Even for its brief eight-episode first season, the writing team of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele produced over 200 sketches that were later culled to 54. Tonight, Key & Peele wraps its fifth and final season having aired nearly 300 sketches. But what about the ones that never made it? Vulture spoke with Jay Martel and Ian Roberts, two of the head writers and executive producers on the show, who walked us through the sketches that got left behind, starring Jamaican crustaceans and Latin heartthrobs. The list of also-rans might make you wish for another five seasons and a movie.
Illustrations by Mario Zucca.
This one was about a guy sitting in the hospital with his dying wife, and a guy comes in dressed in a lobster costume, the kind of thing that usually would happen in a children’s ward. And he has a Jamaican accent, and he says, “Hey, what’s up, man, go ‘head, kiss the girl!” And the guy’s just baffled. Keegan was the lobster and Jordan was the straight man, really befuddled by it. He’s just sitting there holding the hand of his dying wife. He’s actually playing the character from The Little Mermaid, the sort of Jamaican lobster, Sebastian. So he comes in clicking his lobster claws, and it’s just a terrible costume where the guy’s face shows in it. And he says, “Kiss the girl, mon,” and the guy says, “I’m sorry, who are you?” And he won’t answer. “Come on, mon, kiss the girl.” “What is this — I mean — do you have the right room?” “Kiss the girl, mon.” Finally, to get rid of the guy, he kisses his wife. And then she dies. And to me, this guy coming in and connecting the last moment with his wife with this stupid request from a lobster just would make me howl with laughter.
Insane Workout Class
We saw this as a great vehicle for Keegan’s physicality. This was basically people exercising until their heads exploded. Their limbs would fall off, and Keegan [the instructor] would be just completely abusing the people. They would throw up on themselves, you know. But they got this T-shirt at the end of it, and so everyone was talking about this T-shirt being the best thing that ever happened to them. It did hit on something that exists — in the old days, it was seven-minute abs. Everything was about helping you get results easily. “You will want to quit! You will never work this hard in your life! We will take you to places you didn’t think possible!” It made us laugh, like, who would want this? “You will feel pain that other people can’t comprehend!” Why is that a good thing? It just tickled us. At some point someone showed us the video for Shake Weights. It’s a kind of weight that the guy shakes, and it looks exactly like he’s masturbating. After we saw that, it was kind of like, I don’t think we can do better than this. This is a great comedy sketch, and it was an infomercial for a real thing, so. The thing about our show is that the bar is very high for a commercial parody of any kind. I think we maybe did five or six commercial parodies in five seasons, just because that’s something we’ve seen people associate with Saturday Night Live and MADtv. So if we were going to do a commercial parody, it had to be really amazing. That one just never caught fire.
Here’s one that stayed in the running for a long time. It was resubmitted every season. Little Homies were these two guys who ran a camp for underprivileged kids. And everything they did was on the up-and-up. For it to be funny, [what] you had to understand was that these guys are not pedophiles, but they can’t help but have the commercial for their camp sound like they’re pedophiles. “If you can’t make it to camp, we will come pick you up in a van” … “We have candy and fun for you” … “Everything is hands-on, you will always have a counselor …” We could never somehow get that across — it would just seem like they were pedophiles. It had a problem where the funny characters were very effete, and so on top of that, it seemed like we were saying, “Oh, gay guys are pedophiles.” They became tragic characters in the last few rewrites, in that nobody would sign up for their camp. And they’re always just sitting around, wondering what it was about their marketing campaign that was off.
Another funny thing with this scene was that the writers would sneak it in — we’d have a board up in our office with all scenes that were in consideration. And you’d notice, suddenly, “How the hell did Little Homies get up there?” It would be up in the middle of an episode. Little Homies was like the mouse that would keep on showing up, and you’d have to chase it out of the room.
The Office Homophobe
This one was about the ongoing character Latrell. The idea was that a lot of the clichés that macho straight men use have a completely different meaning for gay men. In this scenario, Latrell was part of a union negotiation — he was a construction worker with a bunch of other construction workers, and they’re having this intense negotiation, and the negotiator for the construction workers comes out and goes, “Uh, guys, sorry, it’s not going well. Looks like we’re taking it up the ass on this one.” And Latrell goes, “So we’re making progress, then.” “No, I’m saying we’re not getting what we want.” “Okay, I’m confused.” “They’re bending us over in there.” “Great!” “No, no. We’re not doing well.” The short idea is that clichés for straight people sometimes [have an] opposite meaning for gay people. It wasn’t that successful, but I ended up working on it a lot because I liked that character, and I wanted to bring him back for something.
This scene involved adult dodgeball players. Keegan plays this spazzy guy who keeps on getting hit with the ball but denies that he’s been hit. For a lot of people, this might be thin on the page, but Keegan would do it a hilariously physical way — him jumping around, and then everyone getting more and more angry, but feeling stupid for getting so angry about a meaningless game of dodgeball. That one died because we felt like you had a concept that you might think should be the comic premise in and of itself — that adults were playing dodgeball — and it was again a high threshold, a difficult thing to have adults playing kids.
This was the first thing we ever shot that did not make it on the air. It was these two guys who appeared in at least one other sketch. They’re catcalling someone offscreen, and in this one, it’s all about the girl’s big ol’ booty. “Mmm, she got a big ol’ booty.” “Mmm, I’d like to get in there.” “That is like, BAM.” “Like the death star.” And then the camera pulls out and you realize that they’re tiny little guys, six inches tall, on a park bench, and the lady with the big booty sits down and they have to scramble for cover. So that never made it. I think more because, well, it doesn’t sound like it was the best sketch, anyway, but it was really due to production value. It didn’t look that good. Our director was never happy with the way the shots were matching. But I was always trying to get it back into a show. It’s also almost a minute long, and we don’t have that many short sketches.
I loved this one, and we never did it for a production reason. It took place at an orca tank at SeaWorld, so you can immediately understand why there might’ve been some problems with it. But the setup was that Jordan was the emcee at this orca show, and Keegan was in the crowd, and he was a teacher or something. He took over the presentation and he was doing completely inappropriate things, like banging on the shark tank and saying facts that were completely wrong about killer whales. At the end, he distressed the killer whale so much, it broke through the glass and ate him. The dynamic between Keegan and Jordan on this one was so funny, and Keegan played this great know-it-all. “Well, of course you should tell the children how the orca is used for logging in India.” “No, that’s absolutely not true.” We wanted to shoot it as part of the first season, and we actually toured various public pools because we thought we could build, like, a Plexiglas wall. We went to great lengths to try to produce that.
Extreme Plantation Makeover
This was also from the first season, and Stephen Root was in it. It was our first really cool guest-star. The idea was, it’s a parody of an extreme-makeover show, but in the Confederacy. So if the Confederacy still existed, the show would be called Extreme Plantation Makeover, and everything gets done by slaves. So instead of the guy introducing the show and then saying, “We’re gonna sand this thing, and we’re going to move this beam over here and build this new wall,” he just told two slaves to get to it. Played by Keegan and Jordan. Like, “Go build the house.” We thought it was good ourselves, but actually, Jordan never liked it. And then Jordan was vindicated because we showed it in front of a live audience, to crickets. Now, it may have been that people felt awkward laughing about it in a mixed audience because our audiences were mixed, black and white. But what we took away was that if we did something that dealt with racism, Keegan and Jordan need to be empowered. It just became kind of uncomfortable and weird, like, “I don’t want to see the stars of the show just getting pushed around.” It was a situation where they didn’t even speak.
I Used to Own You
There was another sketch, similar to that, that never got filmed that killed me. But it had the same problem. And this was part of our learning curve, figuring out how we deal with race as a show. The sketch was Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln sitting at a restaurant having a meeting about some policy issue, and this white guy comes up and says, “Hey, I used to own you,” to Frederick Douglass. And he’s so excited to meet him now that he’s famous. “Hey, would you sign this?” And they set up a photograph. So it’s a metaphor for stardom, but the weird thing was that he kept on talking about how he used to own him. And it suffered from the same problem in that the white guy was the sort of wild card and the empowered character, and Frederick Douglass is basically a prop. He played more of the straight man — “I try not to think of those times”; “Thank you very much, I’m glad you read the book, but I need to get back to this.”
Hole in the Face
“Hole in the Face” was about someone trying to act super comfortable when dealing with someone who has a tragic physical disability. This guy had a literal hole in his face, and where his face should be was just a cavernous thing that birds flew out of, which happened in the scene. And it echoed if you got close to him. Oh, and he’s also homeless. So not only does he have a hole in his face, he smells bad, he’s in rags. Jordan, where he could have just said, “Okay,” and simply moved on, made a point of saying, “We should hang out.” Jordan’s very uncomfortable saying anything rejecting this guy, and they end up going to a bar together and having drinks. And they meet two women there, and one of the women has a hole in her face. Jordan assumes that the two hole-in-the-faces will get together, but instead, the hole-in-face goes for the hot girl, and Jordan’s still so reluctant to offend anyone that he ends up with the girl with a hole in her face and they end up getting married. There was a wedding at the end of it — he kissed the bride and his face got sucked into the hole. The sketch is really about extreme political correctness. Not being able to say how you feel about someone because you don’t want to hurt their feelings. We shot this thing — it was very elaborate — and it basically didn’t work because of a choice we made not to try to do a special effect and have a hole in the face. Instead we did it with makeup built up on the side, and always filmed it so you never saw the whole face. You just saw the edges of the whole. It was just this weird kind of cavern. But what really didn’t work about the sketch was we couldn’t end it. It always ended up hitting the audience as more of a question than an answer.
This one was also not done for production reasons. Keegan played a Latin heartthrob, like Julio Iglesias or Enrique Iglesias, and he would be standing on the stage singing. And he would start singing to a woman in the front row, and he would take her by the hand and lead her up onstage, which was a convention that these guys do. But then things would go crazy, and suddenly you would see — acted out, while Keegan is still singing the song — this weird trajectory of their entire relationship, where he would kiss her, then they’d be married, she would have children, and these steps would kind of go in and out. She would be pregnant, she would have a baby, they’d start to fight, she’d become a crack addict. They’d reconcile. Meanwhile, Jordan, who was the date of the woman that got picked up onstage, is sitting there watching this, like, what the fuck is going on? So she’s had babies and is being led back down to the audience at the end of the song. We were all excited about the bizarre theatricality of it, but it involved building these sets, renting a huge auditorium, filling it with people. The lighting plot alone was going to be crazy — sort of like, light these sets that are going to be flying on and off the stage.
Aliens on the Run
One sketch that was beloved among many of the writers was “Aliens on the Run,” which would’ve been a parody. It was off the observation that there were movies in the ‘80s where they had a song that sort of spoke to what was happening in the movie. If they’re running from the cops, it would be like, “On the run, from the cops / They’re on our tails / We gotta make it home,” or something like that. So it was this song that basically said everything about the plot of the movie. This tremendously weird, self-conscious trope. So in this sketch, Jordan and Keegan, all in ’80s wardrobe, were being chased by aliens through a crowded concert venue while the band played a song that was basically, “Aliens, aliens on the run …” The problem was, to do this would have taken more resources away from other sketches. It needed at least 100 extras for the crowded club. It would’ve filmed the whole day instead of a half-day, which most of our scenes film. So every year it would come down to, “Well, we can do this — are you willing to lose this, this, this.” And we’d decided no, we’d rather have these three other good scenes than just get “Aliens on the Run.” But people loved it. Keegan and Jordan would get ones that were like, “If we lose this one, it’ll break my heart.” It was thought of in that way.