Key & Peele, Comedy Central’s new sketch show, stars Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele. These two former contributors to MADtv use their platform to explore race, gender, popular culture, and anything lampoon-worthy through their lenses as bi-racial—and therefore performatively fluid—young men.
They are definitely funny, talented, and socially observant. However, the structure of the show mirrors the format of the Chapelle Show, limiting their creative possibility by sticking too closely to something that cannot be replicated. Just as any judge would say on American Idol, you do not copy the masters—the comparison will never be in your favor.
With the proliferation and diffusion of new technologies, I want to see more synthesis in this show. Their comedy is a product of their particular historical moment, and their show needs a format and style that reflects that. Television audiences now engage with their shows in new ways facilitated by emerging technologies. For example, one can watch Anthony Bourdain’s, No Reservations, while interacting with the host through Twitter. Even within the static medium of television, contemporary audiences do not simply sit back and consume. Audiences are, as Nathan Jurgenson and George Ritzer explain, prosumers—simultaneously producers and consumers of media and technologies (2010). New television formats and presentation styles that reflect and utilize emerging technologies can collapse the distance between viewer and viewed.
Yet, the format of K&P creates a distance between these two performers and their television audience by using the dated Chapelle format. Their stand-up style segues appear forced, overly produced and acted, and are accompanied by a canned-yet-obligatory laugh track. It felt awkward and as a viewer I felt separated from the experience.
The docu-style sitcom, done best by shows like The Office and Parks and Recreation, can be useful stylistic examples. In these shows, actors talk to the camera, can share multiple points of view and can bring the audience in through a presentation of daily life that seems accessible and familiar—shots are grainy, camera perspectives are explicit—and in the process, the audience connects. The viewer is welcomed into the private thoughts and the visual point of views in a manner that appears holistic and natural.
For K&P to really become iconic in their own right, this new comedy show needs to reflect this augmented reality in their substance and their style (Jurgenson 2009). How about we move away from the format of the Chapelle show and try something new that represents the moment and doesn’t box these comedians into someone else’s humor boundaries? I want to see sketch segues that show K&P at a dinner party or at a bar with friends, captured by hand held cameras, possibly a friend’s iPhone, saying these same jokes and narratives but in conversation with actual friends, not studio audience members. Let’s see more of this bi-racial fluidity that defines their comedic perspective, and use a more contemporary and familiar techno-organic approach to bring the audience in, thus creating a larger imagined community where we can explore social issues together through laughter.
Format aside, though that Obama sketch was utterly hilarious.
Key and Peele