Coming Up Fast with the Lucas Bros
Kenny and Keith Lucas are close to making it. After the twin brothers performed a set on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon last April, they inked a deal with Fox as co-creators, executive producers, writers and stars of the animated series Lucas Bros Moving Co., based on their lives in Greenpoint. They also recently hosted the web series The Super Late Morning Show for Comedy Central’s CC Studios. Then there’s the pilot for a sketch show they are producing for Comedy Central titled Legion of Goons that they recently finished shooting, and the cameo on the last episode of the new season of Arrested Development that they made. Maybe their decision to drop out of law school wasn’t such a bad idea.
Unlike many comedians in the alternative Brooklyn comedy universe, the Lucas Bros do not dabble in absurdity. Their joke structure is old school: a simple well-written premise followed by a knock-you-out punchline. They let you know where they’re going, but then take the side door once they get there. The interplay between Kenny and Keith is seamless as they take turns playing storyteller and straight man. Although there are two of them, the jokes are delivered with a unified voice. Their back and forth is conversational, but each line would still work were if delivered by a single comic.
One of their signature jokes concerns the time they got in trouble in second grade for coloring Martin Luther King Jr. pink and black in the fashion of their favorite WWF wrestler Bret “The Hitman” Hart. They didn’t understand why their teacher found it disrespectful. “We don’t think Dr. King would have cared, given that it is not about the color of his [pink] skin, but the content of his character?” Plus, “Bret Hart is super dope.”
It’s not hard to see why Fox envisioned an animated series. The brothers look like cartoon characters, owing to their slightly oversized heads, large glasses and compact stature. Their eyes, wide and alert, convey a passive amusement at whatever is in front of them. Much like South Park characters, they look naked when their heads are bare. Their voices also translate well to the medium — a deep, smooth, slightly stoned, easily imitated monotone that conveys an effortless cool.
Their creative process is as anti-Seinfeldian as it comes. Seinfeld is known to obsess for months over replacing a single word in his material in order to perfect the joke — Kenny and Keith don’t write, save a few keywords on a yellow pad they keep on their coffee table. They sit around and make each other laugh, often accompanied by a joint and a Netflix documentary. Many comedians tape and analyze every set. While the brothers used to, they never watch anymore. Even the Fallon clip they only saw once. Kenny explains, “this ain’t football. You don’t need to sit down and analyze the shit like it’s game tape. Too many comedians sit there and beat themselves up. We try to live in the moment. Plus, I think we kind of get this shit. It’s not like ‘we’re super good and we’re going to kill it every time,’ but as long as we’re together and on stage that’s all that really matters.”
For all but the most famous standups, the New York comedy scene is a torturous grind. Credit to the Lucas Bros for voluntarily remaining in the crucible. They have every reason to excuse themselves from the circuit of empty rooms and dispassionate audiences, but they still get up almost every night. At many of these shows they’re paid peanuts, if anything. At the W Hotel in December, the scene felt more like an open mic than a booked gig. A few Saturdays later I followed them around to three different shows — one in a Brooklyn bar with mostly amateur acts, the next in a Manhattan bar with a pulseless crowd where they were rewarded with two cheeseburgers and a side of fries to split. They ended the night at a major comedy club on the Upper West Side where they killed. Most comedians would excuse themselves from the underground scene if they could exclusively play the major clubs, but the Lucas Bros enjoy the challenge of keeping their act versatile enough to appeal to both mainstream and more hipster audiences.
Both attended top-ten law schools, Keith at Duke and Kenny NYU. It was the only substantial period of time that they’ve spent away from each other, but they didn’t grasp the difficulty of being apart until, after both dropped out, they reunited and began their standup careers in New York. Keith stays in touch with a few friends but Kenny none, citing the indisputable fact that, “law students are just miserable, boring people. And they stress out over shit they imposed on themselves.” Although their mother supported their decision to pursue the dream, their friends were dumbfounded. They were only a semester away from obtaining their J.D.s. “The dean actually called me and tried to talk me into finishing,” Keith recalls, “but we wanted to remove the safety net when we cut the cord.” It was a crazy move but also indisputably awesome and bold, creating a piece of trivia that will surely follow them around for the rest of their careers.
Stereotypically, comedians are an angsty, tortured bunch. The Lucas Bros do not fall into this group despite having every reason to do so. They grew up poor — like Section 8 poor — and without their father, who went to prison for assault with a deadly weapon when they were five. “We were knee deep in the ghetto, man. That stuff happens,” Keith explained. The boys regularly visited him throughout their childhood and were unfazed by the incident, their biggest complaint being all the Saturday morning cartoons they had to miss. Where they come from, incarceration was never a source of shame or even an unusual occurrence. They maintain a relationship with their father, talk to him regularly and exchange text messages. There is no bitterness between them and they attribute their sense of humor and introspective nature to him. He now runs a boxing gym for at risk youth in Newark, NJ. He is exactly like Cutty from The Wire, they say.
2013 is a potentially huge year for these guys. Offers are pouring in and, unlike so many comedians in their position, they have the restraint to say no from time to time. They turned down an opportunity to shoot a 30-minute television special simply because “we don’t feel ready.” This is all the more remarkable when you recall that you can still see them, often for free, at any number of dingy Brooklyn and Manhattan bars several nights a week. It takes confidence to say no to TV (not to mention the accompanying paycheck) to keep honing the craft in front of Brooklynites lured by $5 beer specials, but they’ve also become fixtures at all of the premier comedy festivals like The Austin Moontower Comedy Festival and Just For Laughs in Montreal.
Despite the Lucas Bros’ quick success, they remain grounded about their future career prospects. Keith is more optimistic about the show’s chance of success while Kenny warns that, “the shit might get cancelled after three episodes. But if it works, we’ll be millionaires. And that would be dope.”
Zack McDermott is a writer and comedian. He lives in Brooklyn.