Keegan-Michael Key is an actor, writer and producer best known for his comedy series Key & Peele, made with Jordan Peele. He has picked 10 sketches to coincide with his new Audible series The History of Sketch Comedy. “These sketches are ones that I love but wasn’t able to cover in my series,” he says. “These are not in any particular order but all hit my funny bones in different ways.”
Mitchell and Webb
The British Actors
A director is talking about a West End production of Sherlock Holmes, starring two actors who, he implies, had very big egos. They both play Holmes, and switch roles every night. One night Holmes taps Watson on the head with a pipe, and you switch to the next night and the other whacks him in the head harder. It cuts to two nights later and they’re both bandaged and one has a cane. What’s brilliant about this sketch is that we never see the relationship between them build, we only see the results of it. It’s a piece of wonderfully precise visual comedy.
Two vaudeville performers are doing a string of routines; one is sticking to the classic structure of a vaudeville setup, while the other is taking every word literally. A joke that in another situation would expand into a routine here gets nipped in the bud by the other performer applying logic. I’ve never seen this kind of clever observation thrown into the middle of a sketch in this way, and I think it’s brilliant.
In the black community, the audience at comedy shows is very demonstrative. In the sketch they heighten this to the nth degree: a pregnant woman laughs and a child shoots out on to the stage; one guy laughs so hard that his head explodes. It’s an interesting way in sketch comedy to show an aspect of black culture. It makes me laugh so hard.
Versions of Amy keep visiting from the future to tell her to date a guy or not. One version tells her to give the guy oral sex because the economy in France is going to crash if she doesn’t do it! The whole sketch riffs on second-guessing in dating. It’s really fascinating and funny.
What I find funny about this scene is how Eddie Murphy assumes something about James Brown, which is that James not only has a hot tub, but that he would sing about it. The entire sketch is a character-driven performance, and Eddie slays it. The phrase “Too hot in the hot tub” is to this day part of the American zeitgeist.
One of my favourite Python sketches. I grew up in Detroit, Michigan, very close to Canada. When I was a child, I didn’t have cable television, so I’d watch Canadian broadcasting, which had tons of British shows. We used to get The Lenny Henry Show and lots of British sitcoms. So I’ve been a maven of British comedy my whole career.
Bob and Ray were a radio comedy duo from the 60s. In this sketch one of them is asked what they do for a living. He says: “I run a four-leaf clover farm. We batch them off to novelty stores in New York.” “What happened to the first crop?” “The driver fell off a cliff. We lost the whole crop. I couldn’t supervise the second crop. I hit my head on a horse shoe …” They’re having the unluckiest time. It’s so subtle and wonderful.
Saturday Night Live
Steve Martin’s Holiday Wish
I love this sketch because it starts at about a three on the sketch comedy weirdness scale and very quickly goes to a 15, 28 and a 47. The escalation is not only easy to follow but surprises you at every turn. It’s a great example of Aristotle’s concept of something being unexpected and inevitable; in this case the uncensored honesty of what one man would do if given a holiday wish.
Tate volunteers to interpret with a bunch of international people, all speaking different languages. She turns to a French person, she takes a deep breath, steels herself and goes, with all the confidence in the world: “Ohh hee hon.” As she moves to the next person, there’s this anticipation because you don’t know who she’s going to be talking to. It’s absolutely ridiculous.
The barman is a brilliant straight man, who tries to make his customer as comfortable as possible and keeps offering items that end up creating a “mad libs” sort of game. Each item is timed perfectly for each complaint of his patron. The timing is impeccable, the suggestions are filthy. If this was a list of my top-10 favourite double-entendre scenes, this would be at the top.