Interview: Comedy Duo The Lucas Bros Identical twin comedy duo Keith and Kenny Lucas are on the rise. They wrote the story for the new movie, Judas and the Black Messiah, and they're involved with a new rework of Revenge of the Nerds.
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The Lucas Bros, Using Humor 'To Shake Folk Woke'

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The Lucas Bros, Using Humor 'To Shake Folk Woke'

The Lucas Bros, Using Humor 'To Shake Folk Woke'

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Brothers Kenny and Keith Lucas are stand-up comedians and identical twins.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LUCAS BROTHERS: ON DRUGS")

KENNY LUCAS: People don't know how to react when they see twins.

KEITH LUCAS: No.

KENNY LUCAS: They go crazy. Like, we were in the supermarket looking for some Jell-O.

KEITH LUCAS: Yep.

(LAUGHTER)

KENNY LUCAS: And we were just about to pick it out, and then some dude came out of nowhere. And he was like, yo, you guys have a stick of Doublemint gum?

CORNISH: That's from their 2017 Netflix special. The Lucas brothers are having a moment right now. They're writing and starring in a remake of "Revenge Of The Nerds," but they also wrote the story for the new movie "Judas And The Black Messiah." The film premieres today in theaters and on HBO Max. NPR's Elizabeth Blair has this profile.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: The Lucas brothers are best known for a kind of stoner humor.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LUCAS BROTHERS: ON DRUGS")

KEITH LUCAS: And here's a rule of thumb. You should never do shrooms with a dude who looks like you. Man, I'm telling you.

BLAIR: But underneath the jokes, there's a serious side that draws heavily on their childhood in the housing projects of Newark, N.J., called the Garden Spires.

KEITH LUCAS: Pissy hallways, you know, broken elevators.

KENNY LUCAS: Infested with rats and rodents - drug dealing, violence everywhere.

KEITH LUCAS: But, you know, there's a community there.

KENNY LUCAS: Right.

KEITH LUCAS: It's people who live there. It's families. It's my family.

BLAIR: When they were 6 years old, their dad went to prison.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LUCAS BROTHERS: ON DRUGS")

KENNY LUCAS: Our father actually is out of prison. He's not in prison anymore. And it sucks that he's out.

KEITH LUCAS: I wish he was still there.

KENNY LUCAS: Oh, yeah.

KEITH LUCAS: I want him to go back.

KENNY LUCAS: Because all he wants to do is father-son [expletive]. And I'm like, dude, we pay rent now. I'm over it.

KEITH LUCAS: It's over, man.

BLAIR: The Lucas brothers' connection to Newark got the attention of New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. In 1999, then a Newark city councilman, Booker went on a hunger strike in front of the Garden Spires. He also served as the city's mayor. Here's Booker talking to the Lucas brothers on his Instagram.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CORY BOOKER: I love your insightful, hard-hitting humor in the - sort of the Eddie Murphy and some of my great heroes coming up, you know, were uncompromising in how they used humor to shake folk woke.

BLAIR: Like Booker, Keith and Kenny Lucas went to law school, NYU and Duke. But unlike Booker, they dropped out.

KENNY LUCAS: It was weird to study law and kind of be poor and Black because it's like, oh, 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. And I see that process. I found myself sort of disengaged very early. I always said, you know what? I want to do something that has a direct impact on people from an emotional standpoint.

BLAIR: "Judas And The Black Messiah" is very emotional. The Lucas brothers were in college when they first learned about Fred Hampton, the charismatic leader of the Illinois Black Panther Party in the 1960s. In the movie, he's played by Daniel Kaluuya.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH")

DANIEL KALUUYA: (As Fred Hampton) You can murder a liberator, but you can't murder liberation. You can murder a revolutionary, but you can't murder a revolution. And you can murder a freedom fighter, but you can't murder freedom.

BLAIR: He's the Black messiah. Judas is William O'Neal, 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 is played by LaKeith Stanfield.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH")

LAKEITH STANFIELD: (As Bill O'Neal) Say I get you, like, some good information, something nobody else knows. Is there some kind of bonus or something?

JESSE PLEMONS: (As Roy Mitchell) Well, I'm counting on it, Bill.

BLAIR: 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 two Black Panther leaders, including Hampton. For the Lucas brothers, it was essential to tell the story of how the FBI recruited informants in the Black community.

KENNY LUCAS: I think it's important to see just how insidious the system has been in turning young African Americans against one another, how they essentially use poor Black people against poor Black people to, you know, execute their goals of, you know, minimizing the threat of Black messiahs. We just felt it was important to see both sides of the coin.

BLAIR: Whether it's a historical drama or it's stand-up comedy, for the Lucas brothers, it all comes from the same source.

KENNY LUCAS: And a big thing about our act is that we always try to ground it in stuff that we've gone through. And it's always been important for us to talk about these systemic issues in a variety of ways.

BLAIR: Now they're writing and will star in Seth MacFarlane's reimagining of 1984's "Revenge Of The Nerds."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REVENGE OF THE NERDS")

THE RUBINOOS: (Singing) Mom packed us a lunch, and we're off to school. They call us nerds 'cause we're so uncool.

BLAIR: The Lucas brothers promise their movie will be almost nothing like the original because times have changed.

KENNY LUCAS: 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. Now that's been fused together, and I think that's why the time is right to make a story about that.

BLAIR: The Lucas brothers say it's hard to watch the original "Revenge Of The Nerds," even though the movie was a childhood staple. They're excited to give it an update and to make it personal. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR SEAT HEADREST SONG, "BODYS")

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