It’s clear this show is going to be great when the first sketch runs like this: A guy (Keegan Michael Key) is talking to his girlfriend about getting tickets for a symphony but starts talkin’ a lil gangsta when another guy (Jordan Peele) “rolls” up (also droppin’ his G’s and R’s). This second guy walks off and says, “Oh my God, I almost just got mugged!” Irony. Satire. Expression. Perfect.
Key & Peele (2012) is a sketch comedy show featuring and written by (among others) Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele, alumni of MADtv (1995-2009). Sketches run the gamut of topics from President Obama with his translator that converts his cool language into anger to a new rapper, The Incredible Mack (Peele), singing “Shot in the Dick”. So, low brow or high, Key & Peele will go there. The sketches are often broken up with some related back-and-forth from the duo in front of a live audience. This and the fact that they’re black will cause not unflattering comparisons to Chappelle’s Show (2003-06). But while there are many similarities in a limited amount of the content, Key & Peele is very much its own show.
The difference between the shows is that Key & Peele is, in a way, classically trained in comedy. These guys know Mel Brooks and Monty Python while Chappelle probably only knows Mel Brooks. Chappelle had a terrific eye for satire and commentary, but it always seemed raw. His stand-up in between sketches was, likewise, raw and hard-edged. These guys are a little softer, a little more refined in their sketches (benefitting greatly from what appears to be a thousand percent higher budget). The stand-up, which more frequently features anecdote than typical joke-telling, is semi-relaxed and may well be half-improvisation. This is not to suggest superiority or inferiority, but rather a difference in kind.
Another significant difference is that Key and Peele are of mixed race, which overtly fuels a number of their sketches. Those sketches, being inward looking and emotionally complicated create mature and nuanced messages. One example is when Key is on a date with his white girlfriend and a waiter treats them poorly and Key basically wimps out. The girlfriend says, “Where’s black Jeff? That was white Jeff.” So Jeff (Key) starts to use the appropriate racial stereotype for the relevant situation and things get complicated for him. It was a masterpiece. I looked over my Negraph and it says that’s about as far as I can talk about it.
Now that the flattery is done (possibly), where are the “opportunities for improvement” as they say in corporate speak.
The stand-up is an obvious problem area. While very charming and personal, it needs to move to a couch. They’re too uncomfortable, the bits too staged and scripted. Ease up, let the talent flow, and they’d connect much better.
Second problem is ending the sketch. They go too far with regularity. Cut the bits at their natural endings with the first punchline. In the first episode, they talk big about standing up to their girlfriends while being über-cautious not to be overheard by said girlfriends. They do that same bit to a further extreme four times. Take the Family Guy (1999-) out of your comedic diet. But it’s a boon to have more time. Cut it up with short pieces of business.
Third problem is performance. On occasion, they will play it way over the top. Their natural language is subtle and ironic and by acting like high schoolers doing The Odd Couple (1968), they’re only hurting themselves. And the audience.
These are the systemic problems. It’s almost unfair to point out particular sketches that failed to tickle. The unspoken agreement when watching a sketch show is that the variety will please all of the people some of the time but not all of the people all of the time.
Blu-ray Bonus Features
Special features includes outtakes, a Poolside Interview, extended Anger Translator, and Key & Peele Live at the South Beach Comedy Festival (backstage and “Splitting their Pants”).
The outtakes are probably only funny if you’re totally stoned. They aren’t only during moments where they couldn’t contain their mirth, but just silliness that isn’t particularly funny out of the context. The interview was disappointing. Essentially, they are just joking around with one another. When they’ve done something as well as they have, I expect some more reflection. It’s possible that this reflects Key and Peele are primarily performers and the writing staff is where the mature satire comes from. Hard to say. The additional translations are great. It never fails to make me laugh.
The Key & Peele live backstage before and after the show is also a little weak. The pre-show bit is them joking around, but after the show you get a glimmer of the people behind the comedy. Seeing what they’re really like in temperament and unrehearsed comedy (or whatever) is the best part of DVD/BluRay extras. Perhaps unsurprisingly, busy people almost universally display their thinly veiled hatred of these things.
Worth buying at $14.
Material includes very naughty language on a regular basis and considerable race-based commentary.