“MADtv” alums turned latter day sketch comedy saviors Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele have sneaked up on the American consciousness in the last few years, but it’s a good kind of sneak. Both sons of African-American fathers and white mothers, they haven’t exactly hid from their mixed-race heritage, mining a good percentage of their cheerfully subversive humor from the ethnic codes and conundrums that still dominate so much of American life.
To those who might try to (lamely) argue that race is no longer a factor in Barack Obama’s America, they give us Peele’s brilliant impression of President Obama alongside Key as Luther, the politician’s “anger translator.” It falls on the eternally stressed out Luther to put the leader’s thoughts into the plain black English many of us wish he could use, and the rest know would have ended his career instantly. To those of us who might feel shy about noting that some African-American names can be a bit more imaginative and polysyllabic than Caucasian monikers, they’ve given us East West College Bowl roll calls dominated by names that sound like they were collaborations between George Clinton and Dr. Seuss. (Peele has acknowledged the collaboration of a certain “Mr. Weed” in the writing of these pieces.)
We were lucky enough to encounter the witty pair who, unlike some other famous comedy teams, actually appear to enjoy one another’s company, at Comic-Con. Flanked by director Peter Atencio, they were there, of course, to promote the return of their Peabody-winning Comedy Central show. While they apparently couldn’t say much about a possible upcoming project with Judd Apatow, they were able to discuss their already aired and rather brilliant comedy relief-turn on FX’s Emmy-winning “Fargo,” as well as an animated project.
1. Regarding the point of the President Obama/Luther the Anger Translator sketches (which received a positive review from no less than the eternally composed POTUS himself).
Key: The most important thing to us has always been, “Let’s try, for comedic effect, to express what we think this president is thinking.” If the confluence of events had been different and he’d been a different president of a different race, we still think the comedic concept’s sound. So, we still would have done it. We picked Obama because we figured, “Here’s a sketch only we can do” and it helps with job security.
Peele: I think maybe the first one [had more raw anger in it]… There was a little element, at the beginning – there was all this shit that wasn’t getting said. There was some wish-fulfillment. It felt like nobody was defending [Obama] on the birther issue definitively enough.
Key: There was the birther issue, and the other trigger was Senator Joe Wilson screaming in the [Senate] chamber, “You lie!” That’s never happened to a president before; so, why would that happen to this president?
2. On multiracial humor and it’s apparent omnipresence on “Key & Peele.”
Key: I might swap out the word “multiracial” for two others: a “cultural” experience or a universal “human” experience that happens to be framed in a particular culture. As in, “This is a funny scene about vanity,” or, “This is funny scene about trying to impress a girl,” but let’s make that happen with a bunch of cholos… It might be like a Cyrano de Bergerac scene, but let’s just do it in East L.A.
Peele: You take the sketch “Black Jeff/White Jeff,” where Keegan is a biracial guy on a date with a white girl at a restaurant and he can’t figure out whether to accentuate the black side of his personality or the white side. You could read it as a focus on the biracial/mixed life but, in reality, that sketch could play for any guy. It’s always a question: Do you turn up the swagger or turn down the swagger?
Key: If I were Caucasian, then the scene would be about, “Should I be tough or should I be sensitive?” It’s just putting different cultural experience through a cultural frame.
3. On the agonies of great comic ideas that may, or may not, see the light of day.
Key: There’s one sketch that we did [for the new season] and, in the midst of it and everything, we came up with an ending, but… the train had left the station… We need a cameo from a famous person, that takes a lot of time, and we haven’t been able to do it. Now, we [still] might be able to do it, but the sketch is going to be fine. It’s going to exist as a sort of concept piece. But, if we could put a button on the ending [it would be better]… and it’s making me a little nuts! That happens a lot.
4. Regarding the fact that, while Key and Peele considered their hapless “Fargo” FBI agents to be comedy relief, their destiny was resolved in a manner that was pretty unusual under the circumstances.
Peele: This is true. Thanks for hinting at it, with no spoilers.
Key: We wouldn’t have had it any other way, because it gives Key and Peele the opportunity to step sideways a couple of inches, which is really a lot of fun.
5. On their possibly upcoming “Vandaveon and Mike” animated spin-off.
Peele: That’s in preliminary stages. We’re working on a pilot right now, but basically it’s these two guys who are known to be vocal YouTube critics of “Key & Peele”… The idea is they expand the [“Key & Peele”] universe just a little bit more.
Key: Played by Key and Peele.
Peele: It’s them, 12 years-old, in middle-school.
6. On the fact that, aside from Peele’s uncanny presidential impression, Key also has a well-regarded BHO impression.
Peele: Sometimes we’ll go places and he’ll leave the door before me, so if he gets shot in my place, I’ll just walk on through.