August, 2012 Issue

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Key & Peele


By Ian Kirby

If you've watched Comedy Central for even five minutes in the last year, you've seen a promo for Key & Peele. If you've actually seen their show, you don't even need to read this story to know how awesome they are, but you will, because you're now totally obsessed with them. Bring the obsession to the rest of your students on campus with a budget that might surprise you, with an exclusive offer from Campus Activities Magazine thanks to our close relationship with The Gersh Agency. Just mention this story when you contact Doug Edley, info at story's end.

Michael Keegan Key and Jordan Peele have landed into our pop cultural midst with an act that is not only phenomenally well-written and talented, but very much in the right place at the right time. With biracial material being ever more relatable to American audiences than ever, the two have a natural spring from which to draw, added with their keen perceptions on many other important social issues such as gay marriage, urban life and culture, relationships, politics and more. Heavy stuff out of context, but exactly what we all need to drag out into the light and laugh at, and Key & Peele are the perfect ringmasters.

People have taken notice. Not just in the favorable reviews from critics, or the cult following from fans, but when you start to take the notice of heads of state, you're doing something right. Jordan has been renowned for his dead-on impression of Barack Obama, so much so that President Obama himself commented on the pair on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" saying "It's pretty good's good stuff."

The first episode of "Key & Peele" drew 2.1 million viewers, and continued to do well throughout the first season, spurring Comedy Central to pick it up for another run, which premieres September 26 at 10:30. This moves them from a Tuesday slot to Wednesday, putting them right after Comedy Central's golden goose, "South Park," perhaps again attesting to the strength of this new series.

There have only been a few shows to really take root and have some longevity on Comedy Central. As of right now, besides the staples of "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report," Key & Peele is one of the main jewels for the network, alongside Tosh.0. Fortunately, success hasn't gone to the heads of the stars of K&P and they have managed to stay incredibly humble and gracious. They sit down with me for a one-on-one interview that proves to be one of the most pleasant and engaging that I've done.

Beginning atypically from the jump, the first thing they do is ask me a question instead of the other way around, wondering which of my sketches from the show is my favorite.

There are just so many, from the widespread popularity of the Obama sketches, to the gang banger who pooped his pants on the way to a drive by, Lil' Wayne in prison, African-Americans in Nazi Germany hiding in white face, or the flash mob race war. I think if I had to pick a single one though, it would be "Said Bitch," which you just have to see to appreciate.

They both laugh in appreciation, with Keegan saying "Yeah, that seems to be a crowd favorite," Jordan adding, "We love that one."

Just to note, this isn't a G-rated show, but it's not one that comes in completely blue either. Talk with their representatives to make sure your expectations can be met.

I explain how much both my wife and I enjoyed that sketch, which they found particularly satisfying, since the nature of the skit is one that if you are going to watch it with your significant other, you better make sure they have a good sense of humor. "(Laughs) Someone said the same thing to me yesterday, about enjoying the sketch with their significant other. Now, we did have one dude tell us that when that sketch came on, he had to go watch it in the basement alone, because his wife was not happy when it came on," Jordan says laughing, both of them cracking up at the thought. "But for the most part, I think people get it. You will always have those wet rags out there that interpret satire as literal critique."

If you think these guys look really familiar even though you've never seen Key & Peele and you just can't put your finger on it, you're probably thinking of MADtv. Jordan and Keegan were both long-standing cast members with over 5 years on board. Both actors have appeared in other projects like "Reno 911!" and you might even remember Keegan from "The Planet's Funniest Animals." Both had parts in the recent Judd Apatow movie "Wanderlust" featuring Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd as well, a movie I couldn't recommend more.

Their recent rise has been meteoric however, not only as the feature performers of the show, but with a show that has made that magical transition from just something that's on to a genuine cultural phenomenon. But, it hasn't been easy. "It has been almost two years now," Keegan says. "We have been tabulating recently and just figured out that we have been working for about 23 months straight, since the inception of the pilot up to this moment, where we are starting to edit the second season. It has been a nonstop roller coaster ride. MADtv was on air for 14 years, Jordan left in the 13th and I left once the show wrapped and we just sort of went about our business living our lives as actors. Our manager asked us if we wanted to try to pitch a show together since Jordan and I had been working together and collaborating so much with our experience on MADtv and we meshed really well. We pitched the show to Comedy Central and that was that," he says.

"Oh my God!" he exclaims, "I think that is the shortest version of that story I have ever told," as they both laugh about what I read as an inside joke on Keegan's motormouth.

"We have known each other for ten years," Keegan says, "and when we were asked about doing the show together I could not think of anyone else in the world of sketch I would rather do this with. I don't really think there is anybody much better on screen, aside from the fact that we're friends. In my opinion, there is also really not a better writer out there than my partner, so it has been a distinct pleasure for me to do this. Not to mention that we have a lot of fun together."

Picture of Key & Peele posing for their Obama skit

Jordan agrees "I think the secret to our success is that we have so much fun doing these scenes and writing together. Keegan probably is the funniest guy I know too, which is now basically our litmus test. When we create new sketches, our main goal is to crack each other up. We just have to get in that zone and once we are, it's amplified to the audience."

Keegan says this hasn't always been so, remember that despite them working together on MADtv for so long, they have only been the dynamic duo they are for less than two years. So, schools that book them now will give their students the opportunity to see not only one of the hottest acts in the country, but also an act that is growing and breathing organically, something that ensures each performance will be a once in a lifetime event. "That is a fairly new development in our creative process and I think by far the most fun. 'What can I do to make him laugh?' is the key requirement I ask myself," Keegan says. "Once that condition is met, it sort of permeates the screen or stage into the audience."

This brings us back to the unique opportunity for students to get to witness some of the magic that happens behind the camera. "If someone sees a live show, they get to witness this process happen first hand. They get to see us screwing around and riffing off of each other in exactly the way we do when we create the show."

Couple that open air creative process with the injection of some of the actual scenes from the show and students are transported into the feeling like a part of the show itself. When you also add in the element of Keegan and Jordan being creative writers and improvisers, you truly get a one-off performance at every event. "They get to see the two of us screwing around and having fun, and they realize they are having as much fun as we are and they absorb that sense of good will and comedy from the stage," Keegan says.

"We are also improvisers." Jordan adds. "The fact that we have this basis of material from season one to work with makes the material familiar to the audience, yet our ability to play off of each other as a two-man act and improvise each show makes it a lot different and more 'alive' than your typical one-man rehearsed standup set. Not that those aren't great and have their place (I have done standup myself), but I feel like our style of show draws the audience into a more communicative 'family' type experience, rather than a group watching and listening to one guy perform. No two shows are ever alike and that ends up working for us a great deal."

It's not just a subtle word or two here and there either, we are talking about legitimate, custom tailoring to each audience, as Jordan elaborates. "The audience knows they are seeing a show for them. We are talking about them, interacting with them and often use material we know only they could get, whether it's some obscure fact about their school or the area it's in, or the extreme level of lameness of their rivals (laughs)."

"When you see a Key & Peele show live," Keegan says, "only you're going to get that show. No other audience at any other school will see the same one."

The other great reason to jump on booking this show for your campus is not only the improv aspects, but the exclusivity of having such a new phenomenon on campus. "We are pretty fresh into this honestly," Jordan says, referring to the campus market. "Because it is something that has stemmed from the success of our show, we have not yet had the time to do a ton of campuses (yet), so the ones that do book us will have a little bit of bragging rights and exclusivity that most others won't have."

Improvisation in general is a pretty interesting art form, and not one most performers are entirely comfortable with, yet it is Key & Peele's bailiwick. There are a few other improv options out there, but none with name recognition. "One of our comfort levels on stage is a place most people don't want to be, which is 'I don't have a plan and nothing is written down,'" Keegan says. "Not knowing what you're going to say next can be scary as hell," Jordan adds. "But it's our bread and butter. Most of the folks that have real pedigrees in standup have certain qualities they have honed that we are still figuring out. We definitely still look up to amazing standups but, you'll find most of them not entirely comfortable with improv."

When you watch "The Tonight Show" or another major network comedy show, one gets the sense that while the host may be talented, they are really standing on the shoulders of an army of unseen writers behind the camera. Watching "Key & Peele," it feels like a smaller and more personally connected group producing the show. "Our team is small, compared to most shows than you see on television and definitely 'The Tonight Show' or 'Saturday Night Live,'" Keegan says. "All told, there are only nine of us, five writers and four executive producers, including Jordan and I. It's a pretty small group that works on the show creatively, and at the end of the day, everything has to go through a filter known as Key & Peele. Nothing will ever get on screen if Jordan and I feel hinky about it. Of course in the live show, this is much less controlled and more organic." The live show is a great multimedia blend between scenes played from the show, scenes reenacted right before the audience and the stand-up duo style commentary you see in the segments of the TV show between sketches taped on stage.

BOOK IT!: Check out Campus Activities Magazine's Special Offers for this show. Season one is currently rerunning on Comedy Central, with the DVD including special features, commentary and out takes being released September 25, the day before season 2 premieres. Their live show is one your campus will never forget, and this show is surprisingly affordable, so don't assume you're out of the running until you give The Gersh Agency a call. Because of Campus Activities Magazine's close relationship with the agency, be sure to mention this story for an exclusive offer. Call Doug Edley at 310.205.5885 or