If you’re looking around the interwebs today for suggestions on what to watch tonight, you’ll see many reviews recommending “Key & Peele,” which starts tonight at 10:30 pm Eastern on Comedy Central. It’s a pretty funny sketch show, starring “MADtv” alums Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele, that definitely explores areas involving race.
But the comparisons to “Chappelle’s Show,” which many reviews are making, pretty much end there. Key and Peele are coming from a much different perspective than Dave Chappelle is, and it makes for a funny show for very different reasons:
Key and Peele talk about race, but in a much more easygoing way. Both of the show’s stars have white mothers and black fathers — Key was even adopted by a white mom and black dad — and, as they say in a stand-up segment in the first episode, they’ve become “adept at lying.” It’s how they shift between worlds, changing aspects of themselves depending on who they’re with. The first sketch in the premiere, for instance, has Key playing a guy who changes his manner of talking when he sees a stranger, played by Peele, walk near him. It’s not quite subtle, but it’s definitely much less in your face than Chappelle ever was.
They don’t just talk about race. Many of the sketches on “Key & Peele” run a bit too long, but when they hit, the truths in them are very relatable and funny. For instance, the pair do a sketch about the lengths a couple of henpecked husbands go to so they can talk about confronting their wives. Even in space, they’re looking around to see if the wives are in earshot. And, each guy calls out his friend on whether he really did say what he said to his wife, which leads to hesitant yeses from both. In another sketch, the pair make fun of the misdirections judges on cooking shows — especially Gordon Ramsay on “Hell’s Kitchen” — give to their contestants. It’s a good sign that the sketches that aren’t necessarily about race are just as funny as the ones that are.
Both Key and Peele are good with voices. Peele does a killer Obama impression — much better than Fred Armisen on “SNL,” for instance — and demonstrates it in a few of the sketches in the first two episodes, most notably where he addresses the nation with the assistance of an “anger translator.” In another sketch, Key plays an Indian doctor who is seriously trying to tell Peele, playing a kid from the street, about his mother’s illness, and all the kid wants to do is play the dozens.
Key and Peele have great chemistry together. The most consistently funny part of both episodes we saw was the stand-up bits that were filmed after the sketches and inserted for the show, mainly because the two friends have a very conversational chemistry together, and it comes through in routines that feel improvisational, even though they’ve been workshopped thoroughly. Just watching the two of them pretend to be two drunk white guys in a fight — and explaining the four phases they see — was as funny as any of the pre-written sketches the first two episodes had.
Hopefully, "K&P" will get an audience, because the guys have gotten out of the gate with some pretty smart and funny comedy. Now all they need is some time to smooth over the rough spots.