Comedy Is in Their (Identical) DNA

The twins took the stage in matching red cowboy boots. On a recent Wednesday night in Brooklyn — the kind of chilly, misty night made for staying in — about 200 people had come out to see them. The audience at Littlefield, a performance space in Gowanus, sipped cocktails through Twizzlers and ate tacos in folding chairs, hugging and laughing as they settled in for a night of comedy.

The occasion was the New York premiere of “Pennies From Heaven,” a short film starring the 26-year-old identical twin comedians Annabel and Sabina Meschke. In the film, the sisters play convenience store clerks who stumble on a pickup truck full of pennies in the desert, leading them on an adventure through a supremely silly, surreal world.

Brimming with goofball tomfoolery in every frame, “Pennies” conjures a vibrant “twinematic universe” that won its creators — the Meschkes wrote the film with its director, Sandy Honig — a special jury award at this year’s South by Southwest film festival.

The Meschke twins hosted the premiere, which also featured stand-up comedy, warming up the crowd with an effervescent energy that hit like a bath bomb. An air of vaudeville wafted through their act, as they finished each other’s sentences and chaotically hopscotched from bit to bit. Using an inventive array of words not fit for print, they joked about tarot card readings, bodily functions and the complexities of being twins.

“Being an identical twin with body dysmorphia: That’s just a golden thread in the ever-weaving tapestry of our joint mental illness,” Annabel Meschke said with a smile.

For the pièce de résistance, they joined hands triumphantly and told a disturbing story from their high school years in breathless unison: “One janitor killed the other two janitors, left their bodies behind the cafeteria on the day before the school year started, fled the country and didn’t get arrested till six years later!” The crowd erupted in cheers.

Annabel, left, and Sabina Meschke with their six-pound Shih Tzu, Skippy.Credit…Tonje Thilesen for The New York Times

Two days later, the sisters sat in their mother’s apartment in Manhattan with their six-pound Shih Tzu, Skippy, to tell the story of their lives.

Born in Atlanta in 1997, Annabel and Sabina Meschke moved to Jupiter, Fla., when they were toddlers, around the time their parents divorced. When they were 8, their mother — a former therapist and social worker who once dabbled in stand-up comedy — enrolled them in improv classes at a local theater camp. “They loved it, and they were good,” their mother, Stacy Jackson Meschke, said on the phone, in between singing her daughters’ praises. “I’m not saying they were little short Carol Burnetts or anything, but they were always very, very funny.”

For middle and high school, the twins attended magnet arts schools. “We had no sports teams, but we did have drugs!” Annabel said, with a jazzy emphasis. “But we were theater majors,” Sabina chimed in, walking the story back a bit. “Our drug was the craft,” Annabel offered. “Improv,” Sabina added, almost simultaneously, and the two burst into a chorus of laughter.

They have differing accounts of high school: Sabina says Annabel was “Miss Popular.” Annabel denies this. What they agree on: Annabel was Florida cool, all pastels and Lilly Pulitzer. Sabina was a Tumblr girl who wore creepers and big T-shirts from the men’s section of Urban Outfitters. “Sort of cartoonishly opposite,” Annabel said.

Despite their differences, the two have always been close, particularly given their childhood hardships. When they were about 10, their father had a stroke that left him unable to speak. When they were teenagers, their mother’s longtime partner died of cancer. In 2018, the year they turned 21, their father died.

They are open about all of it, mining the harder parts of their lives for creative inspiration and processing grief through humor, when they can. The autobiographical jokes in their sets — about mental illness, and even about the murderous janitor — are based in reality. “We don’t lie for the stage,” Annabel said.

These days, they see a couple’s therapist. (“It’s not common,” Sabina said. “We’re the only twins I’ve ever heard of that do it.”) They live separately, which often comes as a surprise to people, but they still see each other almost every day. The longest time they’ve spent apart is two weeks, and it was hell.

The way the sisters interact onstage is very similar to their real-life dynamic. “When they talk to each other, it feels like watching someone’s internal monologue,” said Sandy Honig, the twins’ director in “Pennies From Heaven.”Credit…Tonje Thilesen for The New York Times

‘Those Sketches Are Insane’

When they were 17, the Meschke twins moved to New York to attend N.Y.U. They waded into the student comedy scene and studied media, production and dramatic writing. Through mutual friends, they met Rachel Sennott, and the three of them quickly bonded.

“This is going to sound hilarious, but there were all these cool comedy groups and I wasn’t in any of them, and it made me sort of doubt myself,” Ms. Sennott, 27, said, adding that the scene felt very centered on men. “When I found other women who were funny and we shared a sense of humor, even if we have different styles of comedy, that felt really special. I felt that with Annabel and Sabina.”

The three made comedy sketches together, like “Dog Moms,” “Three Instagram Models Have a Picnic” and “Baby Cult,” an absurdist piece about pregnancy-obsessed employees of a fancy baby boutique. Ms. Sennott, an actor and comedian best known for her roles in “Bodies Bodies Bodies” and “Shiva Baby,” looks back joyfully on their collaborations. “It was just fun getting to do those together,” she said. “All of those sketches are insane. It’s a dream to play the triplet every now and then.”

It was Ms. Sennott who first suggested that the Meschke twins try doing stand-up together. One of their first sets was in March 2020, at a short-lived weekly show Ms. Sennott hosted at a bar in the East Village. Then came a period of a lot of Zoom comedy. All the while, a collaboration was brewing in Los Angeles, in the mind of Ms. Honig.

The Meschkes’ million-jokes-a-minute pacing is contagious to anyone within earshot.Credit…Tonje Thilesen for The New York Times

Ms. Honig, 30, a comedian and actor who starred in the Adult Swim television show “Three Busy Debras,” recalled meeting the twins in early 2020, when they were in the audience at one of her comedy shows in New York. “I was just obsessed with them,” she said in a recent phone interview.

“When everything was shut down, I would walk on the trail most days and I just was walking around and thinking about them,” she recalled. “And I don’t know why, but I just kept being obsessed with the idea of them driving a truck full of pennies through the desert.”

She sent the twins a direct message on Instagram, which led to a video meeting, which led to writing and making “Pennies From Heaven” together. Now, they are working on a feature-length version of the film, a process which the twins balance with their day jobs as a nanny (Annabel) and a barista (Sabina), and “Triplet Auditions,” their monthly show in Brooklyn.

“We always joke that every set of twins, there’s a dominant one,” Ms. Honig said. “We were saying Sabina feels like the more dominant one, and Annabel is the more emotional goofball.”

Annabel will often go full-throttle and a bit more “blue” onstage (as Sabina put it), while Sabina tends to rein things in. At the Gowanus show, for example, Annabel made lewd jokes about Sabina’s wisdom tooth surgery, and Sabina called her a pervert. Their stage dynamic is very close to their real-life rapport. “When they talk to each other, it feels like watching someone’s internal monologue,” Ms. Honig said.

Maya Sharma, a comedian and the director of programming at the Brooklyn Comedy Collective, said the Meschke twins were unique not only in the “Energizer Bunny, Gen Z tap dance” quality of their comedy but also in their kindness as friends. “They go to everyone else’s show,” Ms. Sharma, 31, said. “They sit in the front row and they, like, cackle.”

After spending a bit of time in their orbit, you may find yourself speaking their twin language of singsong, at a million-jokes-per-minute pace. They seem to find the magic — and humor — in everything.

Recently, for instance, their therapist opened up to them, sharing something personal that went beyond a mere fun fact: She was also a twin.

“I immediately started crying when she told me,” Annabel gushed, and Sabina laughed. “I was like, ‘That’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life.’”

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