Key & Peele, a sketch comedy show on Comedy Central helmed by titular namesakes - Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key, claims to take on popular culture and race intelligently. Using the show as their biracial “coming out” moment, they reference their biracial identities throughout the sketches. Since they are read as Black, Key & Peele has been compared to one of Comedy Central’s most successful shows, Chappelle’s Show, helmed by comedian Dave Chappelle. Key and Peele have asserted their show, unlike Chappelle’s Show, is not a Black show but a universal one.
Utilizing multiracial identity to bridge and/or move past race and is not a new trend, especially now that the Census allows for checking more than one racial/ethnic category and racial ambiguity is en vogue. However, like the mainstream multiracial movement (headed up by organizations like Project RACE), much of the humor in Key & Peele is rooted in anti-Blackness. In their opening duologue for the premiere episode after identifying themselves as mixed-race, Key follows with “Because of that we find ourselves particularly adept at lying, because on a daily basis we have to adjust our Blackness.” Key’s statement highlights their belief in an authentic Blackness. In the sketch “Mixed Wiener” Peele plays a biracial student worried about losing his virginity to his White* girlfriend because of his “fun-sized” penis. Key exclaims “But you’re Black!” Peele explains, “all the White went straight to my penis.” The sketch engages ideas of Black sexuality, as embodied by the lack of a sizeable penis, and miscegenation: “White girl, White penis, you’re all good,” the takeaway being that here authentic Blackness resides somewhere in the genitals.
While not all sketches delve into race explicitly, their most popular sketches, meant to point out the absurdity of race by skewering stereotypes of Blackness, end up skewering Blackness instead. Two of their most popular/viral sketches are “Substitute Teacher” and “East/West College Bowl”. Both sketches derive their humour from Black naming practices: “Teacher” inverses the difficulty of pronouncing Black names via the mispronunciation of common (read: White) names like Aaron pronounced A A Ron, and “East/West” by naming Black football players increasingly ridiculous names (e.g. Xmus Jaxon Waxon-Flaxon and a dolphin noise). Chappelle walked away from his show because he was no longer certain audiences were laughing with him rather than at his subjects, and I have to wonder with Key & Peele what are we really laughing at?