We forget, now that you can order weed off your phone and our dads smoke to treat their glaucoma and our moms voted for legalization, that stoner comedy used to be a countercultural endeavor. I’m not saying Cheech and Chong were their generation’s premiere political satirists, but their self-titled debut album did come out in 1971, the same year Nixon declared the War on Drugs.
Nixon is front and center in On Drugs, the debut Netflix special from twin comedians Kenny and Keith Lucas (best known for their low-key animated series Lucas Bros. Moving Co. and their low-key cameo in 22 Jump Street). The special begins with title cards reminding us that Nixon started the War on Drugs (an initiative that has locked away generations of black men, including the twins’ father), the set is adorned with cut-outs of Nixon, and the Bros. like to start their set the way they start every set: “fuck Richard Nixon.”
But that’s not the only way stoner comedy is given a political boost by the Bros., to excellent effect. The political pins on the twins’ green army jackets reference their support of both feminism and John Kerry, and one bit asks how slaves complained about their jobs (saying “they have us working like slaves” would be redundant). They even slip in “law is the tool of oppression that destroys black lives” as a parenthetical to a trilogy of jokes about O.J. Simpson. Even as the O.J. jokes get sillier and sillier, the Bros. still toss in photographic evidence that compares Nixon to Trump.
It’s all done both incredibly casually and with discernible commitment. If sometimes it seems hard to tell whether the Bros. are making it look effortless or simply not trying, we never really get the sense that they themselves are too cool for this. As far as comedy duos go, they seem to have taken a few cues from another set of twin comedians that eschewed a straight-man/funny-man dynamic, and not just because both the Lucas and Sklar Bros. reportedly attended law school. Kenny and Keith will occasionally check in with each other on a given topic, agreeing to “smoke on it.” Their hive minded brotherhood is routinely delightful, whether they’re pausing a joke to wipe sweat off each other’s noses, or tag teaming a letter to republicans on gun control.
They even employ what reads as an open writing process, occasionally adding playful tags to a joke in the name of “updating the punchline” (including a superlative bit in which they repeat the setup and the punchline and somehow make it funnier the second time).
More significantly; the graphs, the masked Nixon cameo, the animated coda, and the giddy riffs on old comic tropes like the imagined phone conversation also announce a different kind of progressivity. The Lucas Bros. seem unwilling to do things by the book, and thoroughly distinguish themselves from other cookie-cutter Netflix specials in the process.
Graham Techler is a New York-based writer and actor. Follow him at @grahamtechler.