Looking back: Cadenza picks its favorite Key & Peele sketches

10 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Key & Peele’ ‘quit before it dips’ after finding laughs in fraught topics.

The finale of a sketch comedy show is an inherently anticlimactic event. For nearly four years, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele have been among the best at dishing out incisive racial comedy to a generation that sorely needed it.Key & Peele (10 p.m., Comedy Central) – The final episode of this sketch show includes takes on a young man learning about Negrotown; a man who can’t stop saying “deez nuts”: and a serious conversation between Meegan and Andre.

One of the characters could be loud and highly irritated that, after all the hyperventilation and rending of cloth that preceded the final episodes of “The Colbert Report” and “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” the arguably more revolutionary “Key & Peele” is just going to end, boom boom on da jimjams, with little or no fanfare. Whether making lighthearted jabs at pop-culture trends or tackling serious political issues, their sketches were at their best when they were at their bluntest. Extant (9 p.m., CBS) – In the two-episode season finale, Molly discloses new, disturbing details about Shepherd’s death to GSC, and Lucy makes a move that could have global repercussions. Obama’s signature resolute calmness inspired Luther, the president’s “anger translator,” a character so cleverly executed that he was eventually invited to appear alongside Obama himself during the White House Correspondents Dinner. After a spirited debate that could either wind up in a fist fight or a slow dance, Neil deGrasse Tyson might step in to explain that, actually, it doesn’t really matter.

Take the final appearance of Meegan and Andre, the controlling narcissist and bro-y boyfriend who became the show’s most enduring, consistently raucous couple. Keegan, effortlessly ebullient even on his worst days, is probably the easiest person in the history of civilization to have a conversation with; Jordan, introverted even on his most outgoing days, spoke less, but everything he said was interesting. But where television gave Key and Peele a platform to create a show worth paying attention to, it was really the internet that turned them into superstars. In their last sketch, Andre finally musters the courage to end the relationship, which Meegan is fine with—but can she just, like, you know, ask why? There’s really no choice but to make scenes have some kind of racial component to them, because that’s just the lens through which we see the world.” Sketches like “Negrotown,” a musical spoof set in a magical, Technicolor world where “you can wear your hoodie and not get shot,” relay strong political messages.

While the series consistently pulled in decent ratings for Comedy Central, it attracted hundreds of millions of views on YouTube, landing its creators on magazine covers and in New Yorker profiles. The Jim Gaffigan Show (10 p.m., TV Land) – After picking up a large Bible for Jeannie on the way to a show, the paparazzi photographs Jim, creating a media frenzy about his faith. Other segments shone for the simple, aimless absurdity of their conceits. “The Morty Jebsen Show” features a Larry King-type host (Key) interviewing an up-and-coming rapper named Young Bidness (Peele). I didn’t know this before I came to North America for college; until then, most of my friends’ names were multisyllabic, with consonants stacked against each other. The sketch starts on a familiar beat—a celebrity affronted by media probing his personal life—but takes a left turn into pure physical comedy when Bidness limps, hops, and ultimately passes out on set while attempting to flee Jebsen’s queries.

Garvey, a veteran inner-city teacher substituting at a predominantly white high school where he struggles to pronounce his students’ commonplace names (Denise is “Dee-nice,” Aaron “Ay-ay-ron). There is a clear divide in what linear television and digital media can mean for a show, and bridging that divide as audiences move online is the networks’ next big task. Here, I discovered I didn’t have a “normal” name. “Substitute Teacher” is one of my favorite bits of comedy from the past five years; Key playing a tough substitute teacher from the “inner city” placed in a white, suburban high school is a three-minute-long “100” emoji. In their final season, they didn’t just take on racist police brutality in several sketches as disturbing as amusing, they tore down “True Detective” and artsy-fartification of TV in general with scenes of crazy-zen road trip bromance and opening credits that mocked modern dramas. In a recent interview, series director Peter Atencio noted that the show’s fifth season was partly comprised of sketches that were deemed too weird, unwieldy, or hard to produce when originally pitched. “Negrotown” is clearly one of those skits: A sprawling, impeccably choreographed achievement, it depicts a Technicolor “utopia for black people” where cabs stop for everyone and loan applications never get rejected.

It’s not perfect—you could probably argue with some success that the duo’s punchlines too often rely on racial tropes that perpetuate anti-black stereotypes—but it lands. But the exercise helped them become chameleonic performers, capable of a dazzling number of accents and personalities. “You’ve probably done your 10,000 hours by the time you’re 10 years old,” said Key, referring to the theory from Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to excel at a given vocation. The finale’s other bright spots were delivered by a glut of off-kilter characters, among them a man whose passion for comedy manifests in uncomfortably Nazi-esque ways; a stud who balks at a brawl while trumpeting his lust for combat; and “Continental Breakfast Guy,” who, true to form, is a tad too pleased by a minor flight upgrade. When he butchers traditional Western names, playing with emphasis to turn Jacqueline, Denise, and Aaron into the more stereotypically black-sounding Jaquellan, D-nice, and A-A-ron, it’s a casual subversion of the concept of “normal.” Everything is normal somewhere.

The show’s sensibility is often surreal and absurd, with sketches that frequently take unexpectedly dark turns. (Case in point: A contestant in a fantastically cheesy ’80s aerobics competition learns, via cue card, that his wife and daughter are in the hospital after a hit-and-run accident.) The goal of such twists, said the 36-year-old Peele, is “to stay a step ahead of the audience. Fans can rejoice in knowing that the duo likely will be working together on a few more projects, including a “Police Academy” reboot and a collaboration with Judd Apatow. The show has averaged 1.2 million viewers a week over its most recent season and is No. 1 in its time slot among men 18 to 34, the network’s target demographic. They seem to agree—they’ve already got several movies in the pipeline—but we should be thankful we got five brilliant seasons of television before they admitted it.

But in a mere 3:31, it conjures a vast, panoramic, Dickensian universe full of the richest and most vivid characters in American fiction: the oceanic calm of L’Carpetron Dookmarriot, the frightening intensity of Hingle McCringleberry, the stoned grace of the Player Formerly Known as Mousecop. While Peele’s Obama spoke in a carefully soothing cadence, Key’s wild-eyed Luther gave voice to the president’s imagined inner thoughts, which were those of an angry black man. The first time through, I held it together pretty well until I got to Xmus Jaxon Flaxon-Waxon; I have cried laughing at this sketch at least three times, spread over six months.

And while fans are watching the duo deliver some of their best work this year, the show’s final season has so far gotten some of its lowest ratings ever. Its success helped pave the way for a creative renaissance in prime time at Comedy Central, which is also home to critical darlings “Inside Amy Schumer” and “Broad City.” Fans distraught over the looming absence of Mr.

The scared husbands whispering “Bitch,” the vain slaves on the auction block, the hit man crapping his pants, Lil Wayne rapping in the cellblock, the two businessmen competing to eat the most disgusting soul food—they’re all fronting, trying desperately to be braver, cooler, smarter, and stronger than they really are. A sketch about the frustrating overlap of songs in “Les Mis” is just as polished and pointed as one in which a rap singer tries to argue that a song in which he confessed to murder was just a song.

But a show in Key & Peele’s shoes, with a streaming viewership that outstrips its TV one, necessarily forces its network to rethink what resources to put where and how to attract advertisers. During the first season, the sketch that got us the most attention was President Obama and his anger translator, Luther, but we couldn’t bring those characters back in January, because we wouldn’t know the results of the 2012 election when we were shooting.

We created two-minute “holes” in each episode, which we proceeded to fill with Obama-Luther sketches, shot at the last minute on an Oval Office set built in our reception area. It’s all further proof that Nielsen ratings just aren’t the useful metric they once were — especially when it comes to the shows that are popular across multiple platforms. Once I recognize the sketch’s premise, a mind resentment kicks in; if it plays off something I’ve ever spoken or even thought about, however briefly or unintelligibly, I start getting antsy. Peele, a horror movie aficionado, is directing a film called “Get Out,” while Key is filming “Don’t Think Twice,” a film from comedian Mike Birbiglia. “I’m a firm believer that you need time to be bored,” Key said. “When you’re bored, that’s when things start to come to you. For the episode airing the day after the election, we shot three sketches: one in case of an Obama victory, one for an Obama defeat, and one for a contested result.

If the sketch is of a repetitive, building nature, as this one is, I start hoping that the whole thing goes off-course, that a gag misfires or an impression doesn’t land. But in the riskiest set-ups — the jokes that dealt with slavery or police brutality, that pushed the outrageous to straight up outrage — the sight of a team, rather than a single individual, offered the audience an image of solidarity, of shared experience that comforted as much as it disturbed.

Then the idea (which is, of course, “my” idea) can go back into the “pool of general ideas” (which, as a writer, is always floating above our heads, waiting for us to be sleepy, high, or thirsty enough to snatch the shit out of). Broadcast and cable networks now have to throw out the old model for understanding shows’ success, and experiment to get a better grasp on where their viewers’ eyes go. People were still mostly watching us on computers (which they would continue to do throughout our run and, most likely, for the rest of time), but they were watching us in greater numbers. The next viral sketch was “East-West Bowl,” in which college-football players introduced themselves with names like L’Carpetron Dookmarriot and Javaris Jamar Javarison-Lamar. We briefly considered that perhaps the ultimate secret to comedy success was sketches consisting of funny names, then moved on, determined not to repeat ourselves—or at least not to repeat ourselves too often.

We chose not to emulate shows like “Saturday Night Live” and “Mad TV,” which made a business out of recycling characters and situations, unless we thought we could beat the original sketch. Not only did it have beautiful cinematography (L.A Vice) and excellent texture and mood (Das Negros, Flicker), but it also elevated the genre of sketch comedy to something far more ambitious. And that ambition, I believe, is what makes sketch shows like this far funnier and engaging than most comedy movies I’ve seen in the last five years. For a while, they could preserve their anonymity in a boarding lounge if they stayed away from each other—as solo acts they remained unrecognized—but then even that stopped working.

Walking down the street with Jordan and Keegan meant being showered with yells of “Ba-lak-ay!” and “Biiiiiiiiitch!” Strangers rushed up to them with huge smiles on their faces and hugged the pair as if they were long-lost siblings. He realized that the fact that the audience couldn’t sit still during the most tense or exciting parts of a movie—that people were so overcome that they’d have to jump up and walk down the aisles, or literally shout or cower alongside the fictional heroes onscreen—ultimately created a loony sense of togetherness. If you’re gonna laugh, might as well do it loudly. “Liam Neesons” is the best of the valet sketches, if only for the ridiculousness of its subject matter. I was in new territory as a writer-producer: getting past a second season on a TV show, for me, was the equivalent of a sixteenth-century European explorer making it to the Pacific, but with better snacks. There are other instances where they talk about Batman or reenact Ned Stark’s beheading in Game of Thrones, but the idea that these two grown-ass men would be This Freakin’ Amped about this particular actor is something else entirely.

Ten episodes could take a year: three months of writing, one month of pre-production, three months of shooting sketches, two months of editing them, a month shooting the wraparounds, another two months of putting it all together, mixing, etc., and then starting all over again. It’s hard to tell what parts are scripted and what parts rely on two people so comedically in tune with one another that they just naturally finish each other’s jokes, but it’s better not to know.

Every year, we started the writing process by casting the widest net possible, including any idea that intrigued us (we typically wrote five times as many sketches as we needed). From there on, producing the show was a process of mercilessly winnowing down the material: cutting sketches, rewriting the ones that survived, and, later, editing each scene until we felt that what remained was the essence of what had intrigued us in the first place. But it’s also about two black men steeped in a black cultural vernacular that uses words and phrases like “ain’t” and “we goin’” whil referring to “their women” as “bitches,” all in a stereotypically suburban, upwardly mobile, upper-middle-class environment.-Billy Haisley How else is a comedy duo going to respond to prolific documentation of black people being killed by police than with a musical sketch called “Negrotown”? But I won’t defend “John From Cincinnati.” The irony is that most people who watched the show never saw the actual “show” but rather cherry-picked the sketches they wanted to see on their computer.

It turns out that Negrotown is a city free of cultural appropriation, cab-driver racial profiling, unsolicited requests to touch one’s hair, and the fear of wearing a hoodie in broad daylight. What is a utopia for black people is simply every small town and big city for white Americans, where they’re the standard by which all people are judged. In every phase of the process, there were opportunities to turn an average sketch into a great one (and also to do the opposite, but I’m deluded enough to believe that I never engaged in that kind of reverse alchemy). The skit snaps back to reality, revealing Peele to be a homeless man and Key on his way to jail, the real Negrotown implied by the cop who appears onscreen before driving off.

I was the last to move out of our offices, empty except for the rented furniture, a few yellowing “Key & Peele” posters, and an odd assortment of unclaimed props and costumes: a football helmet with a robot on it, a Barbie doll made to look like a gangster.

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