Comedians are modern-day philosophers. The best ones offer new and challenging ways to view the world. Or so I thought until I spoke with a couple of identical-twin stoner standups.
“I don’t necessarily agree with that because I think philosophers and comedians serve two very, very different functions,” says Keith Lucas, the more nihilistic of the Lucas Brothers, according to brother Kenny. “I mean, if you look at the history of comedians and philosophers, they actually had a lot of tension. Plato hated Aristophanes and he wrote so many negative things about humour, both him and Aristotle.”
“And there was a huge beef between Democritus, who they called the Laughing Philosopher, and Plato, who didn’t laugh much,” pipes in Kenny, who, like his brother, has a degree in philosophy. “It’s weird that comedy and philosophy are being grouped together now when they were like Crips and Bloods.”
There you go: that ended on a laugh when you thought they were going to get too deep into philosophy-nerd talk. But in conversation, they can get right down into the nitty-gritty. Suffice it to say there aren’t a lot of comedians dropping terms like Hegelian synthesis, epistemology, Plato’s cave, evidentialism, and utilitarianism, and comparing John Stuart Mill’s conception of liberty with Isaiah Berlin’s, in phone interviews.
It’s more of a challenge for the brothers to work the references into their act, but it’s coming.
“We’re trying to put more philosophy in there,” says Kenny. “Like, we’ll make utilitarian arguments for really absurd positions: Rupert Murdoch’s racism is bad, but from a utilitarian standpoint, you can make an argument for why it’s okay. You do it that way. You take a pop-culture reference and you apply it to a philosophical concept so it’s kind of fun. Sometimes we underestimate the knowledge and the intellect and the abilities of the audience. I think sometimes we spoon-feed them easy jokes when I think that sometimes they want to be challenged.”
Keith adds: “I know it may not seem this way because Trump’s president, but there’s a lot of general curiosity out there because there’s so much information, so I think minds are more open than we think, especially audiences in a comedy club. So if you can write a well-written joke, it shouldn’t matter what the subject is. If the joke is well-written, people will laugh.”
Even if they can’t always transform their favourite topic into palatable bits of material, they still employ it in the creation of the rest of their act.
“That’s what I love about it the most, that we apply philosophy to how we approach standup,” says Kenny. “So it’s been kinda cool. We’re actually using our degree for something.”
“I know!” says Keith, who with his brother created the animated series Lucas Bros. Moving Co. and starred in Netflix’s Lady Dynamite. “We might be the highest-paid philosophers.”
But how does it work in practice? While many think of philosophy as mental meanderings, the Lucas Brothers put it to real use.
“I mean, just in terms of how we understand logic,” says Keith. “Comedy is more or less a disruption of logic. In philosophy you’re trained in the disruption of logic. You can utilize it in that way. And also just abstract thinking. Jokes can come from anywhere, and if you’re trained at probing your mind, I think you have a better opportunity at probing your mind for jokes as well.”
“Other than that, we like to engage in the dialectic, so I’ll put forth a proposition and he’ll offer a counter to it,” continues Kenny. “Just in terms of developing jokes, I’ll say, ‘Maybe we should do it this way’ and he’ll say, ‘No, let’s try it that way.’ Then we usually synthesize. So that’s another way.”
Their Netflix special, Lucas Brothers: On Drugs, clues you in to their other love. When they're asked which is more important to them, there’s a pause before Kenny responds.
“Uh… I would say philosophy’s way more important,” he says, leading the siblings into more dialectics.
“Yeah, philosophy has been more important, but weed has certainly calmed me down,” says Keith.
“I don’t think I would have been able to advance as a comedian if I didn’t smoke weed,” Kenny continues.
“Yeah, but one could make the argument that you probably wouldn’t have advanced in comedy, either, if you didn’t study philosophy,” counters Keith.
“That’s fair,” says Kenny.
Philosophy in action.
The Lucas Brothers play the Biltmore Cabaret next Friday (March 9) as part of the JFL NorthWest comedy festival.More