Chances are, you should have come across Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele by now. Even if you’ve never had a friend burst in to show you one of the fantastic sketches from their eponymous show, you may recognise at least one of them from a memorable bit-part anywhere from Pitch Perfect 2 to TV’s Fargo. Both Key and Peele bring their unique energy and style to every role, big or small, and their electric chemistry together is the reason they deserve to be counted among the best double-acts of all time. If you’ve been living under a rock without Wi-Fi for the last few years, you may have missed some of the brilliant, warped sketches that have come from the minds of these two comics. So I’m gonna mix up the format here a bit, and focus on showing you what they bring to the table.
Luther may have brought Key and Peele to the limelight – and it certainly led to this fantastic moment last year – and is just one example of the excellent characters that originated on their show. After appearances at the White House Correspondents dinner, an Emmy nomination, and characters like substitute teacher Mr Garvey getting movie deals, Key has received a lion’s share of the credit with his intense energy. However, don’t ever think this is a one-sided operation; Jordan Peele’s quieter performances perfectly complement Key’s physicality. Take a look at this sketch, which is a great example of how well they work together (don’t worry, its not about American Football).
And that’s not to say that Peele can’t go big when he needs to, or that Key is limited to just jumping around. The actors’ versatility is a big part of what makes Key and Peele work, as they both deftly bounce between playing the fool and the foil. Their chemistry clearly draws from a long-lasting friendship since meeting on the improv circuit in Amsterdam, before being cast together on MADtv. Alongside working together on MADtv, Key and Peele, and the first season of FX’s Fargo, both have drawn on their undeniable talent separately. Key’s performance as a no-nonsense music producer in Pitch Perfect 2 is one of the best things about the disappointing sequel, while Peele has been busy writing and directing Get Out, a horror film starring Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford.
Cutting Social Commentary
It would be a disservice to Key and Peele to not highlight how deftly they use their talent, and their prominent position as actors of colour, to discuss important political and social topics. Across five seasons Key and Peele covered everything from gender equality to the challenges the actors faced being biracial. While comedy with a message is nothing new, Key and Peele follow in the footsteps of their comedic forefathers like Dave Chappelle or the Wayans brothers by proving that a biting political message can pair with wacky humour as well as it does with witty satire. Just take a look at the following sketch which combines all three in a catchy musical number while making an important point that is sadly only getting more relevant in these difficult times.
That sketch also highlights another hallmark of Key and Peele’s work; attention to detail. Take another one of their musical sketches, this one an Emmy-nominated send-up of Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables film.
A Higher Class of Filmmaking
If Key and Peele are going to parody something, you bet they’re going to put the work in. The pair state that their vision comes from a mantra of their director, Peter Atencio (who has also directed Keanu), who believes every sketch should feel like the best set-piece of a much longer comedy. Every aspect of production goes towards realising this aim, grounding each sketch in its own reality so that the absurdity of the joke can flourish. In practice, this just means that everything is ripped straight from the genre they are working within, from costume to cinematography. This may be incorporating Les Mis’ trademark singing closeups, mimicking the day-glo aesthetic of early musicals, or the washed-out ’80s style seen in this Miami Vice sketch, accompanied by the appropriate synth-heavy soundtrack.
While this article reads like an advertisement for a TV show that ended last year, these sketches are potent examples of everything Key and Peele do best; high-quality filmmaking, cutting social commentary, and offering memorable characters you can’t help but want to spend time with. Keanu is the first feature film the pair have produced and starred in together, and as an extended John Wick parody, it looks to be right in their ballpark. Co-starring Will Forte, Method Man and the great Keanu Reeves himself, it looks like a perfect opportunity for this hilarious duo to show us what they’re made of.