“If our show is to have any kind of legacy, it should be that it didn't go on too long.”
That's from Jordan Peele, one half – alongside Keegan-Michael Key – of the sketch comedy duo Key & Peele, whose self-titled Comedy Central show is entering its fourth season with a fresh slate of returning characters and one-off satirical sketches. The latter is their specialty: Barbed, often racially focused comedy has gotten the pair this far, whether they're spoofing gang culture or fish-out-of-water inner-city schoolteachers forced to take their tough attitudes to the suburbs.
But it's the recurring roles, such as the instantly lovable valets who excitedly mispronounce the work (and names) of their favorite action film stars, that make for unstoppable YouTube clips, which garner millions of views, bringing in new fans all the time.
So why would Key, 43, and Peele, 35, who both reside in Los Feliz and count the nearby Upright Citizens Brigade as an influence, already be thinking about an exit strategy? As former longtime MadTV cast members in the early aughts, they're both comfortable with their show's format, having spent half a decade churning out sketches for Fox. Their fourth season, which drops this fall, is slated for a full run of 22 episodes, while a possible cartoon spinoff featuring tertiary show characters Vandaveon and Mike, two less-than-wise-cracking YouTubers who love nothing more than to tell Key & Peele how they could have improved their jokes, is just getting off the ground. If anything, the guys are at their height right now, but they seem keen to keep looking down.
“We just don't want to push it if it feels like it's done,” Key says. After this season, Key & Peele will have broadcast only five fewer episodes than seminal sketch series Mr. Show and Chappelle's Show – combined. There's a movie deal with Judd Apatow that was announced late last year, plus recurring runs on FX's new Fargo and drop-ins on their friends' outlets, like Peele's cameos on Kroll Show and Key's arc in the new USA show Playing House.
Oh, and there's that whole cover-of – Time magazine thing from earlier this spring, when Key and Peele jointly penned an op-ed that defended comedians' right to make people laugh about sensitive topics and marginalized groups. “To not make fun of something is, we believe, itself a form of bullying,” it read.
“I'm not sure we've completely wrapped our heads around that,” Peele says. “Everyone who makes the cover of Time has developed some sort of iconic identity.”
“We're always just trying to be the type of show that wouldn't have existed five years ago,” Key agrees. “Or that could only exist because it's Jordan and Keegan doing these sketches, at this time.”
For now, after years of sloughing through primetime MadTV sketches and unheralded cameos (look hard and you'll spot the duo dressed as thugs for the intro of Weird Al's 2006 song “White and Nerdy”), both men are focused on maintaining the sharpness that gave them their edge. In a world of soft language and kid gloves, it likely will be a while before their work starts to feel dull.
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