You Can LOL and Learn Somethings From Key and Peele

They have a keen sense of how race and culture collide.

By Brenden Gallagher

It used to be that with comedy stardom, all roads went through SNL. Mike Meyers, Will Farrell, Adam Sandler, Molly Shannon, Kristen Wiig: the list of careers that Lorne Michaels launched goes on and on. The conventional wisdom was that you developed a character, got the sketch on the air, and waited for your A Night At the Roxbury to introduce yourself to Hollywood audiences. With Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele’s Keanu and Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck, a new type of comedy stardom has been born. Instead of developing characters, these performers develop their comedic voice. Instead of single-minded movie stardom, these comedians are setting themselves up for long, dynamic careers.

Inside Amy Schumer, Key and Peele, and Portlandia have ushered in a new era of sketch comedy. Rather than the broadly appealing sketches championed by Saturday Night Live and also-rans like In Living Color and MadTV, these shows foster sharp points of view and tell audiences to take it or leave it. These shows belong more in the family tree of Chappelle’s Show than SNL. The goal isn’t to write a ton of sketches and pick the best handful to throw at Middle America. These shows derive their humor from their creators’ points of view, and everyone else, from the writers room to the directors to the costume designers work toward that vision.

While Fred Armisen has decided to keep doing whatever weird projects he wants to (and, for what it’s worth, his Bill Hader collaboration Documentary Now is amazing), Schumer, Key, and Peele have decided to scale their brand into the big leagues. A very particular variety of feminism is at the center of both Schumer’s stand-up and sketch comedy. “What does it mean to be a woman?” her sketches ask in different ways. What if a woman is bigger, older, sluttier, dirtier, or bawdier than society would like? Schumer’s consistent answer is that the problem is with society and not with women. Trainwreck continued exploring this theme.

As Schumer interrogates womanhood, Key and Peele look at what it means to be Black. One of Key and Peele’s earliest sketches for Comedy Central was called “White-Sounding Black Guys.”

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