Race fuels much of “Key & Peele,” their sketch-and-standup half-hour series airing at 10:30 p.m. Wednesdays 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.”
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.
Peele displays TV's best impersonation of Barack Obama in 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.