Where does an idea for a show like Friends of the People come from?
Keith: In 2012, we, along with Jermaine Fowler, were selected for the Montreal Comedy Festival. We rode up with Jermaine, and we started brainstorming ideas of what to do next. We all agreed that we should do a sketch show. Then we met up with Rel and Kevin, so we all just started hanging out. Avi [Gilbert], our manager, put us all together on a phone call and said, “If you guys wanna do a sketch show, just come up with an idea, and I’ll try to sell it.”
Kenny: Then we came up with the name, and basically the premise of the show. First, we pitched it to Comedy Central, and they passed and we thought it was dead in the water. Our initial pilot was pretty shitty, because it was our first time doing it. It wasn’t a good representation of what we could truly do. We had one through line for all the sketches, so it was a little bit more in a narrative form; whereas with the Friends of the People, it’s independent sketches. It was more like Portlandia, but we couldn’t pull it off; it just wasn’t good. The Friends of the People one was totally different. We abandoned any type of narrative structure, and just tried to fit all our comedic voices into one pilot. So now you’re getting more diverse voices as opposed to —
Keith: — trying to force it into this one story, which just doesn’t come out very well.
After doing the animated show and some stand-up over the years, what made you want to pursue the sketch format?
Keith: It has a lot to do with experimenting with different forms of comedy, and generally, just trying to push ourselves. I think that was our motivation, and then when we talked to Jermaine, he had a similar motivation. He said he wanted to try something that was completely distinct from stand-up. We were all big fans of Murderfist, and we loved what they did live, and we were just riffing ideas like, Oh, maybe we could do stuff like that.
Kenny: Yeah, and it is just about challenging yourself, and seeing if you can take your voice and do it in another format. It was also a chance to work with some of the best up-and-coming comics.
Keith: That’s the key, the different voices. For the most part, anything we’ve worked on, we’ve had complete control over what we’ve wanted said on the project, but with Friends of the People, it’s almost like a democracy.
Kenny: It’s going to be a lot of different sensibilities, so it won’t be a complete reflection of our voices, but it’s good because our voice is still kind of sprinkled in there.
As twins and collaborators, how would you say your comedic sensibilities are similar and different?
Kenny: Keith tends to be a little bit more left-of-center; he pushes the absurd stuff a lot farther than I do. I dabble in it, but he can think about things that I would never even come up with and I don’t know how he does. On a similar note, I think I’m a bit more structured, and he’s a bit more chaotic.
There are a handful of recurring sketches in the show. Did you guys ever feel pressured in the writers’ room to meet quotas with, say, X ideas for Tracy Morgan Freeman, and make everything fit?
Keith: What’s crazy is there are so many sketches per episode that it almost felt like we never had a situation where we had too many ideas. It felt more like we need more ideas. So when we did the runners, it was almost like, Oh, they fit perfectly.
Kenny: Some of the runners were developed because they just fit nicely in the episode and we like having runners that just come out of nowhere. But the others, like “Untold Hollywood History,” just felt like segments that could occur over and over.
In past projects, especially the animated series, pop-culture references have been a big part of your game. Can viewers expect to see that penchant cross over here?
Kenny: We certainly encouraged it. It’s funny to do, and there’s so much material there. But there are also older comics on our team who probably don’t understand our references. Jen’s married, so she’s always like, What is this wrestling stuff? I don’t get it. So she brings another level of sophistication to our crew. But we all grew up in the ‘90s, a lot of us, so we pull from that pool a lot.
What about pot culture? There are a lot of marijuana references in the animated show — does that type of humor ever make its way to Friends of the People?
Keith: Shit, do we have pot?
Kenny: No, I think we had to filter that out because some people were probably a little uncomfortable with it. Some of our sketches are stoner-y, but I don’t think there are any direct references to pot from us.
Keith: That’s crazy. I didn’t even think about that.
Did that bum you guys out? Or was that also part of trying to challenge yourself to explore new territory?
Kenny: That’s exactly what it was. I know subconsciously — I’ve been telling myself — that I don’t necessarily want to move away from the pot stuff, but I also know that it can be limiting, especially in TV. And I didn’t want to jeopardize our standing with the network and throw our friends under the bus just to push pot references. It’s not always that funny, either, you know?
Keith: Yeah, so I think some of our sketches are going to feel stoner-y, but I don’t think there will ever be any direct references.
What’s the latest on the animated show?
Kenny: We’re doing two more seasons. Currently working on 18 episodes.
And you guys also have a live-action series coming out. Is that going to be a live-action series related to the moving company?
Kenny: It’s a different world. It’s for FOX — we can talk about this, right?
Kenny: We’re community organizers in Bushwick. We’re still in the development stages. We just got the studio onboard.
Keith: We’re writing the script as we speak.
Kenny: We’re finishing up the pilot. I was always kind of fascinated by it, and we’re working with a co-writer and he thought it would be a good world for us to play in.
Keith: If you’re familiar with Christian Lander — he wrote the book Stuff White People Like — we’ve been working with him in developing the idea, and he’s helped guide us along the way.
Kenny: Yeah, and we went to law school for a bit. I was studying criminal law and all that stuff, and I wanted to do a public service job, but I didn’t want it to be too overtly connected to politics. So I thought that community organizer sort of fit that mold, because you’re not tied to any political affiliation — you can be anything. Plus it has that procedural aspect, too.
Keith: Yeah, it’s almost dressed up like it could be a procedural cop show, but it’s dealing with low-level stuff in a community — and again, it’s Bushwick, so we get to explore a little bit of that area, which I think is pretty awesome.
I didn’t know you guys went to law school.
Keith: We almost finished it. I went to Duke, and Kenny went to NYU. It was soul-crushing.
Kenny: Yeah, law’s not for everybody
Were you guys getting into comedy writing during that time?
Kenny: Nah, we were focused on passing law school.
Keith: Toward the tail end of our law school careers, we started getting into comedy. Like Kenny started comedy, the beginning of your third year, yeah?
Kenny: Yeah, I started doing stand-up around that time. But I wasn’t really writing hardcore. Because if you’re writing for philosophy or law for six years, it’s really hard to then transition into creative writing because you’re so robotic when you do it that way. … I had no interest in going to law school until maybe the end of my senior year when I realized I didn’t want to get a Ph.D. in philosophy, because I figured I needed to make money. Poor decision-making there.
In the pilot, there were a lot of man-on-the-street bits. What’s been the toughest part of nailing those to make sure they’re funny?
Keith: After the movie came out, people knew who we were, so it was hard. Because the biggest element of these man-on-the-street bits is the element of surprise, and it’s the people being unaware of who you are. But when they figured out who we were, it made it very difficult to get something done. So we’d go out there and we’d get crowded by like 30 or 40 people asking for pictures, and it would completely disrupt the process. So that was a huge challenge after the movie, but before the movie, I would say the biggest challenges were trying to draw comedy out of people who are not comics. That’s always a challenge in these man-on-the-street bits, but I think where we succeed is we’re just having fun with it. We’re not taking it very serious; we’re not pretentious. If the marks don’t do something funny, then we’ll find something funny in it.
Would we ever see a real-life reenactment of your “Before & After Models” episode?
Kenny: I don’t think so, man. Unless they offer us a significant amount of money, but anything short of that, then no.
When was the last time you guys were clean-shaven?
Kenny: Shit, I think right when we came back to New York, which would have been about four years ago.
Kenny: The reason, really, is it’s a part of our look now. And … we hate shaving. So actually, I guess that’s the biggest thing.