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Comedy duo the Lucas Brothers on ‘survivor’s guilt’ and Bernie Sanders

The Lucas Brothers are an identical twin comedy duo raised in the inner city of Newark, New Jersey. Keith and Kenny both graduated from college and began law school before deciding to pursue comedy. Now in their 30s, the brothers use deadpan humor to critique American economic and racial inequality. Paul Solman talks to them about "generational poverty" and how they're surprised to still be alive.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now for something completely different: a comedy duo with a growing reputation, and an economic critique of America on matters of inequality, poverty and race.

    Our economics correspondent Paul Solman caught up with the Lucas Brothers.

    It's part of our weekly series Making Sense.

  • Paul Solman:

    A comic take on a scary, albeit exaggerated stat.

  • The Lucas Brothers:

    We read one out of three black dudes gets shot or arrested before they turn 34.

  • The Lucas Brothers:

    We just turned 33.

  • The Lucas Brothers:

    Sure.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • The Lucas Brothers:

    That's getting close.

  • The Lucas Brothers:

    That's right. That's right.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Paul Solman:

    Keith and Kenny Lucas, AKA, the Lucas Brothers, an identical twin comedy team unafraid to tackle tough subjects, from violence to economic inequality.

  • The Lucas Brothers:

    The town that we are from, Newark, New Jersey, was voted the third most dangerous city in the country.

  • The Lucas Brothers:

    When we found that out, we were very disappointed, because we thought we were going to get the number one ranking this year.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Paul Solman:

    The duo has been on the rise these past few years, first with an animated TV series, the "Lucas Bros. Moving Co.," then roles in the movie "22 Jump Street," recently their Netflix special "On Drugs."

    But here's where they grew up, inner city Newark, New Jersey.

  • The Lucas Brothers:

    It's been forever.

  • The Lucas Brothers:

    Brick city.

  • The Lucas Brothers:

    The fourth floor. This ain't Hollywood, man.

  • The Lucas Brothers:

    Not at all.

  • The Lucas Brothers:

    This is the opposite of Hollywood.

  • Paul Solman:

    That stark contrast, between the poverty of their hometown and the wealth of Tinseltown, where they now live and work, has inspired their latest stand-up routine, playing earlier this month at New York City's Comedy Cellar.

  • The Lucas Brothers:

    The high school we went to was even worse.

  • The Lucas Brothers:

    Oh, yes.

  • The Lucas Brothers:

    It was ranked 331st out of 339, according to Inner City Weekly.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • The Lucas Brothers:

    We thought about it. We were like, those other eight schools.

  • The Lucas Brothers:

    Yes, why were they were worse than us?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Paul Solman:

    Encouraged by mom and guidance counselors, funded by loans and a scholarship for students from poor areas, Keith and Kenny Lucas were able to leave home, eventually study philosophy and economics in college.

    You have any survivor guilt?

  • Keith Lucas:

    Sort of, because people — you grow up with a lot of people. And some of these people aren't here anymore.

    I think about how like I'm living now. And I'm like, I could have been one of the dudes on the block to get gunned down, or it could happened for me at any moment. So, of course, like, it weighs on you, because I know I didn't anticipate making it this far.

  • Kenny Lucas:

    No. I was happy to go to college. I was happy to get my degree.

  • Paul Solman:

    After getting their B.A.'s, they went to law school at Duke and New York University, but left to pursue comedy just weeks before graduating.

  • Keith Lucas:

    We didn't want to be lawyers. We didn't have the passion to be lawyers.

  • Paul Solman:

    They do have a passion to make folks laugh, though, and to realize that the American economy isn't booming for everyone.

    But anybody who wants a job can get a job in America right? We're at full employment.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Paul Solman:

    What are you laughing about?

  • Kenny Lucas:

    I don't know if that's necessarily true. I don't know how they…

  • Keith Lucas:

    And what kind of jobs are getting? It's basically what you're saying. Like, yes, you may have a job, but it may not provide benefits. It may not provide a livable wage.

    I know a lot of jobs within the inner city. And it's underemployment.

  • Kenny Lucas:

    Yes.

  • Keith Lucas:

    So, you may have a job, but it not enough to — it's not a — it's a job in name alone.

  • Paul Solman:

    Has the inequality gotten worse since you guys were in Newark?

  • Kenny Lucas:

    Well, I don't think the schooling system has improved much. Housing, I don't think, has improved much. I don't know if wages have gone up, or if they have, it's been pretty…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Keith Lucas:

    Yes.

    And then, plus, the recession hit pretty Newark pretty hard. And we're still recovering from that now.

  • Paul Solman:

    For the record, Newark's unemployment rate is 6.2 percent, nearly double the national average. And in-your-face economic inequality prevails across the country.

    Economics is what drew the Lucas Brothers to campaign for Bernie Sanders in 2016.

  • The Lucas Brothers:

    He's dope. He's very dope. He's the dopest dude I know.

  • The Lucas Brothers:

    Bernie Sanders was offering a different message. And I think it's a message that counteracts the extreme cutthroat capitalism. I don't know if any of his politics were even practical. But it was a message that I think needed to be heard.

  • Paul Solman:

    And is heard in places like their native Newark. This is the other America, the one the Lucas Brothers escaped.

  • Kenny Lucas:

    Are they rehabilitating?

  • Keith Lucas:

    Yes, they are.

  • Kenny Lucas:

    Like, it's a whole 'nother environment over on the — once you cross (INAUDIBLE) avenue.

  • Paul Solman:

    To the Lucas Brothers, their cousin and his neighbors are at the mercy of economic policies that could have been, could be otherwise.

  • Kenny Lucas:

    A lot of people don't really take into account state policies or city policies that keep African-Americans sort of in this…

  • Keith Lucas:

    Or poor people in general.

  • Kenny Lucas:

    Or poor people in general in sort of a — what do you call it?

  • Keith Lucas:

    A system of systemic or generational poverty.

  • Kenny Lucas:

    Generational poverty. Like, the housing policies in the '60s and '70s, they really forced blacks to sort of stay in this area, and they couldn't get out.

  • Keith Lucas:

    And then you deprive people of wealth, so you can't even build your own wealth. So, you're just stuck in an area where not only are there no jobs, but you can't build your wealth.

  • Kenny Lucas:

    Yes.

  • Keith Lucas:

    And so what you do? And if enough groups across the country are stuck in a same situation, blacks, whites, Latinos, if enough groups are stuck in that situation, there's only going to be one option. And that's rebellion.

  • Paul Solman:

    And that point of view underpins the dark humor of Keith and Kenny Lucas.

  • The Lucas Brothers:

    We're hoping to make it to 34, but we have to get our younger brother shot.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • The Lucas Brothers:

    It's a dog-eat-dog-world.

  • Paul Solman:

    For the "PBS NewsHour," this is economics correspondent Paul Solman, reporting from Newark, New Jersey, and the Comedy Cellar in New York City.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you can see the Lucas Brothers on their Brick City tour, with shows in Philadelphia this weekend and across the country starting in January.

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