It might be easy to forget that Jordan Peele got his start as one of the greatest voices in comedy. Earlier this year he twrote and directed the most highly acclaimed horror film of the decade.
But long before Get Out, Peele was already taking on racism as one half of the sketch comedy duo Key and Peele. Along with Keegan Michael Key, Peele created some of the sharpest, brightest, wittiest comedy of all time with their Comedy Central show. They won a Peabody Award and was described by none other than then-President Barack Obama as “good stuff.”
So, as Key continues to make appearances in just about every comedy movie and TV show under the sun and Peele settles into life as a socially conscious filmmaker, let’s take a look back at the 15 greatest comedy sketches to come from their electric partnership.
15. Valets Discuss Liam Neesons
Key and Peele’s valet characters are two of the most hyperactive movie fanatics in the world. They run around outside the hotel where they work, talking about how much they love Game of Thrones and “Bruce Willy” like their brains are going to explode. Their greatest appearance was their discussion about the career of “the incomparable Liam Neesons.”
They managed to get Neeson himself in for a cameo appearance in one episode, but nothing could beat their shoutout to Neeson’s underrated superhero movie, Darkman. “What about Liam Neesons in some Darkman, though?”
The valets believe that Neeson deserved an Oscar for his role in Darkman, simply because, “[His] face was changin’!” They have a point, to be fair. Another movie they enjoy is, “Straight Tooken, starring Liam Neesons.”
14. A Cappella
There can only be one (black guy in a white group). This is one of Keegan Michael Key’s favorite sketches from the final season of the show.
“This one is just a really good biracial observation, a good blerd observation, a good code-switching observation. It’s got all those ingredients. It’s one of those sketches where you think, ‘Oh, yeah, people do do that.’ It’s also very true to our experience coming up in comedy.”
“There’s an added little bit of commentary in the improv beat, which is like, ‘Hey, we have to have a black guy in the group, so we can do black jokes!’ There’s that observation. And I don’t think it was even one of us that brought it up, because all of us are improvisers. There’s a truthfulness to it that it’s partially autobiographical, if not wholly autobiographical.”
13. MC Mom
Jordan Peele playing women somehow always makes for comedy gold. In this sketch, Key plays a college student whose buddies find a DVD he got sent by his mom, where she raps about finding “crispy socks” in his bedroom, along with Sports Illustrated magazines that were bound shut and used tissues abound.
What makes it at first is the lame, slow beat and the adorable little dance moves that Peele does as MC Mom (he also nails the old lady voice). Rhyming “spank you” with “no, thank you” was also a stroke of lyrical genius.
And then, just when you think you’ve gotten the gist of the sketch – that Key is embarrassed and his friends are making fun of MC Mom – completely out of the blue, the tempo gets a lot faster and MC Mom turns into a badass, NWA-style rap god.
12. Undercover Boss
We’ve all seen Undercover Boss. The employees always kiss the new guy’s ass and then, when he reveals himself to be the CEO of the company, they are all rewarded with college education for their children or a trip to Disneyland. Except in Key and Peele, Key plays an employee who doesn’t kiss the undercover CEO’s ass.
Instead, he’s a jerk to him and makes fun of him all week. The look on Key’s face when he realizes that Peele is on Undercover Boss is priceless, and then he starts trying to contemplate by blurting out random tragedies in a desperate bid for sympathy.
As he rambles, he gets onto saying, “Did I mention I was a prostitute since the age of seventeen? Fifteen? Ten? Seven. Three. Been a prostitute since I was three. I was a prostitute in the womb. A dude put his pee-pee in my mama, and it got inside of me, and then they gave me money.” He just doesn’t stop! It’s cringeworthy, but hilarious.
11. Spoiler Alert
We’ve all felt the frustration of being silenced by someone who doesn’t want something spoiled. They’re still halfway through season 3 of Breaking Bad or they’ve got the Super Bowl on DVR and haven’t watched it yet – it can get pretty annoying.
Key and Peele took that to extreme lengths with their sketch “Spoiler Alert.” The duo play a pair of guys on a double date and every conversation topic that comes up, someone shushes the table and says they can’t talk about it. They haven’t seen the latest Game of Thrones episode yet or they’re watching the new Russell Crowe movie tomorrow, stuff like that.
And then it gets really kicked up a notch when Peele’s date stops Key’s date from spoiling the weather forecast and the whole table gets mad at Key for spoiling the end of everyone’s lives: death. “How would you not know that was taking place?!”
This lavish musical number shows just how grim life as a person of color is compared to how great it would be without white people around.
The sketch cuts from a bleak scene of a police officer harassing a black man to a colorful, Wizard of Oz-esque land where everything is great for black people (and then back to the police brutality – turns out he just bumped his head and imagined the idyllic utopia).
Keegan Michael Key himself loved the sketch, saying, “‘Negrotown’ does everything. It has nice layers, it makes a point, there’s a big dance number, the colors are great, the costumes are wonderful, the dancing is awesome, the lyrics are clever. Everything falls into place. That’s important whether everybody in the sketch is black or everybody in the sketch is Hispanic or everybody in the sketch is Asian. It doesn’t matter. If it’s not funny, it’s not funny. It was an opportunity to really kick it up a notch.”
Meegan is a pitch perfect parody of every annoying, self-righteous girlfriend in the world. Meegan is played by Peele, while Key plays the boyfriend who puts up with her whining and bitching. Meegan and her boyfriend became two of Key and Peele’s most popular and endearing characters, and they recurred on their show for many sketches to come.
The key to Meegan’s popularity is her relatability. Unfortunately, we’ve all met a girl who is like that. Comedienne Chelsea Peretti from Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a huge fan of Meegan, saying, “This is because every girl I know loves Meegan and identifies with her as her inner demon. Also, why is her boyfriend so enchanted by her abuse?”
Peretti sums up that the sketch is “amazing dysfunction and perfect use of both characters.”
8. Alien Impostors
The “Alien Impostors” sketch takes an Invasion of the Body Snatchers premise and uses it to expose racism as Key and Peele can tell who is an impostor and who isn’t by the way that the white people talk to them – the hostile ones are the good guys. This is one of Key’s favorite sketches, but only because it makes him look cool.
“I like it, because it’s a good standard sketch, but it’s a funny sketch. The setup is really nice, because the setup happens as a surprise, you know? That’s what I like about the sketch – and also, we kind of look like badasses, which is something that Jordan and I always like.”
“We always want to be like badasses carrying guns, which is why we played the Allentown brothers in Keanu, because we wanted to have a situation where we get to have cool-ass guns and be assassins.”
As a socially conscious filmmaker of satirical thrillers, Peele could’ve followed up Get Out with a feature length expansion of the “Alien Impostors” premise, but the sketch does the idea justice. Director Peter Atencio, as always, brings a deeply cinematic quality to the usually visually benign sketch comedy format.
7. Obama and Luther Addressing the Critics
Luther, the anger translator for the famously calm and collected President Barack Obama, is easily the most iconic character played by Keegan Michael Key. Obama himself called the character “good stuff,” and enlisted the help of Key for his speech at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner, where he appeared as Luther to translate Obama’s fury.
Key also revived the character for a special one off sketch alongside Peele as Obama where he got angrier than ever, because it was a response to the election of right-wing, Nixon-esque, Obama-bashing, pussy-grabbing reality TV star Donald Trump.
Key and Peele did a bunch of different Luther sketches, as they’re both liberals and diehard Obama supporters.
When kids are dying, the Make-A-Wish Foundation approaches them with the opportunity to have their wildest dreams come true. They ask the kid what they want, which is usually going to Disneyland or meeting Selena Gomez, and then they make it so. But through the wicked Key and Peele lens, we see a kid whose wish is a lot darker.
The kid, Liam, wants to feel the sensation of drowning a man in a bathtub. He wants to “hold him down while the last breath escapes his body, and then bathe in that water.”
Comedienne Chelsea Peretti is a fan, saying, “I love the evil Make-A-Wish child, because it’s the strangest villain to be able to pull off. It seems like it would be impossible to vilify a child on death’s door, but then, here is this purely evil and sinister child using his wishes for a dark purpose. It’s like a dark fairy tale.”
5. I Said Bitch
Key and Peele’s “I Said Bitch” sketch was so close to the duo’s hearts that they made it the very first sketch in the very first episode of their TV show – and they made it the very last sketch in the very last episode, too!
The sketch satirizes the fact that men talk a big game to their friends about how they talk to their wives or girlfriends and how they wear the pants in the relationship, but they really cower from them.
Key and Peele show this by the way they make sure their wives are nowhere to be seen before they claim they used the word “bitch” when talking to her, because if they do actually hear them saying “bitch,” the guys know it would start an argument that they wouldn’t win.
The great thing is that they both hide from their wives, so they’re both fully aware that they’re lying, but they allow each other the small victory of talking the talk.
4. Continental Breakfast
The setup here is very simple (almost ridiculously simple) – Peele goes into a hotel and enjoys a continental breakfast. He enjoys it a bit too much, loving it so much that he wants to stay at the hotel forever, only to find that he’s always been there.
Comedy actor Ken Marino loves this one for the same reason all of us do – there is no reason! It’s wonderfully random and absurd and it’s great. “One that pops into mind is Jordan at the continental breakfast. He’s at a breakfast buffet, acting very sophisticated and looking at all the crappy, shitty food and acting like it’s very international, very upper crust-y.
That killed me for some reason.” The way that the ending turns into a skewed kind of homage to The Shining (and continental breakfasts everywhere) is just the icing on the cake.
3. Obama: The College Years
The Key and Peele sketch “Obama: The College Years” was so strong that they decided to name the entire episode after it. Jordan Peele’s impression of former President Barack Obama has been praised by many people, but the most important one of the bunch is Mr. Obama himself, who has said that Peele’s is his favorite celebrity impression of himself.
This sketch is basically an expansion of that infamous picture of a young Obama smoking a joint. It is presented as uncovered videotape footage from Obama’s college days as he parties, smokes weed, and drinks with his frat buddies, all the while using the weed to teach his friends the virtues of socialism.
2. Substitute Teacher
The sketch where Key plays a substitute teacher who can’t pronounce any of the students’ names is a stone cold classic. It’s a satire of the fact that when mild-mannered white substitute teachers from the ‘good’ school district come to work in the inner city, they are never able to pronounce the names of students like Shaniqua and Demetrius.
The joke that Key and Peele use is a subversion of that, where they have a volatile, no-nonsense black teacher come in from the inner city and not be able to pronounce the names of any of the white students, like Blake or Denise or Aaron.
And like any great sketch, “Substitute Teacher” ends with the perfect punchline – the only non-white student pronounces the word ‘present’ wrong in the roll call.
1. East/West College Bowl
The “East/West College Bowl” sketch is a simple one. It merely portrays a bunch of African-American college football players stating their names and the colleges they attend. The absurdity keeps getting ratcheted up as the names get more and more obscure.
It goes from the likes of, “Ibrahim Moizoos, University of Tennessee at Chatanooga,” and, “Jackmerius Tacktheratrix, Michigan State University,” to the extreme levels of, “X-Wing @Aliciousness, Missouri Western State University,” and “Torque [Construction Drilling Noise] Lewith, Nevada State Penitentiary,” and the neat little Prince reference, “[The Player Formerly Known As Mousecop], University of Missouri-Columbia.”
And, as with all the best Key and Peele sketches, it ends with the perfect punchline: the only white guy in the whole draft saying, “Dan Smith, BYU.” Many people are huge fans of the sketch, too.
David Cross named it his all-time favorite Key and Peele sketch and said he has “shown it to dozens of people.” Michael Showalter called it “one of the funniest sketches ever, of all time ever, in any sketch show ever.” That’s high praise from your own community.