Exclusive Interview: Comedy Duo Sensation Key & Peele Open Up About New Series, Racial Humor and The Wire


Like all of us, there are moments when I truly love my job. For some, it might be the moment they hope in their car at the end of a long day and for others, it might be when you are stepping in the office to do some amazing stuff like cure cancer or something.

For me, the moment when I love my job the most is when I get to talk to comedic geniuses so needless to say, when I got the chance to chat with Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele about their new half-hour sketch comedy show ‘Key & Peele’, I was ecstatic.

If you ever wondered whether these guys were as funny in real life as they are in the sketches, let me reassure you with an emphatic: Hell Yes! During our amazing conversation, the pair delved into the origins of their meeting and the series, what viewers can expect in upcoming episodes and which guest stars they want to get for future episodes.

Check out what they had to say below and don’t forget to watch ‘Key & Peele’ which premières tonight Tuesday, January 31 at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT on Comedy Central. Also check out our review of the series.

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It’s been a very long time since there has been a show like that coming up with some, not only original stuff, but things that can immediately become part of the pop culture, so to speak.

Jordan Peele: We certainly hope so. It’s taking forever. But it’s nuts.

Keegan Michael Key: It’s crazy. We’re like four days away. Or three days. I don’t know. It’s crazy over here.

There’s incredible buzz on, especially after you guys came out with the YouTube video of Obama’s Anger translator. So how are you taking it all in at this point?

Keegan Michael Key: I’ve been telling people in the last few days, I feel like the last three weeks have felt like Christmas Eve. You can cut the anticipation with a knife for this premiere. And then Jordan said, very cleverly, ‘It may feel like Christmas Eve’ also for like a parent. Because there’s part of us that can’t wait to see what the gift is. And there’s part of us that hopes that we have administered a gift to people. And so the anticipation is just palpable. And it’s really been a wild ride.

Jordan Peele: We brought this to Comedy Central a year and a half ago.

Keegan Michael Key: Yeah, May of 2010 is when we had our first meeting.

Jordan Peele: So this week has gone by about as fast as the rest of the year and a half. [laughs]

One of the things that I’ve been reading online is that a lot of people are drawing comparisons with ‘The Chappelle Show’. Is that something that you welcome or not?

Jordan Peele: Chappelle is one of our heroes. And he was so successful. It’s an honor to be thought of in the same breath. Clearly it’s a black sketch show, Comedy Central. That’s the connection. Format-wise, we do a classic sketch format. We come out and we speak to the audience and present ourselves as ourselves. And then we do the sketches. And that’s like Chappelle, as well. However, we try very hard to do sketches and to rely on premises and characters that we’ve never seen anything like before in sketch. So, yeah, we could only dream of having as much success as Chappelle.

Keegan Michael Key: Oh, yeah. We certainly, we welcome the comparison. If you’re going to compare somebody to something that was brilliant, thank you.

So let’s talk origin story. So how did you guys meet?

Keegan Michael Key: We met in Chicago in 2002. And I was at the Second City in Chicago. The Second City in Chicago has two theatres. A main stage and then a theatre that’s called the e.t.c. And Jordan was performing at an improv theatre in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands Called Boom Chicago. And for a year, what they did is the two casts – the main stage cast at Second Cit and the Boom Chicago cast, they swapped places for a week and they did it twice in this one year. And so I met Jordan when his cast came over from Amsterdam to Chicago. And I was performing on the other stage at Second City. So we met and it was like, bam, you know what I mean? We hit it off immediately. Similar backgrounds, similar comedic tastes. And everything fell into place. And the first night I saw him perform it was a pretty big comedy crush for me.

Jordan Peele: And likewise. Yeah, you know when you fall in love and you spend that whole night with somebody just making out? We did that in comedy terms.

So how did the idea for the series come about? During that first night or later on?

Keegan Michael Key: No. Much later on. I mean we were on ‘Mad TV’ together for about five years. And after everything was said and done we went our separate ways and the show finished. Jordan had done five seasons. And I kind of did a sixth season. And he left before me.

But then I was on a sitcom on CBS that got cancelled. And Jordan had just finished doing a pilot for FOX. And the pilot didn’t get picked up. So we were both free at exactly the same time. And our manager said, ‘What would you guys think about doing a show together? There’s some interest out there.’ And we were like, ‘Are you kidding me? Absolutely.’ So we went and pitched this sketch show to Comedy Central and they bit.

Where do you get the ideas for all your bits?

Jordan Peele: Everywhere. If we have an idea that we think can support the theme for our show we call it a nugget. It’s a nugget of a scene. It’s just a little piece of gold that we know we can build a scene around. So a nugget can start with something that is particularly relevant so it hasn’t been touched or tapped before. It can start with something that just, you know, it’s a physical action that Keegan does that just cracks you up for a reason you almost can’t explain. You just build a scene around that. It can be an impression that we need to get through.

Keegan Michael Key: Or some kind of observation that usually Jordan will make that we’ve never seen before. Jordan has a very extraordinary mind. If there’s a hundred people in a room and we’re looking at a vase full of roses, ninety-nine people will be looking at the roses and Jordan’s going, ‘I wonder if that vase was made in China?’

Jordan Peele: That’s right. I have an extremely loud, incredibly close mind.

Keegan Michael Key: Jordan just made an observation yesterday because he watched that show on FOX, ‘Touch’ with Kiefer Sutherland. And he said, ‘What is the deal with autistic kids and 9/11?’ To us, that’s a nugget. And then we started exploring it more with our other executive producers. And Jordan said ‘Well, you know what part of it could be is who’s allowed to talk about the subject matter of 9/11? Oh, let’s pick a person who exists on the Asperger’s spectrum who says whatever they want. Or does whatever they want. So that they’re allowed to get away taboos that other people aren’t.’

Jordan Peele: Yeah, Hollywood’s crazy on it. And it’s almost that first thing, that relevance thing that Hollywood is seeping into. In the past ten years the two biggest topics of conversation, 9/11, autism.

Keegan Michael Key: It’s time for those two things to happen.

Are there some bits or sketches that you wish you could have done but just couldn’t because Comedy Central standards and practice were like, ‘No’?

Jordan Peele: They actually pushed us towards the edge.

Keegan Michael Key: They asked us to be edgier. And so lots of our sketches were originally – I mean we had lots of sketches and we had lots of intricacy and lots of kind of physical stuff happening. And then they were like, ‘Yeah, guys, feel free to go edgier.’ We were like, ‘Oh, okay. Alright. That’s on you now. You said it.’

Jordan Peele: We wrote with some of our great friends and amazing sketch writers, we wrote over two hundred and sixty sketches. So they really- all Comedy Central had to do was, ‘I like this one. I like this one.’ We avoided the negative conversations by bombarding them with work.

Comedy Central is the right channel for this kind of show. But also your lead-in is ‘Tosh.0’. So that’s also a pretty good place to be.

Keegan Michael Key: Yeah, oh definitely. And I think on the West Coast on the backside of us is ‘Jon Stewart’. So we’re really cozy. We don’t mind being the meat in that sandwich.

So what can viewers expect in the upcoming episodes?

Keegan Michael Key: In terms of skits? Like some of them just off the top of your head that haven’t been shown yet.

Jordan Peele: One way I can answer you is we spend a good amount of thought on how to design the show so the viewer has no idea what to expect next. So that’s the first way to answer that is expect the unexpected.

Keegan Michael Key: I think that Jordan is being expertly coy. Because it has a lot to do with how we do the show.

Jordan Peele: So we are going to go in media blackout on that question. [laughs]

Keegan Michael Key: Yeah, yeah. Really, it’s a lot. But I think that you’re going to experience a lot of, ‘Oh, I know what this scene is.’ No, you don’t. We’ve made a big effort where there’s a healthy diet of that in our show.

Jordan Peele: And we continue with the new ways of exploring racial humor, of course. I don’t think it dominates the show but it’s there and we have a lot to say.

Which skit was your favorite to actually perform?

Keegan Michael Key: Oh, that’s really good. What was our favorite to perform? ‘Deleted’ was fun. ‘Obama’ was fun. I mean that’s fun, ‘Obama and Luther’.

That was fun. How was ‘Blackhawk’ for you?

Keegan Michael Key: Oh God. ‘Blackhawk’.

Jordan Peele: Was it the opposite of fun?

Keegan Michael Key: It was fun that was not fun.

Jordan Peele: We can give this away because I think it’s on the Internet somewhere. We shot, I think the first sketch in history in an actual helicopter that’s swerving.

Oh my God that was so hilarious.

Jordan Peele: Yeah, Keegan gives a brilliant performance in it. And you can see a moment where the actual Keegan takes over the character.

Keegan Michael Key: I wouldn’t say my performance was that brilliant because it wasn’t that much of a performance. It was really like, ‘I’m four thousand feet in the sky’. No, that was a lot of fun.

Jordan Peele: ‘My Draws was fun.

Keegan Michael Key: Well, because it’s a sketch where we’re giggling in our eyes because we knew what the crew was going to do the second we say certain words in this particular sketch. It’s called ‘My Draws’. And I’ll let you extrapolate from there.

Jordan Peele: It starts with two guys about to do a drive by shooting. And they go somewhere that you have to see to find out. But Keegan and I were sitting there in this scene out of ‘The Wire’. And all of our sketches, you know, our great director Peter Atencio put them together. But they look like a movie. They look very cinematic. So I mean just to be able to be in that zone and be in such a real environment, and kind of have our cake and eat it, too, doing both the drama.

Keegan Michael Key: That’s true. Because you get to be a badass and then the funny part starts. So you get everything. I didn’t think of it that way but that scene probably was one of the more fun ones.

Jordan Peele: That’s the one were we were just like, ‘Man, look at what we’re doing right now.’

Keegan Michael Key: Oh, ‘Das Negros’, too.

Jordan Peele: Yeah. ‘Das Negros’. So chew on that, Americ.

I will. I can’t wait to see it. I have one final question for you guys. If there is a second season, are there any guest stars you would love to get for any of your sketches?

Keegan Michael Key: Well, we have a couple of guest stars that we’re very happy with in the first season. And, once again, media blackout. Because Jordan and I are such rabid fans of ‘The Wire’. I would love anybody from ‘The Wire’ to guest star on our show. Anybody on ‘The Wire’.

Jordan Peele: Yeah, in general, if I could just cut in real quick. We really look to serve the scenes. So, you know, we have a great amount of friends and acquaintances in the business. And, yeah, like we admire, especially just amazing dramatic actors. Whoever serves the sketch best will be pulled in. I don’t see us saying, ‘We have to have this person in so let’s write a sketch around them.
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