Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele may well be the best damn comedy team working today. After honing their skills on MadTV for five seasons, the duo struck out on their own to create Key and Peele. Within months of premiering, the series produced a viral hit so popular that President Barrack Obama felt the need to comment on it publicly. Three seasons, (with Key and Peele Season 4 coming this fall), two Emmy nominations, and one Peabody Award later, these funnymen are just getting started.
Now they’re branching out into dramedy with turns on Fargo, features with Judd Apatow and even animated spin-offs of their meta-textual YouTube characters Vandaveon and Mike. Yesterday afternoon, Collider sat down with the comedians and their Director/Producer Peter Atencio at Comic-Con to discuss all of the above. And Cyrano de Bergerac by way of Cholo culture. Read on for the full interview and some video snippets.
[As Key, Peele and Atencio approach, they notice my shirt]
Collider: It’s an an Andrew WK shirt. He’s got a bloody nose.
PETER ATENCIO: You’ve got to qualify.
JORDAN PEELE: That’s dark.
Collider: I donno, I think Andrew WK is pretty happy.
KEY: That’s a really sick puppy shirt.
Collider: His album cover has a bloody nose. It’s cute… or maybe not.
Question: You guys are working on a project with Judd Apatow?
KEY: We’re still in the very early embryonic-slash-nascent stages of it. We’re still trying to shape an idea together. So there’s not a draft ready. And also, he’s in New York doing post on a movie right now. So we’re trying to connect.
PEELE: We’re working hard on our show and he’s been working on the Amy Schumer movie. So we had to sort of, do that for a second. So we need to reconvene and we’ll have more for you in a couple of months. Stay tuned.
What is the writer’s room like for your show? What happens to the pitches that don’t make the cut? Do you keep an Archive? Do they go to SNL?
KEY: It’s funny, we do keep them in an archive. There is an enormous wall in the Executive Producer’s office. We call it Camp Awesome. There is always, like, the nugget of an idea that’s not growing yet. You know?
ATENCIO: It’s all these pieces of paper and it gets yellower as they go down and get older.
PEELE: Sometimes they get pulled up to the big leagues.
KEY: But we must have written over 500 sketches, easy.
PEELE: Closer to six [hundred] I’d say.
KEY: But we’ve got at least 300 that have never been shot.
One of the most famous ones you have is – not only did you win a Peabody award and get nominated for all these Emmys – you got a shout out from Obama for the “Anger Translator” sketch. I love it. But did it go significantly further at some point? Or was it always about the level that we saw on screen?
Were you expressing anger in a lot more forceful manner?
PEELE: I see what you’re saying—
KEY: Really, what it is, the most important thing to us has always been, ‘Let’s try – for comedic effect – to express what we think this president is thinking.’ So, if the confluence of events were different; if he had been a different president of a different race, we still think that the concept is sound. So we would have done it. We picked Obama because we figured, ‘Well here is a sketch only we can do.’ And then it helps with job security. So, yeah.
PEELE: I think maybe the very first one had a little bit of what you’re talking about. It has become a place that we’ve gone for this recurring bit to do just what Keegan is saying. That was a little element of – in the beginning – of all this shit that wasn’t getting said.
ATENCIO: It felt like, just say ‘I have a fucking birth certificate!’
PEELE: It seemed like no one was defending him on the ‘Birther’ issue, definitively enough. And also, there was two triggers for it. The ‘Birther’ issue and also Senator Joe Wilson screaming in the chamber, “You Lie!” That’s never happened to an American president before. So why would that happen to this president? And I think that manifested itself in wish fulfillment and manifested itself in this scene.
I was reading that you also do Obama.
KEY: I do.
Have you ever considered dueling Obamas or switching it around?
PEELE: Sometimes we go places and Peele will go through the door before me so, if he gets shot I just walk on through.
The show is obviously centered around issues of race, but what I think is significantly different than like, Chappelle’s Show or other shows that use a similar format, your show seems to be more about a multiracial experience or the experience of being more than one race.
KEY: I might swap out the word, ‘Multiracial’ for two other words; a cultural experience and a universal human experience. A universal human experience that happens to be framed in a particular culture. So, ‘This is a funny scene about vanity’ or, ‘This is a scene about trying to impress a girl. But let’s make that happen with a bunch of Cholos.’ So it’s not about Cholos, it’s about trying to impress, being nervous around my friend. It can be like a Cyrano de Bergerac scene, just do it in East LA.
ANTECIO: There are certain feelings which the show hits on and by putting them in the context of different communities it says, ‘No, this is a universal thing that happens. This happens to everyone. This is something that can happen no matter what group you’re in.’
PEELE: There is one sketch, “White Jeff/Black Jeff” where Keegan is a biracial guy on a date with a girl at a restaurant and he can’t figure out whether to accentuate the black side of his personality at the date or the white side. So that type of interplay, on the one hand, you could read it as a focus on biracial existence or the mixed life. But the reality is that sketch can play for any guy. It’s always a question of, ‘Do you turn up the swagger, or do you turn down the swagger?’
KEY: That’s a perfect example of a scene about a guy trying to impress a girl. If I were caucasian, the scene would be about, ‘Do I act tough, or do I act sensitive?’ It’s just putting human experiences through a different cultural frame.
Do you have any examples of a sketch where, afterward you came up with an ending or a beat that wasn’t played out?
ANTECIO: That’s the kind of thing you try and get out of your mind.
PEELE: Well, right now we can maybe talk about Snoop and everything and maybe pull the fat out of the fire and have… There’s one sketch that we did, and then in the midst of everything we came up with an ending, but it was during preproduction. Like, the train had left the station. And we didn’t have the time to get— we needed a cameo. We need a cameo from a famous person, and that takes a lot of time. And we haven’t been able to do it. Now, we might be able to do it now. But the sketch is going to be fine. The sketch will exist and a kind of concept piece. But if we could put a button on the end of the piece. It’s a sketch that is fine. It will air in Season Four and it’s making me a little nuts.
KEY: As performers it happens every single time.
ANTECIO: It happens for me too. There are times when we’ve left [the location] and I’m like, ‘Ah! I didn’t have time for that shot.’ But we have amazing editors who, a lot of times if a sketch isn’t working will come in with a very fresh perspective. We’ve had sketches that totally changed perspective on how we thought they were going to be and through the editing process and the finishing process have become whole new animals.
PEELE: Such an integral part of the team.
Can you talk a bit about Fargo?
PEELE: They asked us to do it and we did it and it was amazing and Noah Hawley is a genius.
KEY: There is really no more.
You guys started as comedy relief, but your parts didn’t resolve the way you would expect.
KEY: This is true.
PEELE: Hinting at it with no spoilers, that is true.
KEY: But we wouldn’t have had it any other way because it gives Key and Peele an opportunity to step sideways a couple inches, which is really fun.
Can you tell us about the spin-off starring your characters Vandaveon and Mike?
KEY: That’s in the preliminary stages. We’re working on a pilot right now and hopefully it’s them, these two guys who are known to be vocal YouTube critics of Key and Peele who—
PEELE: Played by Key and Peele.
KEY: And it’s them 12-years old in middle school and, yeah.
Will you be writing on that as well?
PEELE: Yeah. He’ll be doing a ton of writing and we’ll both be executive producers as well. But the idea is to give the Key and Peele world a little bit more of a space to exist and expand it a little bit.
Does it have a premiere date yet?
KEY: No, no. Again, we’re just in preliminary stages at the moment. Just a pilot.