By Paula Hendrickson
Raise your hands: How many of you know who Key and Peele are?
OK. So you loved them as a pair of ill-fated FBI agents Budge and Pepper on the FX series Fargo, right? No? Then you probably remember them as former MadTV cast members, or from any number of TV and film roles they’ve had — separately or together — over the years.
Even if you’ve never heard of Key and Peele before, all you have to do is tune in to their Comedy Central show Key and Peele, and you’ll realize Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele make up one of the smartest and funniest comedy duos working today.
Season four of their Comedy Central series starts Wednesday, Sept. 24, but you can usually catch repeats from earlier seasons several times per week.
What makes Key and Peele so funny? They’re smart. They often illuminate difficult and touchy issues, like race relations, through humor. They’re fond of putting characters into cringe-inducing scenarios, but also have fun skewering everything from obsessive Star Wars geeks to President Barack Obama. They’re even hysterical in drag.
One of their most ambitious sketches I’ve seen so far — sadly, I’m a late-comer to Key and Peele, so I haven’t seen every episode yet, but am catching up on YouTube — was a spoof of Les Miserables. In it, Peele played a Jean Val Jean-like character, and Key was a would-be Javert, begging people — in song, of course — to stop singing over one another. They really captured the look, feel and dynamic of the film version of Les Mis while singling out several complaints critics had of the movie.
In another classic sketch, they sort of spoofed their own characters — a pair of movie-loving parking valets — by turning them into a pair of Elizabethan-era Shakespeare fans commenting on a performance of Othello outside of the Globe Theatre. You really have to know your source material to write a sketch like that. Iambic pentameter, too.
Yes, their material can be a bit coarse at times, and it clearly isn’t for everyone. But there’s a keen intelligence to Key and Peele’s comedy. Sometimes it’s buried beneath an absurd surface, so you might want to watch some sketches more than once — especially if you’re laughing too hard to catch all the jokes.
I can’t wait to see what topics they take on next.
Key and Peele, season four premiere, airs Wednesday, Sept. 24, at 9:30 p.m. Central on Comedy Central.
Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Follow her on Twitter at P_Hendrickson and send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the Sept. 24-30, 2014, issue