The Lucas Bros, Using Humor 'To Shake Folk Woke'
The Lucas Bros are a standup comedy duo who get laughs with material that's both twisted and trenchant. There's stoner humor, biting satire, philosophy and jokes about Jell-O and Deion Sanders. Keith and Kenny Lucas are also identical twins which opens up additional space for them to play.
"Here's a rule of thumb. You should never do shrooms with a dude who looks like you," they joke in their 2017 Netflix special.
The Lucas Bros are on the up and up: They're writing and will star in Seth MacFarlane's "reimagining" of the 1984 movie Revenge of the Nerds. They also wrote the story that the new movie Judas and the Black Messiah is based (out February 12 in theaters and HBO Max).
Judas and the Black Messiah tells the story of Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), the charismatic leader of the Illinois Black Panther Party in the 1960s and the Black messiah of the story. Judas is William O'Neal (LaKeith Stanfield), an African American who was arrested for interstate car theft and impersonating a federal officer. In the movie, we see how the FBI recruited O'Neal. To avoid jail time and earn some money, he was instructed to infiltrate the Black Panther Party and provide the FBI with information about Hampton. O'Neal became so much of a Panther insider, he was put in charge of security. He provided the FBI with a floor plan of Hampton's apartment. In 1969, the Chicago police raided the apartment and killed both Hampton and another Panther leader, Mark Clark.
I think it's important to see just how insidious the system has been in turning young African Americans against one another ... to execute their goals of minimizing the threat of Black messiahs.
The Lucas brothers first learned about Fred Hampton in college. Rather than a straight biopic, they wanted the movie to also show how the FBI recruited informants in the Black community. "I think it's important to see just how insidious the system has been in turning young African Americans against one another," says Kenny. "How they essentially use poor Black people against poor Black people to execute their goals of minimizing the threat of Black messiahs. We just felt it was important to see both sides of the coin."
The Lucas brothers have seen society's extremes firsthand. They spent their childhood in Newark, NJ in the notorious Garden Spires housing project. "Pissy hallways, broken elevators. Infested with rats and rodents ... Drug dealing, violence everywhere," they remember. "But there's a community there. There's people who live there. There's families. My family," says Kenny. Their father was sent to prison when they were six years old. When their mother landed a job with the VA hospital, they were able to move to a safer neighborhood. Kenny and Keith Lucas went on to graduate from college and attend law school (Duke and NYU) but dropped out.
"It was weird to study law and kind of be poor and Black," says Kenny, "because ... I see what the consequences of policy and law are like on a daily basis, and especially when it's in relation to African Americans and the notion of criminality and how it's projected onto Blacks." Instead, the Lucas brothers decided to focus on doing, "something that has a direct impact on people from an emotional standpoint."
Last summer, the Lucas brothers wrote about what it was like growing up in the Garden Spires for Vulture. In "Our Brother Kaizen," they describe their friendship with Kaizen Crossen who, years after the Lucas brothers had moved away, murdered a neighbor, a father of two, before being killed by police.
"It would appear that we and Kaizen were worlds apart as we sat on the manicured lawns at our college debating Kantian metaphysics with privileged students from all walks of life, while Kaizen braved the harsh winters of Newark in search of money for his growing family," they wrote. "On the inside, however, we all suffered from acute post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of growing up in a war-torn inner city."
The Lucas brothers' consciousness raising and connection to Newark got the attention of New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. In 1999, Booker — then a Newark city councilman — went on a hunger strike in front of the Garden Spires. He also served as the city's mayor. Last summer, in a conversation with Keith and Kenny on his Instagram, Booker compared them to Eddie Murphy for their "insightful, hard-hitting humor," and for being "uncompromising in how they used humor to shake folk woke."
They push the envelope and they have a kind of a philosophical way of looking at the world, which comes through in their comedy as well.
In their Netflix special they reminisce about a former, white co-writer who complained after a long day that they were working "like slaves" even though the work entailed, as the Lucas brothers put it, "talking about Steve Harvey and whether or not his mustache is dope." They tell stories about their father being in prison for most of their upbringing. When he's released, he wants some father-son time. The Lucas brothers joke that they don't. "Dude, we pay rent now."
Humor aside, the brothers are candid about the real pain underneath their jokes. "We just didn't have a relationship," with their father, says Kenny. "It was, you know, very difficult as a kid growing up without a paternal presence, especially when you're growing up in a city like [Newark]." Eventually they reconciled with their father but, "it's been a very long, emotional journey."
The Lucas brothers say, with all of their art, they want to raise awareness about systemic racism and the PTSD it causes. Erica Huggins, president of Seth MacFarlane's Fuzzy Door Entertainment, calls them "brilliant" and says their consciousness-raising comedy is partly why she reached out to them to see if they would be interested in writing and starring McFarlane's Revenge of the Nerds project. "They push the envelope and they have a kind of a philosophical way of looking at the world, which comes through in their comedy as well," she says.
The Lucas brothers admit they were fans of the original movie but concede it has not aged well. They promise their version will be very different because, says Kenny, times have changed.
"It's like the juxtaposition of being a bully and a nerd is so different from what it was like in the '80s where you had this sort of stark dichotomy between what it was to be a bully and what it was to be a nerd," he says. "Now, that's been fused together. And I think that's why the time is right to make a story about that."
They're excited to give Revenge of the Nerds the update it needs — and make it personal.
Nina Gregory edited this story for radio, and Petra Mayer adapted it for the Web.
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