Two men enter. Hilarity ensues: A tribute to Key and Peele

September 28, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 28, 2013

As I wrote last month, for years I have lived without a television in my various homes. And as I alluded to in that piece (without saying it explicitly), for years I went without watching much in the way of web video.

Why not? Well, there were various reasons. (There always are with me.) One was that during two lengthy periods from 2008 through 2011, as web video was really taking off, I didn’t have Internet available at home. Another was that my tentative experiments watching web videos weren’t very successful: For whatever reason, they just didn’t load or play very quickly on my Macintosh laptop.

My aversion to web videos started to change in mid-2012, after I got a tablet. Web videos still sometimes can take a second or so to load on the device, and occasionally the playback annoyingly stutters or pauses when it outpaces the download. But this seems to happen relatively infrequently with the tablet.

So I ended up spending time with the tablet’s YouTube application, finding videos that I liked and subscribing to the “channels” that purveyed those videos. While I branched out a bit, discovering the Crackle service, my preferences when watching videos on the tablet boil down to these characteristics: short and funny.

By short, I mean no more than five or six minutes (but not ultra-short, which I consider anything shorter than two minutes). By funny, I mean — well, take a look at the channels to which I’ve subscribed: College Humor. Funny or Die. How It Should Have Ended, whose humorous animated shorts improve on the endings of popular movies and video games. The Onion. Screen Junkies, who first drew my attention with their hilarious Honest Trailers. (Sample lines from their skewering of World War Z: “[A]nother zombie movie… But this time, it’s got Brad Pitt! Get ready for the big-screen adaptation of the best-selling novel that’s got everything you loved about…the title! And nothing else.”)

But that’s not all! Here are some of my other channel subscriptions: Sarah Silverman. Comediva, whose work puts female comedians front and center. Potter Puppet Pals, which spoofs the Harry Potter series. Rachel Does Stuff, which boasts singing, stand-up comedy and sketches from Rachel Bloom. 1A4Studio, which condenses popular films into hilarious one-minute animated “speedruns.” TransolarGalactica, which puts a darkly comedic spin on space opera.

Oh, and then there’s Comedy Central.

Which brings me to the point of this post — the confession that I must offer to ease my troubled soul. You see, my friends… My name is Matthew E. Milliken, and I have Key & Peele fever.

Who or what, you may ask, are Key and Peele? I’m glad you asked! Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are comics who have an eponymous variety show airing Wednesdays at 10:30 p.m. ET on Comedy Central.

And did I mention that Key and Peele are downright hysterical? Because they are.

You may already know Key and Peele from their first East/West College Bowl skit, which lampooned the names of NCAA football players. Or perhaps you caught the duo in 2012 portraying President Obama and Luther, his “anger translator.” If comedic parodies of horror films that not-so-subtly comment on societal racism is your bag — that’s a well-established subgenre, right? — then perhaps you’ve seen Key and Peele’s “Suburban Zombies” sketch. Or maybe your passion for social justice and hiphop led you to see the pair’s Gandhi vs. Martin Luther King Jr. entry in the second season of the “Epic Rap Battles of History” web series.

I stumbled across Key and Peele from surfing Comedy Central videos on YouTube. But if you’re anything like me, then no matter how you first encountered the pair, you likely fell in love with their sketches.

It’s hard for me to capture just what is so excellent about the sketches, perhaps because they’re so varied. Although they feature a few recurring characters — Obama and Luther, a man named Wendell, the juvenile Vandaveon and Mike of the “Critiquer’s Corner” web series — you never know just what or who you’re going to get when you start viewing one of the pair’s performances.

One of my favorite K&P videos is “Weird Playlist,” in which the two men play buddies taking a nighttime road trip. When one character connects his digital gadget to the car stereo and puts the contents on shuffle, he accidentally starts replaying his bizarre audio diary. Peele essentially plays two separate characters — one a normal-seeming guy riding in a car alongside his buddy, the other a profoundly alienated loner who conveys his thoughts in a curiously flat voice.

Then there’s “Power Falcons,” a sendup of Japanese science fiction TV in which a green-clad falcon (Peele) interrupts the mission to object to his ethnically diverse teammates repeatedly calling him Black Falcon. “How would you feel if I called you Red Falcon?” an outraged Peele asks the Yellow Falcon (Key, who here is styled after a Native American and employs an uncharacteristically husky voice). “And Purple Falcon, how would you feel if I called you Yellow Falcon?” the irate pilot shouts at a colleague who is played by an Asian-American woman.

Another favorite of mine is “I’m Retired,” a two-character piece in which Peele is living off the grid as a grizzled former military operative named Decker who turns out to be a little too eager to come out of retirement. Key, as an unnamed general, plays the straight man who’s taken aback by Decker’s avidity for action and none too impressed by the former operative’s agility or reflexes.

A completely different genre, the musical, inspires a recent sketch, “Les Mis,” which sends up Les Misérables’ show-stopping tune, “One Day More.” Here, Key is a 19th-century French lawman and Peele his elusive prey. When the two men cross paths on a grimy city street, Peele’s character outlines his existential anguish (“Will the end be welcome now? Will my journey be in vain?”), while Key objects to his castmates’ proclivity for singing over one another (“This all has to happen on the same block?” he cries as a troop of French rebels suddenly march onto the scene. “Now this is just a joke!”).

As whole-heartedly as the actor-comedians commit to their various roles, using different voices, wigs, facial hair applications, makeup and mannerisms to evince an immense array of characters, their writers and crew commit to different narrative forms with equal passion. “Power Falcons,” “I’m Retired” and “Les Mis” all start off completely in earnest; the actors, sets, costumes, music, lighting and cinematography in each all beautifully match the movie or television genre that they’re about to lampoon.

I’m probably not going to get a television just so I can watch Key & Peele. But Emily Nussbaum’s complimentary New Yorker essay on the show alerted me to the fact that at least the first season of the show has been released on DVD. I’ll likely be ordering that soon.

But dear reader, please allow me to offer you this advice. If you have a TV and basic cable, then by all means, watch Key & Peele. Moreover, if you have Internet access — and if you don’t, then how are you reading this? — then rush on over to YouTube or to and start watching K&P videos.

Come on, do it now! Hurry! Time’s a-wasting!

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