21 November 2013

Why Do I Hate Key & Peele?

A couple of television shows have been bothering me lately. It's not a real active hatred, but an apathy for a few shows that I have no business being apathetic about. I don't care for The League while loving It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, I can't deal with Brickleberry after creaming over Ugly Americans, and despite an unyielding love of Chappelle's Show for the past decade, I can't bear to watch Key & Peele.

How did this happen? I compare it with Chappelle, because that's really the standard for contemporary black comedy sketch shows on basic cable. As if there has ever really been another (sure, Doggy Fizzle Televizzle and Chocolate News I guess. Damn I watch a lot of black sketch comedy). I never really bought into Key & Peele. For all the love they think they had, I always considered them to not be that great. Perhaps that's what first turned me off. Dave Chappelle was always very self-effacing and always put on this "me against the world" mentality, which of course, ultimately drove him to walk away from his hugely successful program when he became a bit too mainstream.
No MadTV alum has coasted off one impression
this hard since Frank Caliendo

Comedy Central, it would seem, learned from Dave's very public exit and picked one of the safer pairs of black comedians they could to make their next big show. Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are both alums from MadTV, which always came across as a more desperate version of SNL without any of the history or pedigree. Instead of every parlaying that into an attitude or edge though, like In Living Color for instance, MadTV ended up just bland, even if they have graduated some impressive alumni, like Will Sasso, who butchered Curly in The Three Stooges (2012), and Bryan Callen, who said the n-word in The Hangover: Part II (2011).

Key and Peele tend to have this misplaced sense of high self-worth, which bothers me. I realize that's kind of insane. To me, they haven't earned any laughter or place among the great black comics, even though almost immediately seemed to crown themselves as such. Perhaps I'm being a little harsh as I work through my own misplaced disdain. It isn't quite Key and Peele themselves who have anointed their own statuses, but a constant stream of media calling them the greatest, funniest show on television.

So I gave them a chance. In fact, I tune in nearly every week, only to barely limp past the first excruciatingly bad sketch. At this point I'll give two important concessions - the Obama Anger Translator sketches and that one sketch where Key mispronounces all the white kids names in chemistry class is pretty funny, if only for blessing the world with the perfect nickname for anyone named Aaron ("A-A-Ron." I haven't jumped on to a nickname based on a show that quickly since Workaholcis gave us "B-Rad."). Even this sketch, though, tends to be formulaic and stuck spinning on one joke, which is emblematic of Key & Peele's writing.

So let's dive into this one, because it's actually a really typical product of the show. There is a very quick set-up which presents a normal world with one outrageous character for no reason. That one Halloween episode sketch with the normal dude at a vampire party has a similar set-up with the conceit that his world is normal for very Twilight-y vampires. After that, riffs on the same joke are hammered over and over again until it becomes stale. Now, this kind of writing is dependent on a pretty clever joke. The idea of a black teacher pronouncing every white kid's name in decidedly "black" fashion is decently clever. Nothing ever really happens, though, and it's not really clear why Key gets so angry, which certainly doesn't actually affect any characters' reaction. The sketch then ends on a slight twist, with the black "Tim-OTH-y" accepting his name as correct.

Now, to validate my complaint, I tried to think of a comparable Chappelle sketch to both illustrate my point that Key & Peele doesn't know what it's doing and to rationalize my immense love for one bit of the genre and my hatred for another. Let's look at "The Niggar Family," a classic sketch that also riffs on white people being attributed black names that has basically one joke stretched long. Here's that one.
"Oil? Bitch you cookin'?"

After watching both these sketches back to back a few things come to my mind. One is variety. The Niggar Sketch features five scene changes with three sets in four minutes. It also gets some new life when Dave enters about halfway and seems to be barely holding in laughter the whole time, acting like the only character in on the joke. Finally, despite much more offensive material, the Niggar Sketch is way more lighthearted than "A-A-Ron," which has far more aggression and intensity in what should be a sillier situation.

I'm not really sure if the increased variety and joy makes me enjoy Chappelle more. I'm not sure if it's the way that Key & Peele chokes jokes to death before relenting to the next sketch or an underlying problem in what they are mining for laughs. This is, after all, one of the more subjective matters out there. I'd be curious if anyone feels the way I do - loving Chappelle and hating Key & Peele, or if anyone feels the opposite, or maybe loves or hates both? Post in the comments anything you got - I'm very willing to find a way into this show, but right now, I can't sand it.


  1. Agreed - hated it for a while because of the drab sketches I'd seen that overdo the black stereotypes by actors who clearly can't relate to them one bit. Being human beings seems so unnatural for them when they're between sketches as well. I avoided the show for a while knowing everyone who enjoyed it was really just longing for more Chapelle. Eventually I got into the show after seeing a couple good sketches with my friend but then after watching it more I got the same conclusions as you - it's overdone; they obliterate the dead horse. It just sucks to hear so many people give in to the mediocre agreement that this is an acceptable replacement after so long since the mountain peak with Dave. It isn't for one and yet Comedy Central will be pouring money hand over fist to change the stigma of common sense. Hard not to hate so hard on the show seeing as I hated it, avoided it, tried it then hated it more. Anyways spot on and very well measured article.

  2. Who reads this shit, besides me after accidentally landing here looking for a clip of one of K&P's sketches. I loved the beginning of your post where you essentially called them both uppity.

  3. it is truly one of those hit and miss shows (the sketches within each show, that is). after a while, the misses bring me to the point where i don't tune in. i'm sad to miss out on some of those better ones that actually exemplify something in a true light (and at times, better than I imagine I could), but as you said, some sketches are overdone or don't hit the mark for one reason or another.


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