On the surface, The Defiant Thomas Brothers quite literally represent black and white. Seth Thomas, black. Paul Thomas, white. Seth, a small-framed Cali native who grew up knowing he wanted to go into theater. Paul, a tall Wisconsin-bred former basketball star who worked in communications.
Their humor, though, is not rooted in their differences. How banal if the two just played off of this? No, the Thomas Brothers — who make politically correct newscasters and average citizens alike squirm in confusion when they say in all seriousness, 'Yep, we're actual brothers' — don't want to focus on the obvious black and white issues. They don't really want to focus on 'issues' at all.
"My primary responsibility," says Seth, "is to be entertaining. We are comedians. Our job is to be funny first." And they are funny, hilarious even, but they also, on a more serious note, manage to expose some of our deepest human flaws.
In one of their few filmed sketches — "We don't really do video," Seth notes — the duo play off of Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First." Seth plays a new guy in town looking for a drug connection. He approaches Paul, who is playing the ostensible drug dealer.
He asks, "You know where I can get some weed from around here?"
"Yeah well most people get their weed from Who Tha Fuck"
"Yeah well who the fuck they get their weed from?"
"You got it G"
"Who the fuck is it?"
"Dude got some nice weed"
"Who the fuck got some nice weed?"
"Who Tha Fuck got some nice ass weed."
The bit goes on, and the names Paul uses for other drug dealers get more and more ridiculous — "What the fuck is the guy's name with the nice ass weed?" "What Tha Fuck is motherfuckin' dead!" Ridiculous, yes, but there's a tenor of truth (and it feels so eerily relevant, today) in the mounting frustration between the two: Why does this person not understand me?
The Brothers carry this "it's so ridiculously simple but also so true" vein in their catchy, quirky SoundCloud recordings. "We're just totally messing around on the Sound Clouds," The Brothers assure us. "It's transition music in between our sketches. It's gotta be fun, they serve a function."
The recordings are all between 20 and 40 seconds long, with relatable sentiments running throughout: "Don't call me/ when I text you/ I don't wanna talk to you/ text back" or "I don't wanna eat kale/ I don't really like kale/ I'm never gonna like kale/ so keep the kale away from me" and "I just got on the train and I left my headphones home/ I think I'm gonna go crazy/ I'm gonna go crazy."
"We have to tell the truth sometimes," says Seth. And the truth, which The Brothers expose in myriad ways, can sometimes be really heavy, a bit heavier than texting etiquette and healthy eating habits.
The Brothers walk a fine line when it comes to comedy about race. They address it head on in certain performances, with Seth in whiteface and Paul in blackface. They want people to feel uncomfortable, they want them to squirm. But they also acknowledge that "racism" is a word that people like to throw around pretty willy nilly in 2017.
"It just keeps getting more stupid," says Seth." "The reality is that talking about racism, I'm identifying myself as a race. What people think of as 'racism' is really just people being mean. The weapons for their meanness is in reference to race." Seth playfully tells Paul that as a white man, he should feel guilty for all the ills of the world. Paul concurs, saying he carries around "a tugboat of white guilt."
The Brothers approach race and other socially and politically relevant themes in their shows, but they don't ever want to get too preachy. "I like using social issues as a prop," says Seth. "We'll talk about race for 10 minutes, maybe," says Paul, "but it's a 60 minute show." If The Brothers were to get preachy, though, they'd probably have a few commandments/principles to live by. First, don't be a dick. And tell the truth, or, at least, be receptive to it. And, at the end of the day, even if you're stuck on a train without headphones, listening to a loud chewer chomp on a kale salad, don't take yourself, or anything, too seriously. "We're just two simple boys," says Paul, "we just go in a room and crack each other up."