The two comedian share their experiences in bringing this new sketch series to Comedy Central, debuting Tuesday, January 31
Tonight, Comedy Central premieres its original half-hour sketch series Key & Peele, starring comedians Jordan Peele and Keegan Michael Key. Whether it's satirizing the President, spoofing Nazis, or ordering up some soul food, Key & Peele will showcase their chemistry, camaraderie and unique point of view, born from their shared background and experiences growing up biracial in a not quite post-racial world.
We managed to catch up with both stars for a fun and insightful conversation. Check it out below.
Keegan Michael Key: I don't know why you make me wake up so early in the morning!
I watched the pilot last night, and I have to say...Pretty bold that you would eliminate half your viewing audience with just your second sketch out...
Keegan Michael Key: I assume you are talking about the "Bitch" sketch, yeah...
My girlfriend crossed her arms, got up, and walked out when she saw how hard I was laughing at that. I had to go in the basement, just like the guys in the sketch, to finish watching the episode...
Jordan Peele: (Laughs) Why would we alienate more than half of the population of the world?
Keegan Michael Key: The funny thing is, that's our sketch for women.
Jordan Peele: That is our sketch for them, exactly!
Did you know that it might illicit a strong response? It was the part about the restaurant that got me in trouble. There will be no laughing at that in my house.
Keegan Michael Key: The stuff that hits on true things for all of us? Yeah, it can do that. It can trigger a response. (Laughs)
We see a show like your sister show, Workaholics, and they are tackling some taboo subjects. And the audience has grown a little numb to that. But this, here, this "Bitch" sketch must be one of the most taboo subjects to tackle when reaching for a mixed gender audience. This is the real shit you can't talk about...
Keegan Michael Key: We wrote in some of the issues that guys have with girls in every relationship. We would think that sketch would hit home with every relationship. Honestly, we didn't shy away from any subjects. We really concentrated on choosing something fresh, and relevant, and very universal. We just try to get as much comedy as we can out of it.
Well, I am a fan right out of the gate. This premiere episode is so good. What was the give and take here? Did you focus on putting all of your best stuff right up front? Or can we expect a whole season of solid episodes?
Keegan Michael Key: Obviously, you are asking the most subjective people possible. Because we are in editing right now, and we are assembling all of the episodes, we keep going over them with a fine toothed comb...We feel like we have a strong season with very strong point of view sketches and strong, silly sketches, and we have a modicum of parody. We feel confident about it. Our biggest thing is coming out of the gate, like you said, thinking, "What is it we can do that nobody else can do?" Well, we can certainly be bi-racial, and we can use that as a filter through which we display our comedy.
Jordan Peele: The other thing is, we wrote over 265 sketches, then whittled it down to 54. We do believe that we have the cream of the crop, just due to our extensive writing process.
You open with some of the bi-racial humor on stage in this premiere episode. Do you feel audiences have really broken through that racial barrier at this point? Or do you think there is still apprehension there, in terms of what you can and can't laugh at? I'm not sure how it works for you guys...
Keegan Michael Key: We find that if we get the laugh we are looking for, because something is true, that it's something slightly universal. People have these thoughts, these things they don't want to say...So, yeah, despite what some people might think, this is far from a post racial world. It is in fact very racial. It seems to be going in the right direction. We are hoping to get our last licks in on racial comedy, and do some things that haven't been done before. (Laughs) Before the whole world is brown.
Can you give us a hint at what some of those licks might be? Or are you pulling the J.J. Abrams card, and keeping your laughs a secret until the moment we see them on screen?
Jordan Peele: Let me see if we can be specific and amorphous at the same time here. We have a number of sketches about the internal competition between Keegan and I on who's blacker, and who can be blacker. Because, you know, in this day and age, that's what makes us cool. There are sketches that are set up, to make the audience expect to see the sketch they would normally see, about a certain stereotype, or something...And we try to flip that on its head. We want to take what you expect and give it an entirely different angle. So you don't know what is coming, exposing everyone's own stereotypes. You can see that in the very beginning of the first episode with the phone call. We love using the audience's mind against them.
Keegan Michael Key: It's like comedic Judo.
Jordan Peele: Yeah. There you go.
There are a lot of sketch shows right now, and we've seen a lot of them on Comedy Central. This has such a fresh, immediate voice, and it is different. Did that uniqueness come directly from you guys? Did you find the voice for this show through the editing room? How did you discover exactly what you wanted Key & Peele to be?
Keegan Michael Key: I think it mostly has to do with us. Whenever we were writing...When we started writing the pilot, we locked ourselves in Jordan's apartment. And we came up with a criteria for what we wanted to be in this show, as we were finding our voice. That evolved as we got into the writing process, once the show got picked up. Part of that criteria was...What have we not seen in comedy, in general? And what have we not seen in racial comedy? How do you put a twist on "black people do this" and "white people do that"...What is the twist for that? Since we are split in the middle, because we are actual hybrids, and we exist in the middle, we wanted to say, "Here's how we see it. Here is how a half-black, half-white person, who identifies himself as a black person..." Aaaaaah! That is where we started, and that is the filter we are trying to push all of our comedy through. Another piece of criteria is...What is the comedic engine...Jordan and I like to call it the nugget...That makes each and every scene seem really funny. I have always been really weird about...I don't understand comedians who go..."Hey, if you don't get it, too bad." If I don't get it, then whom are you doing the comedy for? A poet can feel free, in my estimation, to write a poem for himself. Or a painter can paint a painting for himself. You can write a short story for yourself. But for me, comedy by its nature is communal. If other people don't get it, I'm not sure why you are doing it. I think the same can be said for being offensive, for no other reason than being offensive. Me personally, it boggles my mind.
Have you seen the new Tim and Eric movie yet?
That is by definition, what you are talking about. Most of the audience is not in on the joke. People at Sundance walked out. Because these are not fans. They are people who've never seen Tim and Eric before. The movie is of the design, "Hey, if you don't get it, too bad." It seemed to be, some of the "jokes" are designed to irritate audiences, either that, or lose their patience. That, in itself, is the joke. But some people, who have never seen Tim and Eric's show before, don't get that...
Keegan Michael Key: There is an interesting thing, like...There was something very lighthearted about the way Andy Kaufman performed. I don't know if you agree with this Jordan...But there are times when I felt that Andy Kaufman was being solely a performance artist. I don't know that. Maybe he was always trying to get the laugh. But I don't know...That's so...With Tim and Eric...I don't get it...
Jordan Peele: Those guys? It's kind of correct to put them in a similar category as Andy Kaufman. I would, myself. Anyone can agree or disagree as to the quality. Truth of the matter is, Andy Kaufman went through some really dark times, where people didn't like him, or get it. Tim and Eric? Those guys are a very specific breed of rock star. I admire their artistry, and their commitment to it. But Keegan and I do something completely different. We really try to get the audience as cozy in their seat, and give them as many laughs in as short of time as possible. We're less worried about shock for shock's sake.
I think you are right about some of what they do being performance art. There is a scene in a swimming pool that is just two minutes of high-pitched screaming. Which isn't fun for anyone.
Keegan Michael Key: (Laughs) We're laughing. But that's our reaction...We're laughing at the idea of that, because of the absurdity of it. Which they are experts at. There have been times when I laugh at Tim and Eric, and I am going, "What the heck is going on?" You find yourself giggling, like we are now.
Jordan Peele: It will be interesting to see in ten or twenty years if those guys are the representation of our times, or not.
Its been ten years since Freddy Got Fingered, so...It's kind of figured itself out at this point, somewhat...
Keegan Michael Key: That's a good point. (Laughs)
What made me laugh? Sitting in Tim and Eric, watching the lady who was between 40-50 years old, who is there to review the movie, get up and walk out on the swimming pool scene. That made me laugh. That's where the joke was for me. I understood it from that angle. Watching her become disgusted with this screaming, and not being able to take it...
Keegan Michael Key: That actually sounds very funny. Yeah, yeah...
Jordan Peele: It's like my in-laws...They went to see Borat...My father and my mother-in-law, they are in their 70s. I just remember, my father-in-law just couldn't take it during the wrestling scene. He was like, "Jesus Christ! What is happening?" It was not working for him.
Do you know David Koechner?
No! This is for a whole new question. I love Dave, and I talk to him frequently. When he was doing his show for Comedy Central, The Naked Trucker Show, he didn't want to do the staged bits before the filmed segments. He felt it was wrong for the show, and one of the reasons it failed. It seems to be the staple of all Comedy Central shows, and we once again see you guys utilizing that. I wanted to get your take on that aspect of the skit genre. If you think it is necessary, if it was a requirement by Comedy Central...
Keegan Michael Key: Comedy Central? They have a good controlled experiment over there with comedy. They noticed that when the person at home has a connection to the person that is making the comedy, that show becomes more successful. That makes a whole lot of sense. If you look at any successful skit comedy show, ever, there is that format of introducing you to the player in the beginning, and then going on to see those sketches. Because the truth of sketch is, you are supposed to be a chameleon. So, whom is the audience supposed to get to know at the end of the day? How is the audience supposed to know this is a great impression if they don't know where you are starting from? It's just a good, not broken part of sketch comedy. And Comedy Central is very aware of that.
Jordan Peele: I'd like to add, we have a great deal of fun doing it.
In the last couple of years, its been mostly these solo guys going up there. In the past, you had duos like Bob and David, and you can go all the way back to The Smothers Brother. With you two on stage, what I notice is, there is a genuine surprise in the exchanges between you. Jordan says something, and Keegan, you respond with a laugh as though you have yet to hear what he as to say. The monologue is fresh. Do you not fully rehearse to keep each other on your toes. Has this type of interaction always been a part of your relationship? Do you thrive on surprising each other in the moment?
Keegan Michael Key: For me, it is the latter. It is a joy for me to be with Jordan. Because he makes me laugh out loud every day. Whether I am standing right next to him, or whether we are on screen. There has to be a vulnerability. Like we were discussing, there is nothing wrong with that live part. So is there a way we can enhance it? That comes with finding a guideline in knowing what we will talk about on stage. Then we go out there and loosely do it, trying to surprise each other. I feel like you're going to have fun, and you are going to be comfortable, and you will have a spirit of frivolity if we're having fun, and we feel comfortable, and we have a spirit of frivolity. I think it can be infectious.
Jordan Peele: Those moments aren't staged. I'm pretty sure we break each other up because we do surprise each other with a line. We keep each other on our toes for that specific reason. I am getting that vibe.
Keegan Michael Key: Sometimes there are these guidelines. We can talk about this thing, or we can talk about that thing. But there is a profound lack of rehearsal. Which we prefer. Now, the sketches are a completely different animal all together, you know? Sometimes one of us will think of something we know the other one is not expecting. There is a lot of improvising on stage. We improvise together often. We haven't been able to do it super often, because we have been doing this. But it is a delight to improvise with Jordan.
I don't want to compare these two shows, but with Chappell's show, it always seemed like the audience was into the stand-up introductions. Like, they were there to watch a show. But with Nick Swardson's show, I get the sense that his audience is just there as set dressing. Extras pulled into an environment where this is work. What kind of audience do you have in front of you?
Jordan Peele: This was the first time we'd ever done this. So we were learning as we went. We were interested in trying to do a lot of things, and this was such a supportive crowd. To be honest, I don't know if they were fans of MadTV...
Keegan Michael Key: I had a lot of people that would come up to me after tapings. They would Facebook me, and they would say, "You don't know me, but I was at your taping..." Especially out here in Hollywood, people get jaded. They say, "I'll go out to this taping, and I'll do the best for these guys. I'll try to laugh. Maybe I'll get on TV." A number of people came and they said, "This was like we were watching a comedy show." They said, "I was laughing out loud! I want you to know I was laughing for real! Not just because it was for a taping, and they told us to laugh." I think, to answer your question literally, it would be more the former than the latter. The funny thing about Dave Chappelle is, if you watch him during his live segments on his show, they are really simply a function for him to throw to the scenes. There's not a ton of stand-up. I'd say it's evolved. I didn't know what to expect from our audience. And they seemed to really be enjoying us bantering, and playing off of each other. As if they were only there to see that show. Someone said to me, "My gosh! Its as though the sketches were just a bonus."
Jordan Peele: It's a very multicultural audience. They come from many different colors. They are multi-social, too, I think. It was cool to see some Hollywood insiders show up, like Mandy Moore and Maribeth Monroe. Its cool actors showing up and giving support.
Keegan Michael Key: We didn't know what to expect, and it was cool to watch it evolve. Each night, I certainly felt like Jordan and I were walking out in front of an audience to entertain them. As if we were a comedy duo, as opposed to, "Let's just get through this so we can get to the sketches." It ended up being a really delightful surprise.
My time is up. I just want to express, as you've just said...This show really got some genuine laughs out of me. I didn't just smile and think it was cute...
Jordan Peele: Your biggest problem is, you need to learn where not to laugh when you are watching some of these sketches with your girlfriend.
Trust me. I know that now. I have learned my lesson. This could be my special show that I go watch by myself, in the shed...
Keegan Michael Key: In the shed! (Laughs)
Jordan Peele: That is so funny. That was once a beat in that scene.
Keegan Michael Key: That's right. That was a beat in that scene. That scene had a different ending for a while. We went to a shed, and we lit up a lighter. The two girls appeared behind us in the shed. At the end of the scene, as we continued to talk about how they were "Bitches", one of us grabs a rope and starts to fashion a noose for himself. The other one grabbed a shovel and started digging a grave for himself. The women just stood behind them with stern faces. That used to be the blow of the scene. They were hiding in the shed. It's too funny that you said that!