Twins Kenny and Keith Lucas, known collectively as The Lucas Brothers, have built comedy careers out of their laidback – some have called it “stoner” – style of comedy. They were named two of Variety’s “10 Comics to Watch” in 2014 and are probably best known for roles in “22 Jump Street,” their Netflix comedy special “On Drugs” and their animated series “Lucas Bros. Moving Co.”
So, it’s somewhat surprising that the duo has just earned Academy Award nominations for their work on the original screenplay of “Judas and the Black Messiah,” a film that portrays the betrayal of Black Panther Chairman Fred Hampton by William O’Neal, a petty criminal who infiltrated the party on behalf of the FBI.
On this week’s episode of Variety’s Awards Circuit podcast, the Lucas Brothers admit that when they when they first started pitching the film, it wasn’t what people expected. “Honestly, the initial pitch was ‘Bill and Fred,’ it was a rendition of ‘Bill and Ted,’” says Kenny Lucas before apologizing for the joke. “I think people were having a hard time conceptualizing the pitch from us because we’re comedians – and we’re comedians’ comedians and we love the art of comedy. So I think there was some sort of trepidation about where the idea was coming from – on top of it being a period piece, on top of it being about a black revolutionary socialist.”
“And rightfully so,” noted Keith Lucas, adding, “I mean, this was a very hard film to get made and we’ve never gotten a film made – I certainly understand the trepidation!”
The Lucas Brothers had been developing a script with co-writer/director Shaka King when Jermaine Fowler (also a “10 Comics to Watch” alumni from 2016, now starring in “Coming 2 America”) suggested they connect with writer Will Berson, who was working on a similar screenplay. “Jermaine, he knew both camps,” Keith Lucas says. “And he basically just made the connection like, ‘Why don’t you guys link up and form, like, Voltron, and bring it all together?’ And it was the perfect call – it really took us to the next level.” All four writers receive story credit, with King and Berson receiving screenplay credit.
The pair discuss their trajectory from law school dropouts to Oscar nominees, with Kenny revealing that in his third year of law school at New York University School of Law, he knew he had to try his shot at comedy. “It wasn’t for me, psychologically and emotionally,” he notes. “And I was really depressed and I just couldn’t see myself doing it for 30 years without trying to harm myself, I’ll be real. So I was like, ‘I gotta go for comedy.’”
Keith, who was at Duke University School of Law, is a little more reticent. “I really wanted to be a lawyer, I was way more committed to becoming a lawyer,” he admits. “But it wasn’t something I was doing out of passion or love. But the first time I first time I stepped on stage. I was like, ‘Oh, this is what I was meant to do.’”
The Lucas Brothers also talk about the thrill of the six Oscar nominations for “Judas,” and express particular glee that LaKeith Stanfield, who plays O’Neal, was nominated. Stanfield had been campaigned in lead actor, where he failed to make many prediction lists, but was nominated in supporting. Says Keith, “Obviously he had he gave a performance that was worthy of awards, but it’s weird for him not to show up anywhere. And then just to show up that that morning was just a beautiful surprise.”
Variety‘s Awards Circuit podcast, hosted by Clayton Davis, Jenelle Riley, Jazz Tangcay and Michael Schneider (who produces), is your one-stop listen for lively conversations about the best in film and television. Each week Awards Circuit features interviews with top film and TV talent and creatives; discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines; and much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post every Thursday.