“Did you ever have a situation where you meet somebody and you end up having a long, nerdy conversation with them?” Jordan Peele, who stars with Keegan-Michael Key in Comedy Central's new sketch show, Key & Peele, asks over the phone.
It's happened to me and has likely happened to many people reading this article. You meet someone and end up engaged in a conversation that would only make sense to someone who shares your knowledge and passion for a particular subject. The conversation goes on for what seems like forever and you end up with a new friend. For Peele, he didn't just end up with a friend — he found his eventual comedy partner, Key.
That was back in 2002, when the two actors/writers were involved in a cast swap between the Second City in Chicago and Boom Chicago in Amsterdam. Key performed at the former, while Peele is an alum of the latter.
Not too long after they forged a friendship, both ended up on MADtv. It was a moment of “absolute serendipity,” says Key. The duo began writing together.
“We found that we had something that really tickled us that we couldn't get across necessarily on MAD,” says Peele. “That's what we're exploring on [Key & Peele] as well.”
Key & Peele, which will premiere on January 31 at 10:30 p.m., has already made a splash online. A sketch from the series, “Obama Loses His SH*T,” racked up over 2 million views after Comedy Central posted it on YouTube two weeks ago.
The duo's sketches include celebrity impersonations, like Peele's take on Obama, and characters that strongly resemble pop culture figures. One spot features Key playing a cooking competition host whose knack for hurling insults will conjure images of Gordon Ramsay. There's also a good chunk of “one-upsmanship,” which Key says is “part of the fabric” of the series.
There will be some unusual sketches, like one that was filmed inside a helicopter.
“The helicopter scene was a challenge,” says Key. “I got sick a couple of times. We just to keep going.”
“For a split second, you can see his eyes go from the character to Keegan in real torment,” adds Peele.
Each episode features bits of standup-style live performances, which juxtapose Key and Peele with the characters they play in the sketches. The live portion of the episodes ties together the prevailing theme of an episode.
Key & Peele mixes topical humor with timeless pieces and Key notes that they are more inclined to rely on satire than parody. Issues of race figure prominently into the episode I saw, particularly in relation to both actors' biracial backgrounds.
It's a show so adeptly written that you may intend to watch it just for the laughs, but you'll end up thinking a lot about the topics the two explore.
“There are a few pieces in the show that I think are safe to say are caustic politically,” Key explains. “There are some social comments we're making in the show as well.”
For Key and Peele, it's a careful balancing act on the edge of humor.
“We're making a big effort to be irreverent without being just disgusting or to be irreverent without being mean,” Key stresses. Their goal, he adds, is laughs, not gasps.
“Surprise is not humor,” he says. “I think that there can be a fine line there.”
Together, though, Key and Peele are hitting their comedic stride. And it all happened thanks to one chance nerdfest.