TV Article

Dissecting 'Key & Peele'

The sketch-comedy series Key & Peele is only in its second season, but stars Keegan-Michael Key, 41, and Jordan Peele, 33, go back much further than that — to their days on MADtv in the mid-2000s. Now, on their Comedy Central show (which airs Wednesdays at 10:30 p.m.), their wily humor has found a fitting home of its own. Even the president agrees. (Earlier this year he called a recurring bit with Peele as Obama and Key as his anger translator ''good stuff.'') We asked the guys to break down their favorite sketches to find out how they make their funnies...when they're not watching The Bachelorette.

Auction Block, Season 1, Episode 3

As Key puts it, ''People at home in their living room go, Uh-oh'' when seeing this sketch for the first time. ''We knew we had to deal with slavery at some point in the season because it's the beginning of the African-American journey,'' Peele tells us. The result: an auction scene featuring a pair of for-sale slaves who, like a scrawny kid picked last in gym class, become consumed with insecurity when no one bids on them. ''I had this image of us standing there next to a guy who's just physically superior to us,'' explains Peele, who wrote most of the sketch himself. ''There's something innately funny in the double humiliation of that.'' Key agrees. ''This skit had that zigzag quality to it,'' he says. ''We realized this is Key & Peele.'' Oddly enough, though, the inspiration for neurotic slaves came in part from the 1989 movie Glory. ''Think of all the courage that our ancestors had,'' Key says, citing the Civil War drama as evidence. ''Compared to them, we're such wimps! We'd complain about the lack of air-conditioning, let alone being bought by another human being. So the skit's really a treatise on vanity, and the framework happens to be slavery.''

I Said Biiitch, Season 1, Episode 1

''This is one of the first scenes Keegan and I wrote,'' Peele says of the fan favorite. It centers on two meek husbands searching for secluded spots — treetops, fields, outer space — where their wives won't be able to hear them exchange chest-puffing tall tales of calling their spouses the B-word. The idea was sparked, he says, by another B-word: The Bachelorette. ''There was a nerdy weatherman,'' he says, referring to season 6 contestant Jonathan Novack, who ''was bullied in the house by some douche-baggy guy.'' Peele noticed him trash-talking his rival to Ali Fedotowsky — but only in a near whisper. ''That little moment of reality TV, we latched onto it as a funny contradiction of how people posture themselves.''

Obama College, Season 2, Episode 1

If the president partied as a young man, Key and Peele reasoned, then he must have been the Partyer-in-Chief. Shot on a vintage camcorder, these found-footage-style skits star Peele as Barry O circa 1980. ''I figured Obama in college would be like Stiles from Teen Wolf: the charismatic guy that brought the party together,'' Peele says. ''He must've been using his hope and charisma in that capacity at some point.'' For details, they consulted David Maraniss' Barack Obama: The Story. In high school, ''he belonged to a group called the Choom Gang — a marijuana-smoking team, for lack of a better phrase, which we found hilarious,'' Key says. ''And the scenes where he's like, 'Intercepted!' was something the president actually did.... He would intercept the joint while it was passing between two guys.''

Chris Brown & Rihanna 2gether, Season 2, Episode 3

The series took on another lightning-rod issue when it weighed in on the Chris Brown/Rihanna saga with a mock music video. Says Key, ''It's one of those things where you're sitting there going, 'Really? We're just letting this guy get off scot-free?''' In their fake ''2gether'' video, Rihanna (Key) turns the tables on Brown (Peele) — and in his own car, no less. ''We rented that Lamborghini,'' Key says. ''It was the same make and model that he was driving the night that the incident occurred.'' While Key isn't actually singing as Rihanna in the scene (Nyima Funk handled the vocals), he certainly was dressed as her. ''We mixed spikes and Ziggy Stardust, and then we just tucked me in everywhere we could. A lot of tucking.''

The Ones That Never Aired...

Key and Peele tell us about two of their 400-plus unfilmed or unaired sketches

Extreme Plantation Makeover

The same week they filmed ''Auction Block,'' the pair shot a second slavery sketch. ''It was an advertisement for a reality show called Extreme Plantation Makeover'' that would tweak the Ty Pennington franchise, explains Key. ''It was a funny idea but maybe too straightforward.'' Adds Peele, ''I think it ultimately took away some of the punch of the one that stayed.''

I Said Wiiitch

Following the success of ''I Said Biiitch,'' the team came up with a sequel. ''It had us in Puritan times,'' Peele says. ''We're dressed like we were in The Crucible and start talking in very puritanical-speak about our wives. And then at some point we look around and say to each other, 'I said wiiitch...''' The scene, which ended with them getting turned into frogs by their witch wives, was rejected by the network.

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Originally posted Oct 26, 2012 Published in issue #1231 Nov 02, 2012 Order article reprints