If punctuation is meant to clarify meaning, then Key & Peele helped us understand that one of the greatest powers of comedy is pointing out society’s idiocy by replaying what is possibly their greatest sketch at the end of their series finale on Wednesday night: Negro Town.
The skit displayed what was so incredible about the Comedy Central show, building a social commentary that contained tinges of their trademark silliness wrapped around a powerful message addressing racism in America. That kind of balancing act is what made Key & Peele one of the greatest sketch comedy shows of all-time, equally concerning itself with providing gut-busting humor while highlighting innocent to highly ignorant offenses. Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele took on the challenge of skewering sociopolitical topics with a bravado rarely seen on television.
Key & Peele‘s staid attention to equilibrium wasn’t solely relegated to comedy and commentary. On Wednesday night’s finale, a Charlie Rose-inspired skit became a hilarious moment in which two cultures — black rappers and white media — clashed, literally. The host and the rapper became entwined in an effort to remove a microphone from the latter with both men struggling to get their point across in their respective rhetoric. Another recent sketch balanced cynicism and nerd culture, the duo fusing together a criticism apropos for the internet age and community.
Through five seasons of the Key & Peele show, almost every sketch was intended to stave off the cursory comedic package. Sometimes their vignettes weren’t even manifested to deliver hearty moments of hilarity, instead opting to using lasers to outline a societal norm worthy of change. This agenda couldn’t have been more apparent than in their Teaching Center sketch, which mountain-shouted the inane qualities of the world we live in where educators, who help carve the future of society, are paid fractions compared to millionaire athletes who get compensated for playing a game.
Teaching Center wasn’t created in levity; it was clearly focused out of frustration with the fabric of our culture. And that is where K&P excelled where other comedy and sketch shows haven’t. They had no qualms with allowing the pendulum to swing from one end of the spectrum to another. If you didn’t find their vignette particular amusing, then at least you were given exposure — or further motive — to a societal thread worth examining. Many of K&P’s best moments were designed to install an article of outrage into your psyche through an entertaining delivery method.
Nothing was out of the reach of the sharpened sword of K&P: racism, terrorism, athletics, music, Hispanic culture (this is one of my favs), and even terminology, a topic that was played with during the finale’s “lightning in a bottle” sketch. The show also wasn’t afraid to completely drench itself in the absurd. “Prepared for Terries” contained K&P’s candidates for most incredibly silly characters; two men, who looked as crazy as they acted, obsessed with confronting terrorists on a plane. But, even as they threw themselves into such ridiculousness, Key & Peele remained true to the mission of both extenuating and accentuating some sort of public pinpoint.
So why then, in all this praise, is there a silver lining to the Key & Peele show vacating the airwaves? One could easily allude to the perceptive necessity of shutting down before fizzling out, and in this case, that would be suitable. But, there’s more to it than that. We need programs like Key & Peele. Laughter is a measure in coping as well as a microscope in which we can examine the microcosms of our matrix; when the chuckles end and the thinking can begin. That might seem like too narrow a focal point to box comedy into, as if it has to make us confront something bigger than just a giggle. It doesn’t. Comedy can be just for entertainment too. Those like Key & Peele — and George Carlin before them — though, allow us to kick open the front door of an issue with exuberance, and once we pass the threshold, we’re right where these artists wanted us to be: in the space of analysis.
The point is, is that the gift that Key and Peele have — a gift that has blessed many other pivotal artists and entertainers — can be a finite resource. The pond of social examination they contributed to cannot be solely replenished by them and them alone. Newer, fresher resources need to be streamed into that vast body, but the canals that K&P have maintained for the past three years will stay in place, allowing other vessels to enter a bit more smoothly. And it’s not like Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are going away. We still have Police Academy: Next Generation and Keanu to look forward to, among a whole host of other projects the pair have in the works. The fact that they’re leaving at arguably the height of their powers means that they’ll still have energy in their reserves to silly-slap our egos in another venue.
For now, an empty space will be left where Key & Peele stood. It’s not a tombstone, though, but a marker, one that will stood upon again by another entity. With all the humor, self-inspection, and outer-reflection that they have given us, there’s only one more thing to say.