Before this interview, I'd seen your subway ads that say, "If you don't watch then you're racist," and I remember thinking how provocative they were, especially considering the setting. To what extent do you think those ads were indicative of where the show plans to go and the tone of the show in general?
Peele: Well, it really just sort of encompasses a few elements of it. It's a real catch.
Key: It's really a catch. It's really just cheesy. It's provocative and I think it was designed to be so. I think our comedy can be construed as very complex and layered more than, "Kick you in the face whitey." It's not that.
Peele: We also explore certain things that we haven't seen other comedians explore yet, things like "playing the race card." That's something that hash't really been delved into, and we get into it a good deal.
Key: I think we dissect it and reconstruct it, in a matter of speaking. Maybe you've seen somebody gloss over it, or maybe it was a single joke in a single scene of a show years ago, but that stuff is our bread and butter: bi-raciality. You know, like you saw the very first thing we do about dialing up our blackness, turning it up and turning it down—that's where we start! We start in the middle of it. Some people haven't even cut that piece of cake, but they know the piece of cake exists, but we've already devoured that and made the second cake. You know, that's our deal.
Another thing is that we're also willing to say, "This is what black people do." And some black people are not going to like that. They're like, "Now don't be telling white people our business." But, why not?
Peele: I was thinking, I'm just coming back from New York, about the fact that none of the posters I saw have poop coming out of our asses. That's a good sign!
[Laughs.] You know what I did see though, to be honest, was a poster that had a few letters scribbled out, so that it read, "If you do watch, you're racist."
Peele: [Laughs.] That person gets credit from me.
Key: That person doesn't understand that we like them.
Being bi-racial does give you a unique vantage point, in the sense of being able to broach both points of view without fear of offending anyone.
Key: Something I find interesting about our comedy, our experience, I think is primarily an American experience, probably more than anybody because we're actually walking melting pots. We're people that live on... Jordan has used the term "the tightrope" before. We walk this tightrope between these two cultures, but the tightrope itself is a culture and that is unique to America.
We could write new and fresh racial scenes all day, but at the end of the day it all points to the same thing: 'What are we doing? Why are we categorizing one another like this?' It's clearly one of the worst parts of the human condition. - Peele
Peele: We hope that by Season Five our work just highlights the absurdity of race in general. We could write new and fresh racial scenes all day, we have done a good amount of it, but at the end of the day it all points to the same thing: "What are we doing? Why are we categorizing one another like this?" It's clearly one of the worst parts of the human condition.
Key: A lot of time our scenes will have broader themes than that. Our scene will be about greed, or vice or vanity and just happens to have black people in it. Black people experience greed and vanity, and vice and fear and pride, just like everybody else experiences it. This is like something you hear somebody say in 1962, but, news flash, black people are human beings!
Peele: The number one goal in the sketch is to make people laugh. And then number two is to get people discussing things that they haven't discussed before.
Key: i don't mean this to be terribly incendiary towards broadcast networks, but if nobody hates your show than I guess we're writing a show for a broadcast network. It's broad-cast because you want the most amount of people to enjoy it. So if nobody hates it, you might not be achieving what you want to achieve.
Agreed. If you're adhering to the political correctness that is typical of a network, you don't have room for the kind of insights you're bringing to the table. The source of your humor is in part a product of your lack of fear in offending.
Key: You offend by saying, "Here's how I see the world. If somebody disagrees with that at least you know you have a specific way of looking at the world."
You also are at an advantage, being a team, in that you know at least one other person sees things as you do. So if you can agree, you know you've struck a chord.
Key: At the same time, we're very different people. We have an interview [scheduled] with the G4 gaming network and I am going to be clinging to Jordan for dear life because I don't play video games. I have two dogs and a son who taking classes in college and I have a mortgage, and in that way my world view might be similar to Jordan's but my domestic view is diametrically opposed. [Laughs.]
Do you think comedy has the ability to illuminate important issues while being simultaneously entertaining?
Peele: Oh yeah. The best thing about comedy is that when somebody laughs, there is an epiphany happening inside themselves. Whether they like it or not, they're realizing something. And if they continue to munch on what that is, they're thinking and they're changing the way they think. That has always been the purpose of sketch for me. One of my favorite sketches is an SNL sketch where Eddie Murphy dresses up like a white dude and he goes into a bus and as soon as the last black guy leaves the bus, all the white guys in the bus throw a party. A woman starts selling cigars and cigarettes and stuff—it's this undercover world that white people have that black people don't know about. It's this brilliant sketch. Even as a kid watching it in reruns, it revealed a whole new thing that I'd never imagined.
Key: Comedy is the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down; that's what it is. It's this sense that, "They right, they right, they right!" Whether you want the performer or the artist to be right or not, like Jordan said, you find yourself laughing. So, what are you laughing at, then?
A laugh, then, if I understand what you're saying, reveals a sense of recognition.
Key: Because recognition is a reference thing. You could do a referential joke and if it's somebody in Uganda they wouldn't get it. There's other kinds of humor you do that is actually universal, and that stuff to me is just the holy grail.
Peele: The stuff that you recognize because you do it yourself.
Key: No matter where you live.
Peele: The show The Office, for example, the British one with Ricky Gervais' character David, had that. He just exposed what is disgusting about all of us.
Is that your goal? To expose what is disgusting about all of us?
Peele: Aside from working with Keegan, that is a little bit my goal. To find that what makes us human that we don't admit in our everyday lives.
Key: Which to me, is part of the goal of social satire. What we'll often do subconsciously is we'll laugh at a character. "Haha, look at that guy, he's horrible." And you can take stock of yourself and nobody has to know. It's like covert therapy.
If your goal is changing people, how will you know if you've achieved that goal? A novelist writing a satire would receive reviews that might indicate their success, but comedians aren't ordinarily analyzed in that way. How do you measure your effectiveness?
Peele: We have one little litmus that we throw out. A lot of black comedians end up going into stand-up, they don't go into improv and sketch comedy, and that's because our heroes of black comedians typically do stand-up. Young black comedians who have the inclination toward improv end-up doing hip-hop instead. Keegan and I, we would love to inspire more young African-Americans to go to their local improv theater and just take classes and go that way as well because it's a wonderful, collaborative art form.
The best thing about comedy is that when somebody laughs, there is an epiphany happening inside themselves. Whether they like it or not, they're realizing something. - Peele
Key: It's a really interesting question to ask, because you're right, we're not novelists. To be completely honest, I don't know. I don't know if people are going to go on Twitter and say, "I really enjoyed the satire of that scene." That's a question to ask us next year.
Peele: Here's one thing I would say. I do equate the laughter to analyzing to a certain extent, so If we get our laughs on certain things, in my heart I know they're at least at the beginning of asking themselves why it's funny. If the conversation is started with a laugh, that's all we can do is be that catalyst for it.
Key: I guess when you're laughing involuntarily, you're laughing in a moment; the psychology catches up later. But I still don't know the answer to the question—I don't know empirically how we would know.
If the show is successful and gets renewed for another season, that would imply that there is some recognition and that something is really resonating with your audience.
Key: That would be it, that would be it.
Peele: Or if we get invited to the White House. That would do it.