Key & Peele Reveal the Origins of Five of Their Most Classic Sketches

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Slate's Culture Blog
June 21 2014 9:02 AM

The Origins of Five Classic Key & Peele Sketches

Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key.
Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key on the origins of five of their most classic sketches.

Comedy Central

This post originally appeared on Vulture.

It’s going to be straight-up depressing when Emmy nominations for outstanding variety show are announced on July 10 and Comedy Central’s Key & Peele isn’t in the running; not since 2005’s Da Ali G Show has a sketch show that’s not Saturday Night Live broken into the late-night-dominated race. Of course we would love to be proven wrong—there’s still time, Emmy voters! Your ballots aren’t due until this evening! Attention must be paid to these two Peabody Award–winning comedy innovators. Vulture got ahold of the very busy duo to get the stories behind five instant-classic sketches from season three.

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(Just five, you say? Well in case you missed it, the pair already explained their secret to generating those East/West Bowl football names and how they came up with their spin on Django Unchained. Vulture also recently included “Insult Comic” and “Mr. T PSA” among the best TV sketches of the year. Basically, every Key & Peele sketch is a winning one.)

“Othello Tis My Shite”


Comedy Central was initially concerned about giving the go-ahead to a sketch that presumed its audience knew the basic story of Shakespeare’s Othello. “I think the problem was, for the 26-year-old watching the show, smoking weed, do they know who Othello is?” Key said. “Sometimes we have that challenge with the network because we play everything so seriously at the beginning of sketches, and they’re like, ‘Are they going to play this like Shakespeare? Othello’s a tragedy.’ And we have to be like, ‘Guys, guys, trust us. Don’t overthink it.’” But is it too intellectual? Maybe, until they pitched their Shakespeare fanboy characters as the spiritual ancestors of the Liam Neeson–loving valets. They also promised to write in a user-friendly mix of iambic pentameter, Middle English, and the valets’ colorful colloquialisms. “The moment we added the line ‘Othello this my shite!’ they got it,” Peele said. Bonus nerdery: They cast Battlestar Galactica’s James Callis as the bard.

“The Power of Wings”


Once upon a time, there was a multimillion-dollar, homemade music video produced by wealthy person Chris Dane Owens. The song was called “Shine on Me” and the video was an epic, CG-bedazzled medieval fantasy (complete with YouTube label tags: “Narnia,” “LOTR,” “witches,” “angels,” “knights”). In 2008 it went viral, and Peele never forgot it. “I was kind of obsessed,” he said. But the idea didn’t go forward until he added action-figure enthusiast Wendell as the video’s star. “This is how a lot of our scenes happen,” he said. “There will be a scene that’s a standalone piece and we’ll realize we already have discovered the perfect character for it. And there’s something about Wendell having his weight problem that made a song called ‘The Power of Wings’ and him riding a Pegasus all the more delicious.”

"Gay Health Insurance"


When we last saw LaShawn and Samuel, they were celebrating the legalization of gay marriage, and LaShawn was busy picturing their future (“We gonna have five little girls, their names are gonna be Ettny, Carousel, Sequin, Abercrombie, and Phantom, and we’re gonna have a little dog named Ruffalo and the dog’s gonna have a cat name Miriad.”) Bringing them back required something bigger and more exciting for Lashawn than a wedding. That turned out to be the process of being added to Samuel’s health insurance, and a dream list of custom procedures. (“I’m going with a ruby filling and a faaaang for apples!” she cries.) The sketch’s writer Rebecca Drysdale (you know her best as Piper’s astrology-obsessed inmate in the season-two premiere of Orange Is the New Black) happily went nuts. “Her sketches, more than any other, get the most laughs per minute because of the writing and specificity,” Peele said. The rest was improvised on the fly. “When Keegan brings up the centaur, there was a real genuine moment when I, as LaShawn, became incredibly happy,” Peele said. “My other favorite is when I came up with getting coasters put on my shoulders so I can say, ‘Have a drink on me!’ and mean it.”

"Metta World News"


The original idea to do a recurring news segment began as sketch called “Crazy Nigga News.” Key and Peele would have played celebrity turned newsmen like Cee-Lo Green, Dennis Rodman, and Katt Williams. “Black people everyone confirms are a little left of center,” Key said. Then they heard former NBA star and soon-to-be high-school-basketball coach Metta World Peace (née Ron Artest) was a fan. “We got him on the phone about doing this piece and he said, ‘I’ll do anything. I just really enjoy sketch comedy,’” Key said. “I just remember looking at Jordan and saying, ‘He said ‘sketch!’ He didn’t say ‘skit!’” World Peace came down and shot dozens of pieces in one six-hour day. “We were on the sidelines saying, ‘Now do this. Dance. Pretend to nap. Rub the genie lamp.’ He seemed to have a lot of faith in us and the idea,” Peele said. “It is a little bit unclear to me if he totally got why it was funny to us. Sometimes when he would finish something we would say, ‘Oh my God, that was hilarious,’ and he would look at us really earnestly and say, ‘Yeah, really? Okay, cool.’”

"Obama Shutdown"


Obama’s anger translator Luther earned the praise of the president himself when Key & Peele introduced him as POTUS’s emotional wingman two years ago. He even became a relevant part of the last election cycle, reacting in the moment to Clint Eastwood’s invisible friend antics and Mitt Romney’s 47 percent comments. But how to make him evergreen, and more important, non-political? What else might the president find frustrating? Negotiating sexy time. “Just like the ‘I Said Bitch’ sketch, there’s something about relationship politics that tends to feel universal, and if you do it with both sides of the equation being equal, everybody wins.” Enter FLOTUS’s anger translator Contendra, who took Michelle’s “Well, you know, I have had a busy day, too,” and translated it into, “You act like I ain’t got nothin’ else to do, [bleep]! I got these obese motha[bleep]s on my ass 24-7! What’s more important? You getting your wick dipped or some 8-year-old fat-ass collapsing his bunk bed?” “It was kind of a release to be honest,” Peele said, adding that next season, presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton gets some help.