Key & Peele ended its run Wednesday night on Comedy Central after five seasons—even though they were still producing some of their best work and certainly some of the best sketch comedy to ever air on television. It doesn’t seem right that it’s over, given that it has been less than four years since their debut in January of 2012. Why end a show when it is still at its peak? Because it’s the smart thing to do: Key and Peele are two of the smartest guys on television.
The brilliance of Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele’s comedy lies in their ability to produce a sketch comedy show that constantly addressed topics in the public consciousness during a time when the country is confronting its own racial problems, often in violent and turbulent ways that are divisive. And yet the duo never felt heavy-handed, nor did they ever feel like they were pandering one way or another. They simply and consistently produced hilarious sketches that had something insightful to say, and did so without being mean, which is certainly no small feat.
Take for example their most famous character: President Obama’s Anger Translator, Luther. Under the guise of the angry black man stereotype, Key and Peele managed to comment on the frustrations of many Americans with the President’s treatment by adversaries, but the joke was never at the expense of his opponents or the President. Instead, they paid homage to him and his very human frustrations by highlighting his calm, almost stoic demeanor—that becomes the joke, not the underlying cause of the anger. They don’t point the finger at Republicans, they make the joke about the President’s handling of the situation, and let a fictional character say what lots of people (and probably Obama himself) wished the President would say.
This sketch about a black student walking through a white neighborhood is a perfect example of how they managed to hilariously address something at the forefront of the national discussion without making any one person the target.
It was this ability to be about something—but still have the broad appeal that made lots of people pay attention—that made this show so special. Comedy can be mean, and politics are polarizing, so unless you find the right format to carry the message it can be nothing more than pandering to people that only agree with you. This is why Key & Peele wasn’t just a really funny sketch comedy show; it didn’t undermine its audience or its comedy with its approach to these conversations.
Praising the brilliance of the delivery should not take away from the fact they could also be silly, and strange, and make you laugh beyond the “important” issues. Their ability to be silly and smart made them modern day descendants of Monty Python, but with a much more American style and sensibility. I’ll miss the Liam Neesons-loving valets just as much as I’ll miss Luther. The East-West Bowl was just as important to their success as their White Zombies sketch. What they all had in common was that everything they did was smart, even when it was something stupid.
This isn’t the end of the two working together—they have a movie coming out soon and they say they’ll work together again in the future—but it doesn’t mean I’m okay this show is over. However, I know if you talk too long people stop listening, and for a show that always had something insightful to say that would be a much worse ending. Key and Peele, of course, were too smart to let that happen.
What’s your favorite Key & Peele sketch? Share it in the comments below. This is one of ours:
Image Credit: Comedy Central