And Now, A “Key & Peele” Appreciation Post
“Key and Peele,” the sketch comedy show from Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key, comes to an end tonight, after five seasons. To end the show was their choice. It wasn’t forced off the air due to bad ratings or pulled for any reason. In a July interview with The Wrap, Key said, “It was just time for us to explore other things, together and apart.” It’s impressive when a television show and its stars are self-aware enough to know when it’s time to turn off the lights and head on home.
What makes them stand out is their commitment. Each joke is scripted, the costumes and the settings are on point. There’s nothing lazy about their execution, none of the stifled, self-satisfied laughter of Jimmy Fallon on “Saturday Night Live” or the smirky smugness of a standup comedian who knows that he’s killing. The beauty of their work is their dedication to the absurd. They handle the tricky trap of race with ease and grace. As biracial men, both born of a white mother and a black father, Key and Peele’s comedy gains a fluidity that other comics lack. They have a foot in both worlds. As Zadie Smith wrote in her profile of the duo in The New Yorker:
While race can appear abstract to Key and Peele, especially when seen through the lens of their own unconventional backgrounds, for many of their viewers race is neither an especially fluid nor a changeable category; it is the determining fact of their lives.
It is an immensely difficult task to present your mutable version of race to an audience that views it in strict binaries. As biracial men, Key and Peele are adept at adjusting the volume of their blackness. They can read the room and figure out how they should perform. The psychic weight of this constant adjustment takes a toll, but Key and Peele have found a way to weave this into their comedy. Good comedy traffics in specificity, in highlighting the particular behaviors of the group you’re skewering, without going for the cheap, obvious shot. With a foot in each world, adept at the code-switching needed to seamlessly move between worlds, they nail the particulars, without resorting to stereotype. It’s been wonderful to watch.
In honor of the series finale tonight, here’s a brief primer for beginners and fanatics alike.
The Ones You Probably Already Know
Here are the sketches that a basic “Key and Peele” aficionado knows. These are the ones that even your mom has seen, somehow. These are like an intro to “Key and Peele,” basic K&P, and they’re still great, fantastic, really good stuff.
Watch Keegan-Michael Key demonstrate his ability to convey comical amounts of anger with a straight face.
“East/West College Bowl Parts 1 & 2″
Do you remember where you were when you first heard the words Hingle McCringleberry?
“Obama Loses His Shit”
Meet Luther, the man that says what Obama wishes he could.
“Meegan and Andre’s First Date”
We all know a Meegan, and we’ve all walked past an Andre and shuddered in revulsion. This hits the spot.
The Ones You Should Know
Flying just a tiny bit under the radar, these are the skits that, when you found them, felt like a special secret that you wanted to hold onto for just a little bit longer, keeping it to yourself to stave off the inevitability of idiots quoting them back to you for years to come.
This feels like classic “Key and Peele” — a truth couched in just enough fantasy to make us realize how horrible everything they’re poking fun at actually is.
K&P imagine what would happen if you spent your teen years masturbating furiously into a cache of tube socks, only to be found out by your mother, a decent rapper who’s tired of your shit.
“Sex With Black Guys”
Join the the dudes on an emotional roller coaster as they listen to two white girls talk about the merits of fucking a black dude. If you’ve ever said any of these things out loud, to yourself, or to friends, for shame.
A scathing look at the intense racial politics of being the only black guy in an a cappella group.
A gay wedding is just like a straight wedding, but it’s with gay people instead of straight people. That is all you need to know. If you’re extra confused, watch this.
The Truly, Wonderfully Bizarre
Here, in full glory, is their commitment to the absurd, planting the seed of an idea and letting it blossom. This is “Key and Peele” at their most bizarre, fully committed, guns blazing.
“Laron Can’t Laugh”
Watching people be clever with their words is fun, but sometimes it’s great to unplug your brain and lose yourself in the depths of a fantastic and truly stupid physical bit, like this one right here.
This hits because of their commitment and the great seriousness with which they take themselves. Also, the more ludicrous the story the better.
“Esther & Georgina”
Two nice church ladies are gonna really fuck up Satan when they see him.
“Be Prepared For Terries”
Watch this for the facial hair alone.