Is it possible to narrow down five excellent seasons of Key & Peele to the best 20 sketches? Maybe not, but we did our best. Let’s start by ripping off a few band-aids here. Wendell will not be found on this list, nor the valets, nor Levi. We also didn’t have room for the rap battle that ends like Of Mice and Men. Apologies if we missed your favorite sketch. Tell us all about it in the comments. You’ll notice that we often refer to Peele and Key by their first names here. We suspect that they’d be cool with that—but sincerest apologies if they’re not.
The pair’s first feature film together, Keanu, hits digital and DVD formats in early August. In it, the guys search for a missing cat, who they learn has been stolen by members of a local gang. That’s right: everybody loves cats – even gun-happy thugs. Fans of the show are sure to dig Keanu, as well as fans of things that are funny, exciting, and a little bit touching.
20. Zombie Extra: S03E07
It’s a safe bet that many of the folks who love Key & Peele also watch The Walking Dead. Keegan and Jordan are no strangers to the cannibalistic undead, and have done several sketches that revolve around zombies. This one though, speaks to their love of zombies and their experiences with extras – especially extras that have never been on a set before. Watch for this terrible first-time extra to display “Beaker hands,” use a high-pitched voice, and actually say the word “zombie.” It’s all we can do not to face palm.
“Steve” (Keegan) is a seasoned zombie extra, who has been waiting to get that “lunge bump” since season one. As he coaches the new guy (Jordan), Steve becomes increasingly frustrated at the new guy’s lack of zombie skill. Will Steve get his lunge bump? Or something else entirely? David Guintoli, a regular on the show Grimm, plays the lead actor in this fictitious zombie tale.
19. Epic Fake Out: S01E06
This is one of those sketches that takes a very simple and familiar premise, and dresses it up with music and camera work you’d expect from the Cannes film festival. Two guys who work for the same company – their names are completely unimportant – play a high stakes game of “You’ve got something on your shirt” followed by an irritating nose flick. You’ve done this to someone at some point in your school or work life. Or someone has done it to you. Or you’ve watched helplessly (or hilariously) as this gag was played on someone else. We all know it. So why is it so much funnier when they do it?
It’s the absurd extreme to which Jordan and Keegan take the bit. The serious looks, the music, the slow-motion shots that capture every ounce of pain and shame as the gag comes to fruition over and over. By the end of the sketch, we’re laughing our butts off at a gravesite and one of those epic pull-out shots like you see in The Shawshank Redemption.
18. Cat Poster: S03E05
“The guy’s name is Cat Branchman.” This is how Findlay (Jordan) begins an interrogation that delves deep into the sanity of both men. The interrogating detective (Keegan) looks for information and is greeted with stories peppered with items in the room. The standard “Hang in there” cat poster becomes Asian mobster “Hung En Thar” and the clandestine meeting, of course, happens at a club called the “Paw and Poster.” But is Findlay the only one playing games with signs hanging behind the backs of their adversary?
This is another great sketch that comes together because of the remarkable chemistry between these two. Movie parodies are sometimes seen as cheap comedy bits. But nothing is cheap in the hands of Key & Peele. Jordan channels Kevin Spacey’s character from The Usual Suspects. If you haven’t yet seen this crime classic, you ought to watch if only to see Cat Poster with informed eyes.
17. Neil deGrasse Tyson: S05E09
Astrophysicist, cosmologist, planetarium director, frequent guest on Colbert… is there anything Neil deGrasse Tyson can’t do? He’s even fascinating when he’s played by someone else. Jordan does a spectacular job imitating the style of NDGT as he explains to his irritated wife (Keegan) that there are scientific reasons for all of his annoying misdeeds. Can’t remember to take the dog for a walk? Science! Not ready to go to a funeral? Science! Wearing boxer shorts with all the planets (plus Pluto) on them? Also probably science. “Whether I’m ready now or in 500 years, cosmically, the distinction is meaningless.”
Season Five Episode Nine splits the Neil deGrasse Tyson sketch into three parts, ending with NDGT getting caught with the trappings of an affair with a white woman. How can he talk his way out of it? Duh, science! The ending of this sketch is especially satisfying if you see or hear it uncensored. Honest.
16. Dueling Hats: S02E10
Not everyone appreciates the convention of leaving the tags on items like hats, shoes, handbags, or even shirts for as long as possible. It’s a way to demonstrate that your items are brand spankin’ new. In this sketch, Jordan and Keegan play two competitive young men vying to be the one with the newest hat – with the most elaborate retail accoutrements. Honestly, it’s way funnier than it sounds.
A hat with multiple tags and stickers is one-upped by a hat being worn while still in a shopping bag with the receipt attached. Watch for both men to pretend that the competition isn’t really happening; they’re just that sly. This allows both men to give subtly annoyed and increasingly desperate performances that resonate far beyond the simple subject matter. When Keegan strolls down the street wearing a retail display box with a hat inside, we’re sure he’s won. But no…what follows is farcical stereotyping at its most hilarious.
15. Continental Breakfast: S03E07
Horror nerds watch this sketch and can’t keep themselves from pointing out that by referencing “Room 237,” that this is clearly an homage to Kubrick’s The Shining, rather than Stephen King’s book of the same name. A fancy-looking fella checks in to a hotel and is welcomed to the traditional continental breakfast. Usually that’s just an elaborate description for a breakfast nobody has been hired to cook – cold cereal, donuts, fruit, Danishes, etc. And of course, it’s like GoGurt… but to stay!
While it is hard to believe that it all comes with the room, it’s harder to not do a spit take when the man exclaims that he loves “being incontinent.” That’s probably not what the hoteliers had in mind. Much of the sketch involves the man misidentifying food, and finding the exotic in the profoundly ordinary. But in Kubrick style, we learn from the desk clerk that the man had… always been there. Of course he has.
14. Latrell, Gay Office Mate: S03E12
Political correctness is a hot button issue for some. Whether you’re talking about ladies busting ghosts or it’s kosher to make jokes about the Klan – being seen as inclusive and accepting is important to a lot of people. One such person is Latrell (Keegan) an annoying office mate who makes it a point to thrust his sexuality into everyone’s faces. Don’t like music that sounds like copulating with a bass line behind it? That’s because you’re anti-gay. Not a fan of phallic pens, pencils, light pulls, or lollipops? Too bad, you need to stop oppressing gays with your personal tastes and sense of decorum, right? The sketch goes on like this with Latrell meeting every polite request for restraint with an accusation of intolerance. Does Latrell’s office mate hate gay people? We don’t think so…and this is confirmed when his boyfriend comes to pick him up for lunch. In the end, Latrell realizes, perhaps too late, that there might be another reason his coworkers don’t care for anything he says or does.
13. Pirate Song: S05E01
Speaking of the PC police, this next sketch has political correctness to thank for its wit and fun combination of styles. Saucy pirate shanties were traditionally used when working to motivate the troops and keep spirits high. Sailing could be dangerous, even deadly. So a few manly tunes belted out throughout the day kept sailors from getting bored, angry, or considering mutiny. These songs were bawdy as heck. Some were about work, while others were about drinking, whoreing, and a lot of stuff more appropriate to Game of Thrones than a clean list like this one. Of course Key & Peele give a new spin on the classic pirate shanty by singing one that’s respectful to women and just plain tasteful overall. Watch for verses on consent, oral sex, and even a woman’s right to choose. Maybe it’s not the most gripping or memorable pirate shanty around, but fans love it all the same. “We say ‘Yo Ho’ but we never say ‘Ho’. Because ‘Ho’ is disrespectful, Yo!”
12. Les Miserables: S03E01
“One at a time…” begins this riotous spoof of overblown stage productions, Les Miserables in particular. The opening problem? It’s hard for characters to hear each other or have a civilized discussion when they’re all singing at the same time. Then another character enters and starts singing, then another, then more. One lead tries to gain some order over the proceedings, the other is firmly entrenched in the drama of the scene. What’s it about? Something about jailing people, a daughter or some such, and there are thieves and soldiers or whatever. It’s not very important. What matters is the calling out of typical stage shenanigans that make no sense in the real world. “Is the city on fire? What’s with all the smoke?” or “Why are we all facing the same waaaaaay?”
11. Victory: S02E07
“WE WON!!!” That’s the cry of Luther (Keegan), anger translator to Jordan’s Barack Obama. This ep aired shortly after Obama won his second election and filled the nation with joy or dismay—depending on where you come down on all that. This time the pair stray from the usual set up of a composed Obama and an irate Luther. There is celebration afoot. Luther is delighted, smug, and ready to declare a whole lot of white voters to be “honorary black people.” Nice! When both men get down Hammer style at the end of the vid, their happiness is quite infectious.
This sketch is especially great when we consider that Key and Peele both met the president. The real Obama digs these characters, and has even said, “I need Luther, I need him.” Our President proved this point when he invited Keegan to, as Luther, back him up at the White House Correspondents dinner in 2015.
10. Gideon’s Kitchen: S01E01
Some comedy shows need a little time to hit their stride. Sometimes the first few eps, or even the first season seems pale in comparison to what came after some retooling and focus grouping. Such was never the case with Key & Peele. From the very first episode, they tapped into what everyone was watching, thinking, and talking about. In this sketch, the guys spoof the omnipresent world of competitive cooking shows. Featuring a hard-edged no-nonsense chef (Keegan) as a judge, and Jordan as a hapless contestant who legit can’t tell whether he’s being praised or booted off the show.
Is there a comedy name for a series of misleads that go further and further until you can’t possibly imagine what the payoff will be? If there isn’t, it should be named after this sketch. It’s rare that a comedy sketch can end with a death and still make you laugh – but it’s entirely possible that this one does. “Thank you, Chef.”
9. Text Message Confusion: S04E03
Keegan and Jordan essentially playing themselves is already fun. We notice that one is messy; one is neat. One is more intense, the other casual – probably because one of them tends toward sobriety and the other is rarely pictured at home without a bong. This is a sketch that works because we all know exactly what they’re feeling – though not all of us have worn a shirt with pizza slices all over it. We’ve all been on at least one side of text message confusion. Why aren’t they answering my text? Why am I just hearing from them now? Whatever?!? What’s with the flippant response? Wait, what in the hell did they mean by that?!? Later on, we’ll laugh at our own tendency to fly off the handle. And of course, when Jordan and Keegan fly off the handle, they do it so jovially and spectacularly that we can’t help be amused. “Okay, let’s go?!?” Sure, most text message confusion doesn’t end with Mad Max-style weaponry, but it’s surprisingly funny when it does. BTW, this is another sketch better watched with the blue language intact.
8. Ancestry.com: S01E01
Is it possible to make a memorable and accessible joke about former U.S. President Thomas Jefferson in under one minute? As it turns out, yes. It totally us. What begins as a typical-looking commercial for a service we’d all seen before turns into some highly amusing reference humor. The reference? That practically all African Americans born in this country are likely related to Thomas “M-Fing” Jefferson if one goes back far enough. History has already taught us that Jefferson was down with the swirl. We know that he and Sally Hemmings had many children, who in turn had many more children. Was she Jefferson’s only slave paramour? It seems unlikely. Meanwhile, the white ancestry seekers found out their relatives were royalty, philosophers, renowned pilots, even Eric the Red. So why was this one of the most talked about sketches of the premiere episode? Maybe because many Americans would prefer to pretend that certain parts of our history never happened. But hey, DNA doesn’t lie… does it?
7. Auction Block: S01E03
Another sketch that takes a serious racial issue and makes it comical. We can all agree that slavery is no laughing matter. Lines like “Whoever buys me better kill me the first day,” and “I don’t care what plantation it is; I’m staging a revolt,” sound more like lines you’d hear in Roots. But as Jordan and Keegan become increasingly upset that no one is bidding on them, we have to admit that it’s at least a little funny. “It just seems at a certain point… do they even know what they’re looking for?” Sprinkling in words like “gobbledygook” puts unexpected laughs in the middle of a hideous historic event. So when the auctioneer chastises two potential slaves for being “superficial and bigoted,” we can hardly believe what we’re seeing. In the end, the handling of race issues is deft; and we somehow find the institution a little funnier than we should. Also, did slaves really sell for EIGHT dollars? That seems suspiciously cheap, even for the 1700s.
6. Meegan #1: S02E07
While Peele and Key do tackle many issues related to race, plenty of sketches are basically colorblind. Like Dave Chapelle’s show, Key & Peele sometimes indicates white characters through wigs, vocal inflection, or sly comments during a sketch. The harrowing tale of Meegan and Andre shows us a white couple, drunk and stumbling out of a bar. When this sketch first aired, most of the commentary centered around how awesome Jordan looks as a chick. They’re not wrong. Moreover though, Jordan’s portrayal of an obviously intoxicated and combative woman arguing with her boyfriend for reasons we’re not entirely sure of. Meegan is annoying, yet somehow familiar. We’ve all met someone like this, or seen them at a club. We shake our heads and wonder why anyone would put up with such nonsense, following her around and imploring her to take her jacket back and/or to come back in the bar. It’s a fruitless struggle, since both Meegan and Andre end up worse off than they started. Despite dying at the end of the sketch, we see plenty more of Meegan and Andre in later sketches.
5. Othello: S03E08
Depending on your viewing audience, liberal arts humor may or may not land. Not everyone has read all of Shakespeare, for example. Most of us know the gist of plays like Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, or A Midsummer Night’s Dream. To get maximum enjoyment from this sketch, you need to know that Othello (the character) starts off on top of the world, but ends up much more dead than we see coming. Highlights of this sketch include “Moor, please!” and the concealed Cornish game hen up in the doublet. A surprise guest appearance by James Callis (Gaius Baltar from Battlestar Galactica) as Willy Shakes was utterly amazing. “’Tis that not the troubadour, Kanye of the West?” When the guys confront the playwright over shuffling off the mortal coil of Othello, Shakespeare goes so far as to credit Christopher Marlowe as the true playwright. But as Keegan points out, “Thou already tried to use that argument when the Jews wanted to kick your ass after the Merchant of Venice.” They doth not purchase it, Slick Willy. They doth not purchase it.
4. School Bully: S02E07
Bullies are another annoyance that everyone has to deal with at some point in life. Whether it’s an unstable or addicted parent, a gaggle of mean girls who make every school day hell, or the pushy and borderline violent types who use loaded language to keep us feeling our worse. Bullies are a drag. When we teach kids how to deal with them, we often use techniques that work better in theory than they do in the real world. Sure, your bully is probably just a kid with low self-esteem and a bad home life – but they’ll never admit that. Well, not until this sketch. This bully (Jordan) is well aware that he hates to see other kids reading because he’s not doing well in school. He uses homosexual slurs to disguise his own feelings for his male peers, and knows that his father is a drunken abusive jag. The victim (Keegan) is impressed with the bully’s introspection and understanding of his situation, making it that much more frustrating when all this insight leads nowhere. By the end of the sketch, we do see where the bully gets it from. His dad’s plans for the evening? Beat on his kid, then drown his guilt in a river of alcohol. Yikes!
3. Aerobics Meltdown S04E09
This 80s-style sketch has exactly the sort of terrible costuming and low-res camera work that puts viewers in another place and time. Aerobics shows were huge in the 80s, even for dudes. The hair is outstanding (especially Jordan’s), the super shiny workout clothes, the music, even the steps have a wonderful vintage quality. Keegan and Jordan are clearly in competition with each other as they jump, stretch, and remember to breathe their way through a spry aerobics routine. But wait – guest star Clint Howard holds up a cue card, and the news is not good. Keep dancing. But your wife has been in an accident. Keep dancing. She may be paralyzed. We’re live though, so keep dancing. Why anyone would take the time to make cue cards saying that the police want to know if you or your wife had any enemies, we do not know. What we do know: a) Keep Dancing, and b) this was obviously Jordan’s doing. What happens next? Keep dancing, and all will be revealed.
2. Substitute Teacher: S02E04
One of the most talked-about and imitated sketches in the history of Comedy Central. No, there hasn’t been any actual research done on that, but the statement brims with truthiness all the same. Mr. Garvey has taught for many years in tough, inner city schools. So Mr. Garvey doesn’t play. He’s for real. We know it. They know it. But when he begins to take roll, he applies unusual pronunciations to the students names, and is positive that they’re messing with him when the students correct him. Whether you’re a Jay-Quellin, a Bah-LAK-ay, a Dee-Nice, or the vaulted A-A-Ron, we defy you not to laugh at this bit. Garvey’s increasing annoyance with the audacity of his white students – clearly not intending any chicanery of any kind. By the time Garvey sends a student down to O-Shag-Hennesies office, we wonder if we’ll ever stop laughing. So far, we haven’t. And that’s totally okay. Isn’t that right, Ti-MOE-thee?
1. East Coast / West Coast College Bowl: S02E02
Our top pick was based on a random sampling of polls, other lists, celeb picks, and general fan chatter that says this is the best, funniest, and most memorable bit in all of Key & Peele. East Coast / West Coast College Bowl features plenty of characters we see again in later sketches. These guys end up rapping in the style of the Bears Superbowl Shuffle video from the ’80s. A few of them find themselves in other sports-themed sketches, and are mentioned in passing in sketches were we’d never see it coming. Squeeps, Fudge, Ibrahim Moisoose, Quatro Quatro, Tork *construction noise* Lewith, Ladeniffer Jadaniston, and Tyroil Smoochie Wallace come from colleges, universities, and—as it turns out—prisons all over the country. We welcome them and their insane names, some of which are even less insane than real life players. Just ask Hingle McKringleberry or the player formerly known as MouseCop.
Now that you’ve read our picks, we know that you’ve certainly got some criticism you want to share. Don’t be shy. It’s the only way we’ll learn.