At first glance, Kenny and Keith Lucas, aka the Lucas Bros, seem quintessentially chill. In fact, if “chill factor” existed on a scale, there’s little doubt which end they would occupy. Their laidback demeanor, wry delivery and sedate expressions all work together to suggest two guys who simply can’t be bothered. But in actuality being that chill takes a lot of work. “You gotta smoke a lot of weed,” Kenny laughs. “You gotta see a therapist. It’s the combination of the two.” And, it turns out, read a great deal of philosophy. Kenny’s favorite philosopher happens to be John Stuart Mill, while Keith reveals a preference for Bertrand Russell. “We’re currently reading A History of Western Philosophy, and he examines things in such a dialectical way,” says Keith. Reading Russell’s tome might sound like a heavy (and heady) task for two comedians who crack wise about Space Jam and Bret “The Hitman” Hart in between their more meditative moments about the criminal justice system, but the philosophy they studied in college has stuck with them.
The title of their new Netflix special, Lucas Bros: On Drugs, declares the very factor that goes into their easygoing dispositions, but it’s a clever play on intent. Lucas Bros: On Drugs ruminates on that very topic and on the particular war the U.S. has waged against it since Richard Nixon’s presidency. From his declaration followed innumerable adverse effects that impacted minority communities and helped create the prison industrial complex we have today. The brothers touch on this fact, but from their philosophically-inclined stance consider other perspectives as well. Would we have gotten the Notorious B.I.G. without the challenges the war on drugs presented? “You can focus on the negatives of the war on drugs—and there have been plenty—but you can also look at it from another perspective,” Keith says. “There’s always a different side to a particular issue, and I think we wanted to present different sides just to show that you can make arguments on any level.”
In examining both sides to an argument, the two harken back to their days in law school. They attended before dropping out to pursue comedy, but they didn’t toss aside their interest in logic and reasoning when switching career paths. “Jokes are just a disruption of logic,” Keith says. Kenny takes their explanation one step further. “A joke is basically syllogistic,” he states, referencing the form of reasoning that goes: All dogs are animals, all animals have four legs, therefore all dogs have four legs. “Its premise and then the punchline would be conclusion. It’s the same shit.”
How a philosopher writes a point also matters. “I read John Locke and I’m like, ‘Come on dude.’ It’s like 70-80 words per sentence,” Kenny bemoans. “But with Bertrand Russell it’s totally different.” Without missing a beat, Keith adds to his brother’s explanation. “His language is so concise and it’s easier to follow.” While the philosophy they used to study and now read for fun doesn’t necessarily dictate their comedy in a tit-for-tat structure, it helps shape the conversation they aim to have onstage. In other words, be quick about it. “Brevity is a necessary condition for something to be funny,” Kenny says. “I like for things to get to the point as soon as possible. I don’t want to say anything disparaging about any other comedian, but I prefer for things to be…what’s the word?” Keith jumps in immediately, knowing his answer will satisfy his brother’s grappling mind. “Precise,” he offers. “And I think philosophy’s played a huge role in that because a lot of philosophy—at least contemporary philosophy—is the examination of language, and making sure you get to the point in terms of how you define certain terms, so we apply that to our comedy. Just getting to the point as quickly as we can because I think it helps.”
It also helps them refine their act. Philosophy’s dialectical nature forces a conversation between the twins that looks beyond the restricting sense of “either/or.” “It’s super democratic,” Keith says. “Most stand-ups, they get to treat their stand-up like dictators: Any choice they make, it goes. But for our process, I have to show him my ideas first before I can go forward. Sometimes it can be a little confining, but I think ultimately it makes our jokes stronger and it makes our vision a lot clearer.” Kenny chimes in, “Our process is a lot more dialectical, and I think by doing that we arrive at a higher truth. I guess.” Speaking on the phone with twins exacerbates the conditions that lead people to confuse them in real life. Sure, there are the differences in timbre and inflection, but the two eagerly engage one another and more times than not get caught up in debate. Their quick back-and-forth suggests how their writing process works. Kenny may step on Keith’s thought, apologizing before marching forward with his point anyhow, but then he’s just as swift to help build off a point. And Keith does the same right back.
For twins who work together, the limits between ‘personal’ and ‘professional’ seem ripe for exacerbating. “We have to spend a lot of time together, and we enjoy spending a lot of time together, but I do think we spend an unusual amount of time together as two 31-year-old men,” Kenny chuckles. Keith admits it’s unconventional. “We spend an inordinate amount of time with one another, and sometimes we drive each other crazy, but I think the love that we’ve established for one another over the years has allowed us to fight through any of our issues,” he says. “It’s fun being able to create with another person. Looking at it objectively, just being able to wake up in the morning and talk about an idea that we’re potentially able to turn into a joke is something I value tremendously.”
The closeness they exhibit onscreen and off has been a safety net to help them during more trying situations. Their father went to prison when they were young children, a point they have worked into their stand-up and which coincidentally aligns with the greater debate surrounding the war on drugs they make in their special. Kenny and Keith tap into pressing issues that have been arising in documentaries like 13th and O.J.: Made in America over the past year, but with an individualized narrative as the end game. And, being comedians, a chance to laugh. “We’ve seen prison,” Keith says, “our dad went to prison. We were born in the ghetto. I’ve seen all these problems up close and personal. With something like 13th, it’s an introductory piece, but there are actual people who go through it.” Kenny picks up his train of thought. “In trying to make a point, you tend to forget that these are people, these are individuals,” he says. “It’s not a monolith. I think it’s important to realize that simply because a problem exists it doesn’t mean that a conclusion is inevitable. I was born in the ghetto, it doesn’t mean that I’m automatically going to go to prison. We’re all unique and we can do whatever we want, and I think that’s what I would like for people to take from the special: These guys grew up in terrible conditions and yet they still arrived at this point.”
Lucas Bros: On Drugs premieres on Netflix on April 18.
Amanda Wicks is a freelance journalist specializing in comedy and music. Follow her on Twitter @aawicks.