As a comedy team, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are very funny.
As guys who both lay claim to biracial status (black fathers, white mothers), they share a state of informed in-betweenness that gives their comedy extra punch and extraordinary insight.
Race fuels much of ”Key & Peele,” their sketch-and-standup half-hour series airing Wednesdays at 10:30 p.m. EDT on Comedy Central. Straddling the great divide between White and Black, they deliver a special brand of laughs, along with the occasional epiphany.
”There’s been a lot of racial comedy over the years,” says Peele. ”But being biracial, mixed individuals, we realized there’s been nothing from our perspective.”
Even so, their mission isn’t social reform.
”We’re not trying to lead anybody toward any specific conclusion,” says Peele, ”except that, ultimately, race is an absurd thing.”
”It always boomerangs back to culture,” Key adds.
They are happy to show how.
The comedy of Key and Peele is clever, keenly observed and fearless. But never mean.
Consider their sketch set in the antebellum South. They play slaves who, placed on the auction block, grow increasingly indignant that no one is bidding on them, while all the other slaves are snapped up.
Then there’s the sketch set in Germany in 1942, as a Nazi colonel looking for escaped Negroes finds Key and Peele hiding out – in white-face. With their nervous denials and foolish-looking disguise, they manage to convince their pursuer that they’re not one of THEM.
Peele displays TV’s best impersonation of Barack Obama in several sketches where the unflappable president is joined by Luther, his ”anger translator” who channels, unfiltered, what Obama is really thinking.
For instance, after Obama calmly tells viewers that ”Gov. Romney and I have different ideas on how to best help the American people,” Luther (played by Key) screeches his unbridled version of the message: ”I killed Osama bin Laden! And YOU strapped your dog to the top of your car!”
In person, Key and Peele are both affable, reflective chaps who genuinely seem to get a kick out of each other. Key, the tall, hyper and bald partner, is 41 and grew up in Detroit. Peele, husky and more laid-back, is 33 and hails from New York.
They met a decade ago in Chicago, where Key was performing in a Second City improv troupe and Peele, then in the Amsterdam-based Boom Chicago comedy group, was visiting as part of a cast swap between Boom and Second City.
Needless to say, they found they had much in common.
“I wonder,” Peele muses, ”how much both Keegan and I were pulled toward a performing career – where we’re shifting personalities and doing different characters – because we grew up walking a sort of racial tightrope.”
”We’ve been doing some strange form of sketch comedy since we were very, very little,” Key declares. ”We just didn’t know we were doing it.”
Now they do it in a happy alliance.