Review: Comedy Central's very funny 'Key & Peele'
Sketch comedy duo Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele deal with biracial and non-racial humor
Follow HitFix: Follow @hitfix
Early in the premiere episode of Comedy Central's new sketch comedy series "Key & Peele," the show's two stars, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, talk about the challenges of of being biracial in 21st century America.
"We find ourselves particularly adept at lying," Key explains, "because on a daily basis we have to adjust our blackness."
This leads into a riff about all the people they sound whiter than — "We sound whiter than the black dude in a college a capella group!" Key laments — that's very funny, and that also establishes a mission statement for the series (which debuts tonight at 10:30) beyond simply, "Here are two funny guys doing sketches and celebrity impressions." There are sketches on the show that have little or nothing to do with race, but more often than not, the humor is informed by the intersection between what's considered black culture, what's considered white, and what a couple of light-skinned buddies who self-identify as nerds can get away with depending on the company they're in.
Comedy Central has tried a few of these sketch/stand-up hybrids over the last decade (I quite liked the short-lived "Important Things with Demetri Martin"), but the one "Key & Peele" will obviously be compared to is "Chappelle's Show." Before Dave Chappelle walked away from the show (and, for a good while, show business), he made a huge mark with comedy that was simultaneously blunt and thoughtful about race(*), and Peele recently described Chappelle as "a hero of ours" while describing the decision to mix the sketches in with segments where they talk to the studio audience.
(*) I know everybody loves the Rick James episode, but I'm very fond of "I Know Black People," a game show where Chappelle challenged various black-adjacent white people (a cop, a Korean grocery clerk, a writer on "Chappelle's Show") to answer questions about black culture, and Chappelle, John Mayer and ?uestlove trying to identify which musical instruments are most likely to make different racial groups dance.
The humor in "Key & Peele" is gentler than "Chappelle's Show" — the two stars come across as laid-back and genial when they're talking in the studio — but no less keenly-observed. And, much of the time, it's laugh-out-loud funny.
In the highlight of tonight's premiere, Peele does an excellent impression of President Obama, who has hired an "anger translator" named Luther (Key) to loudly rant about his various enemies (clip NSFW):
Next week, Key and Peele play a pair of actors in a play about Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, each getting caught up in the audience's enthusiastic response to different bits of oratory, until the show devolves into a pandering collection of catchphrases and, inexplicably, pop-locking.
Again, not every sketch has a racial theme — in the premiere, for instance, there's a parody of "Hell's Kitchen" and the way reality show judges try to constantly fake out contestants — but enough of them do to give the show a unity and make it feel like something to watch for a full half-hour, rather than seeking out individual sketches when they go viral the next day.
There are some growing pains. In the two episodes I've seen (particularly the second), there are several sketches that have one basic joke repeated for several minutes. Sometimes, it works because the joke gets elaborated on each time — in the premiere, Key and Peele play two married friends who have to seek increasingly-remote locations before they feel comfortable referring to their wives by every woman's second least-favorite word — but other times it's just the same gag over and over until you're past ready to move on to the next one.
It helps that the stage patter between Key and Peele is so strong. Where I remember very little of what Chappelle or Demetri Martin did and said in front of the studio audience on their respective shows, some of the best "Key & Peele" moments take place on that stage, whether it's Key recreating his experience watching "Bridesmaids" on an airplane or the two friends acting out what it's like when white people fight outside bars.
The whole genre of "white people do it like this, and black people like this" humor got horribly played-out during the stand-up boom of the '80s and early '90s. (One of my most-quoted "Simpsons" gags is Homer watching one of these routines and cackling, "It's true! We're so lame!") And, of course, those jokes always had an undercurrent of suspicion or confusion about another group. But Key and Peele straddle both cultures, and there's a feeling in that bit, and most of the material they do, that they're just as capable of behaving like the white frat guy outside the bar as they are at being the President's anger translator.
So we have two likable and funny guys and a lot of untapped material. That's an excellent start.
2007 | Comedy | PGSummary: Newlyweds Nick (Ice Cube) and Suzanne (Long) decide to move to the suburbs to provide a better life for their two kids. But their idea of a dream home is disturbed by a contractor (McGinley) with a bizarre approach to business.Director: Steve Carr
Cast: John C. McGinley, Ice Cube, Nia Long, Aleisha Allen
1996 | Crime | RSummary: Jerry, a small-town Minnesota car salesman is bursting at the seams with debt... but he's got a plan. He's going to hire two thugs to kidnap his wife in a scheme to collect a hefty ransom from his wealthy father-in-law. It's going to be a snap and nobody's going to get hurt... until people start ...Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Cast: William H. Macy, Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare
2013 | Drama | RSummary: Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill have boundless energy in the story of a real-life commodities crook who earned millions through scummy small-time stock trades.Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie
2013 | Comedy | NRSummary: Insanely funny comedy show created by Amy Schumer, who stars in brilliantly funny sketches about sex, city living, dating, and friendship.Director: Daniel Powell, Amy Schumer (creators)
Cast: Amy Schumer, Kevin Kane, Mike Houston
1995 | Mystery | NRSummary: Denzel Washington plays an out of work WWII vet who takes the wrong job and is soon neck-deep in a mess of politics, murder, and jazz in '40s Los Angeles.Director: Carl Franklin
Cast: Denzel Washington, Tom Sizemore, Jennifer Beals
2013 | Thriller | RSummary: Based on the true story of Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) a Miami bodybuilder who wants to live the American dream. He would like to have the money that other people have. So he enlists the help of fellow bodybuilder Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and ex-convict, Christian bodybuilder Paul Doyle (D...Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub
2008 | Science Fiction | PGSummary: Animated series continues the story of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker as they battle the Emperor Palpatine, Count Dooku and General Grievous, but also takes time to explore other smaller characters in the Star Wars universe.Director: George Lucas (creator)
Cast: Tom Kane, Dee Bradley Baker, Matt Lanter
1997 | Crime | RSummary: Quentin Tarantino adaptats an Elmore Leonard novel into this story of a few increasingly desperate people scraping to get by. It has deep soul, a wicked sense of humor, and Samuel L. Jackson, Robert De Niro, Pam Grier, and Robert Forster.Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster
1993 | Sports | PGSummary: Emotionally powerful sports classic featuring Sean Astin as a skinny high school kid with big football dreams and the determination to make his way towards his dream team at Notre Dame.Director: David Anspaugh
Cast: Sean Astin, Jon Favreau, Ned Beatty
Looking for something to watch?
Let Streaming Genie help you.
Let Streaming Genie help you.