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The Lucas Brothers Search for the Meaning of Life One Stand-up Set at a Time

The Lucas Brothers. Photo: Vulture and Getty Images

Twin brothers Keith and Kenny Lucas were philosophy grads on their way to becoming lawyers when they discovered rapid-fire twin act the Sklar Brothers (whom they affectionately refer to as the “Jackie Robinson” of twin stand-up comedy). After a life of listening to comics like Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, and Dave Chappelle, they’d found their muses. Since then, the Lucas Bros. have honed a deceptively laid-back flow that is informed by everything from the Power Rangers to Wittgenstein; they’ve also shown up in TV and movies, including 22 Jump Street, and created and starred in the excellent animated series Lucas Bros. Moving Co.

As they prepare a follow-up to their 2017 special, On Drugs, Keith and Kenny have challenged themselves to delve further into philosophy and find ways to make existential issues funny. In this week’s episode of Good One, Vulture Comedy’s podcast about jokes and the people who tell them, the Lucas Bros. talk about where the book learning of Bertrand Russell and street smarts of Nas overlap in a joke where they attribute a quote from the former to the latter. Listen to the episode and read a short excerpt of the discussion below. Tune in to Good One every Monday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

The joke revolves around philosopher Bertrand Russell and the Nas line, “Life’s a bitch and then you die / That’s why we get high / ‘Cause you never know when you’re gonna go.” What makes this line so important to you? How does it help frame the rest of the hour?
Keith: That’s our thesis.

Kenny: We try to examine the initial claim. Well, is life a bitch? And what does that mean? We say life is a bitch because we grew up poor; we had an abusive stepfather; we got bullied; we just lost our friend …

Keith: We had PTSD. We had a drug addiction.

Kenny: We drink a lot. On the surface it seems like life is a bitch, and we try to unpack it. Some may disagree — you know, I’m sure Will Smith doesn’t think his life is a bitch.

Keith: If life is a bitch, then the conclusion is death, right? It’s either you kill yourself or you decide to get high. We’re trying to understand the logic of that statement.

Part of this joke goes, “This is a great book; it got me through the divorce.” “That’s right, it really did. He was married to the streets.” You joke about “the streets” a lot in your work. What is it about the streets?
Keith: If you’ve ever been to Newark, New Jersey, then you understand the concept of the streets.

Kenny: It’s two societies, man. You have regular society and you have the streets.

Keith: And it’s perfectly encapsulated in Newark. You have, like, decent, upstanding …

Kenny: Middle-class.

Keith: And then you have just this violence and chaos. We still got people out there, man. My little brother just got arrested. We’re gonna always have a connection there ‘cause our family’s there.

Kenny: You’re constantly questioning whether or not your comedy adheres to the rules of the streets. Do they watch Jimmy Fallon on the streets? I don’t know if they do.

Keith: Some people would argue that, coming where we come from, that’s not the authentic version. And I would respectfully disagree. I mean, I think anybody with black skin is living an authentic black life because you don’t really have a choice.

You’ve talked about how you essentially go to couple’s therapy together. How has that changed your comedy?
Keith: We used to think that we didn’t have any secrets between us, but once we went to therapy, we realized, Oh shit.

Kenny: He knows my favorite porn category now.

Keith: It’s made us more open and transparent. Therapists have a way of asking the right questions to get you to talk about shit that you normally wouldn’t talk about in front of people.

Kenny: Like, I cried in front of Keith. Now I’ll tell him if I think a joke sucks and he’ll tell me if he thinks it’s funny. And rather than getting into vicious fights or not talking to one another for two days, we were like, “Okay, let’s go talk to our therapist and see why we have these disagreements.”

Keith: We’ve figured out a better way to communicate. That’s important for any team, but I never learned how to do it with Kenny. I saw him as an extension of me. So, if I was mad at myself, I would just be mad at him. In therapy, she encouraged us to look at each other as individuals. Seeing, Oh, he’s gonna have days off. He’s gonna have moments when he’s not feeling it. I have to recognize that and accept it and just give him his space to be a human. It’s made our comedy a lot stronger.

Why do you feel like you’re qualified to do material around these often very philosophical issues?
Keith: We’re certainly not qualified to talk about philosophy at the highest level, but it’s something that we can joke about in a hour set.

Kenny: It works for one to two punch lines! By that point you’re like, All right, we’re losing ’em.

Keith: I don’t think I could write a thesis paper on this shit, but I love having the outlet to talk about philosophy in such a weird, funny way.

Kenny: We had aspirations of getting a Ph.D., and going to Princeton, and becoming doctors, and teaching. I would’ve regretted that decision because in stand-up you get to travel across the globe and spew whatever nonsense that’s in your head. It feels refreshing to be able to mention Bertrand Russell in my set, or Hume, or Aristotle, and people are like —

Keith: “Why these niggas talking bout?”

Kenny: “These guys are weird, man.”

Keith: It’s like, great. It just gives us a little bit more material, and we have a lot of philosophers to cover. You could do a whole hour on John Locke.

Kenny: I think Socrates was the first nigga. He abandoned his kids, drank wine, sat around with his homies, and talked about nonsense that was proven to be wrong. He was tried unjustly and executed. That’s some nigga shit. And he’s the father of Western philosophy.

The comic Kevin Barnett died suddenly in January. You were friends and co-workers, and surely his passing hit you harder than most. What is your favorite of his jokes?
Kenny: I love the Black Wolverine. I mean, that’s probably one of his signature bits, but it’s just quintessential Kevin, man. Like, you get the anxiety, you get the cleverness, you get the setup, you get the detail, and the subtle commentary on race relations.

Keith: But then it’s how he tells the story, right? No one tells a Kevin Barnett joke because he doesn’t just tell jokes, he tells stories. How he told it onstage was how he told it offstage. And you can’t tell it like he tells it because he added the pain. And yeah, it was just an honor and privilege to be able to hear him tell his infinitely brilliant stories.

Kenny: It’s going to be one of the things that I miss the most. In regards to the opening joke, it’s more relevant as a result of Kevin’s death. Now, the words feel like they matter. Before we would say, “Life’s a bitch and then you die. That’s why we get high, because you never know when you’re gonna go”; we said it sort of flippantly. But with Kevin’s death it’s like, Oh, no, that shit’s true. And that struggle with life or death would make anyone want to turn to some sort of narcotics or alcohol. We really want to say, “You don’t have to do those things regardless of the existential gravity. You can get high off life.” I’m sorry I said it, but, yeah, you can.

The Lucas Brothers Want to Ease Your Existential Woes