In 2005, when Dave Chappelle walked away from his enormously popular and groundbreaking sketch comedy show “Chappelle Show”, a void was left with a dire need to be filled. “Chappelle Show” wasn’t the first of its kind – but it was the first to be truly allowed no limits in terms of content and presentation. Skits like “Clayton Bigsby”, “Trading Spouses”, “Reparations”, “The Playa Haters Ball”, “Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Stories”, “Jury Selection” and “Black Bush” just to name a few made the show a cultural and social phenomenon.
Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele were Mad TV alums, a raunchier and more risqué version of Saturday Night Live, the original sketch comedy show. Even in the few skits they appeared in together, they clearly shared a comedic chemistry and mind that would serve them well in potential future endeavors.
Several years after Chappelle walked away from “Chappelle Show” and after many attempts by Comedy Central to try and have something with the same hit potential as “Chappelle Show” (remember “Chocolate News” with David Alan Grier??) , “Key & Peele” was introduced in early 2012.
The show had advantages that Chappelle didn’t – namely it was birth in the social media and YouTube age – making it possible for the show and its stars to gain popularity even when it wasn’t on television. For the last 3 ½ years, the show has become a machine – churning out sketch after sketch centered around race, politics, pop culture, sports etc. It wasn’t the groundbreaking phenom that “Chappelle Show” was but it definitely created its own piece of space in comedy history. In light of its impeding finale, I present the Top 10 sketches in “Key & Peele” history.
When doing a “Top” list of anything, it is important to set some guidelines to follow. This helps to make the list at minimally subjective as possible while attempting to maintain some objectivity. For example, originality counts for a lot. Subject matter counts for a lot. Relevance counts for a lot. Number of YouTube views means nothing for this list.
Without further ado:
The Honorable Mentions – these are the skits that were great but didn’t quite live up to the standards of Originality, Subject Matter and Relevance.
“You Can Do Anything” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nlD9JYP8u5E
This skit is about how some athletes let the emotions of a big win get the best of them and take their post-game interview just a bit too far (think Kevin Garnett’s “Anything is Possible” times 1000). The Russell Westbrook attire is hilarious.
“Dance Show” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEzE3L-NKL4
If you’re an American Idol fan, this skit is for you. It’s clear that the contestant has no talent but will use any device to get invited to the actual show. And why is there always a British judge?
“Nooice” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQnYi3z56RE
Any skit that creates a new “word” has to be recognized. “Nooice” has become the new “whatever” – depending on the situation and the moment, it can mean anything.
“Alien Imposters” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWO1pkHgrBM
While not completely original in content, this skit has to be given some love because it shot like a movie. It is funny because it doesn’t go overboard.
“Gay Wedding Advice” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rtgY1q0J_TQ
This is one of the few skits where neither Key nor Peele is solely responsible for the laughs. The family who is not prepared for a gay relative surely may not be ready for a same sex wedding.
“Dad’s Hollywood Secret” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oh7xwI_0huM
Oh the things we find out about people after they die. A son while eulogizing his civil rights working dad shows unseen footage from his dad’s brief Hollywood career. Think Amos-n-Andy.
“What About Non-Stop, Though?” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bGuPKSBpyBY
From the “Valet” series, this skit is funny because a special guest stops by to get his car and the Valet’s are “Taken” by him….
Now onto the top 10:
10) “East/West College Bowl” – Ever watch Sunday Night Football? When the players introduce themselves and their alma mater. Key and Peele are clearly huge sports fans given some of sketches they’ve done. But this one is classic. This is the sketch that reminds you that careful consideration must be given to the names bestowed upon your children at birth. The fact that Key and Peele are able to give each player who is introducing himself their own voice is impressive in itself. But the looks each player has have to get a shot out on this one. The underrated part of the skit is that the sportscasters are able to keep a straight face when talking about some of the players with a crazy name. Hingle McCringleberry, anyone?
(Side note, the Super Bowl special these guys shot using actual NFL players in a similar sketch gets a shot out. But this sketch is what started it.)
9) “Gay Marriage Legalized” – One of the beauties of Key & Peele is its ability to be very funny without being completely offensive. This sketch is that and then some. It is a celebration of a gay marriage being legalized and a couple being interview about the passing of the law who clearly have two different takes on what it means for their relationship. Peele is the scene stealer here but he is playing of Key’s subtle (yet very apparent) ambivalence. This was the sketch that proves that neither guy is afraid to play gay and sets the tone for future sketches.
8) “Outkast Reunion” – Key and Peele are clearly music fans and based on the show, hip-hop is probably at the top of the list. They did sketches around hype men and rappers confessing to crimes in their songs. But no sketch captures the “beef” between two rappers better than this one. Big Boi and Andre 3000 are night and day, yet musically they were able to fuse their different outlooks to make classic albums and essentially give Atlanta and the south a wider identity. But like most great groups, they grew apart. Key is playing the eclectic Andre here while Peele is playing the lower key Big Boi. Both are equally funny and probably base the content of the sketch from what they presume to be the issues for Outkast since neither member talks about the “rift”. The only issue with the sketch is Key’s hair is too long for the current day Andre.
7) “Black Republicans” – This is probably the most underrated sketch on the list. Politics is the most divisive issue the USA. Since most Blacks who are involved with politics tend to be liberal, this sketch tends to shed light on a forgotten segment of Blacks – Black Conservatives. The fact that all the guys in the room pretty much look and talk the same is priceless. But the surprise of the sketch is the appearance of Malcolm Jamal Warner (Theo from “The Cosby Show”). He is actually funny in this sketch. Regardless of your political affiliation, this sketch is smart and the ending is classic. The only issue with the sketch is that Malcolm Jamal Warner is wearing earrings and Black Republicans would never do that because they are far too conservative…. And they are not a monolith.
6) “Auction Block” – “Roots”. “Amistad”. “Twelve Years A Slave”. Very few could take a subject that brings more anger than slavery and make it funny, but Key & Peele manage to do it here. They play two “prospective” slaves who are about to be sold. The tone of the sketch starts out one way and takes an interesting turn to say the least. It’s like being the last choice for a team when the criterion for making the team has no methodology. Every time I watch the sketch, I still want to know “How’d they catch him’?
5) “Sex with Black Guys” – Ever been offended and intrigued the same time? That is what happens when Key & Peele are hanging out at a bar one night have a beer when they overhear a conversation between two White women about what they think sex with a Black guy is like. This is one those sketches that could make you laugh and shake your head within a few seconds of each other. The ladies are “complimentary” one moment and down right “ignorant” the next because of stereotypes. The beauty of this sketch is that Key & Peele get to use merely body language to elicit a response from the audience based on the conversation they are hearing. It is a classic moment during the sketch that makes every guy wonder if he would try the same thing given the opportunity. What ever happened at the restroom?
4) “I Said B***h” – One of their earlier sketches centered on the conversations guy friends have about their women when they are pissed about something they did. Of course those conversations are completely different when you are concerned that your woman might hear something you said. It is about the over the top lengths guys go through to have a private venting moment all while not losing face or “man points” from your friends. The only complaint might be that the skit goes on a little long but the fact that any man who is or has been a relationship with a woman can relate makes this sketch one of the all-time classics in sketch comedy. Even as we speak, I’m looking around to make sure my lady isn’t in the room watching…..
3) “Negrotown” – Given the tense state of affairs and subsequent issue between the police and Black men, “Negrotown” was timely and funny. Of all the sketches Key & Peele shot, this is probably the most risqué. “In Living Color” broached the subject with their “Black World” skit many years ago, but it pales in comparison to “Negrotown”. The singing, the dancing and the imagery are cool. But the lyrics that Peele (and others) is singing are hilarious. If there is truth in jest, this sketch embodies it full on. And no, “Negrotown” is not Atlanta…..
2) “Substitute Teacher” – Everyone has likely has a least one substitute teacher once in their school careers (even if you dropped out in the fourth grade). Substitute teaching is the worst job to have at a school (even worse than being a lunch lady who scoops mashed potatoes for a thousand kids every day). Most people take the substitute teacher for a joke so precedence must be set early by the teacher to have some level of respect from the class. Put a teacher from the inner city with no discernable social ability outside of dealing with black kids in all white and very suburban class room and you get this segment. It is not that he is clearly butchering their names. It is why. He doesn’t know any better and yet expects the kids to respond . This sketch is perfect in timing (the exchange between Mr. Garvey and Denise is brilliant) and his anger while taking attendance is hilarious. Poor A-a-ron.
1) “Obama’s Anger Translator – Meet Luther” – When America was first introduced to Barack Obama, he was an on the rise state senator from Illinois speaking at the Democratic National Convention . He came off as intelligent, well spoken, confident and calm – placing him on the political radar on the national scene. When he ran for President, it was largely assumed that he would have to become more forceful in his approach to get people to listen and respond. Even when he is criticized publicly, he manages to keep his cool. Enter “Luther”, who’s second language is Anger after English. “Luther” says everything the President might like to say to but won’t. This sketch works on so many levels. Peele does probably the best President Obama impersonation today and it’s not even close. He’s believable in not just voice but in mannerism (like the pregnant pause the President makes when he’s about to make a point to his use of hand gestures). Key is “Luther”. We don’t know Luther’s background but I would guess he’s from the Southside of Chicago and knew the President when he was a community organizer. Why is this sketch number one? In 2012, it was the sketch people looked the most forward to on the show. It compares to Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin “Saturday Night Live” appearances but better. “Luther” is Bernie Mac, Sam Kinison and Richard Pryor. He says what he wants in translating for the President and gets just enough rope to do such. But even in his anger, he still respects the President which might serve as an underlying theme of the humor in the sketch. “Obama’s Luther” opened the door for some of the shows best material down the line – including more anger translators for the First Lady, Malia Obama and Hillary Clinton. This sketch was the starter and made for some great humor in some politically tense times for the United States.
Whether or not you are a fan of the show, one thing is clear. Key & Peele didn’t have to be Chappelle to change the game. They simply built on what SNL, The Richard Pryor Show, In Loving Color and Chappelle’s Show tried to do. They took advantage of a new age and built a legacy in a few short years. Wednesday nights at 10pm will no longer be the same. Thank goodness for YouTube.