“Obama was the best thing for Black nerds everywhere. Finally we had a role model. Before Obama, we basically had Urkel,” quips Jordan Peele, who portrays the president in one of the hilarious sketches in the new Comedy Central series Key & Peele, with partner Keegan-Michael Key playing his “anger translator,” Luther. Friends for 11 years, the former MADtv co-stars have joined forces to explore, in a sketch-and-standup format, contemporary comedy from a unique perspective: both are biracial, with Black fathers and white mothers.
“My father grew up in Salt Lake, Utah, with the other twelve Black people. My mother was from a little town in Northern Illinois. They met in Detroit and adopted me,” says Key of his social worker parents, noting that his biological folks were the same Black and white mix. As a kid, he was “hyper, a hot mess. Painfully shy in public but Richard Pryor at home. I’m tall and thin but not strong, so you’re either an athlete or you’re funny.” He took the latter tack to make light of situations like classmates not believing that the white lady with him was his mama.
So did Peele, a self-described introspective, quiet, artistic type growing up who has “identified as a Black man my entire life even though I was raised solely by a white woman. My father always said, ‘One drop of Black blood, you’re Black.’ Then you try to parse out this white person who’s raising you and these Black relatives. You’re between two worlds. It’s a complete dichotomy that you live with every day,” says Peele, who believes race “is fuel for comedy because at its core it’s an absurd notion, that we’re somehow different people.” Now, with the series, “We have this thing in common, which is being biracial, and we can explore stereotypes or the lack thereof.”
As portrayed in some of their funniest sketches, “We will adjust our Blackness depending on the situation,” says Peele. “When you want to be cool, don’t you act Blacker?” asks Key. “You’d disavow your white side in an instant,” he laughs, revealing his true allegiances where television demographics are concerned. “If Black people didn’t like the show, that would cut us to the core. If white people don’t like it? Eh!”
Key & Peele premieres January 31 on Comedy Central.
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(Photo: Matt Hoyle/Comedy Central)
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