Key and Peele

Read the following line of inquiry and the student's response. Apply the assessment criteria and discuss the marks that you would award the script before reading the examiner's marks and comments. How different were your marks and comments from the examiner's marks and comments? What improvements could be made to this student's response, in order to achieve better results?

To what extent do Key and Peele sketches reinforce the racial stereotypes that they challenge?

Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele are an American comedy duo, who have made popular sketches for Comedy Central since 2012. They have won multiple Emmys for their sketches, which primarily address racial inequality. Nevertheless, not everyone agrees that they are funny. Rather, some people find them racist, which raises the line of inquiry: To what extent do Key and Peele sketches reinforce the racial stereotypes that they challenge? By studying three of their sketches and seeing how Key and Peele address stereotypes, use extended metaphors and subvert paradigms, it becomes clear that they are simply spreading awareness about the idiotic and ridiculous nature of racist behaviour.  

As the sketch ‘Country Music’ shows, Key and Peele often address stereotypes in plain language, by breaking taboos and talking about them. In the sketch, “Country Music,” an African American man invites his neighbour to hear some of his country songs, which, as it happens, describe many racial stereotypes. As one song goes, blacks “take their beer by the 40 and their chicken deep-fried.” Another song lyric describes how a white man should protect his girlfriend from black people and “keep her safe from the homies”. The audience finds this ironic, because it is an African American singing these racist song lyrics about his own people without even knowing it. Only once his neighbor leaves in a fit does he begin to realise that his song lyrics could be controversial. As Anna Klassen of Bustle has said, “Key and Peele have used their craft to shine a spotlight on racial stereotypes and tropes” (Klassen, 2016). Katrina Richarson of Salon also agrees that Key and Peele are not racist, pointing out that their humour “is less about the complexities of navigating the often tricky multi-racial road, and more about the cheap humor of “White people talk like this,” and “Black people talk like this” -- with black characters deciding whether they’ll talk white or black in a given situation. This premise is the basis of nearly every single sketch” (Richardson, 2012). The idea of a black man explaining why stereotyping black people is wrong to another black man is quite ridiculous. Again, the brilliance of Key and Peele is that they simply come out and state offensive ideas in a context that exposes their absurdity. As a result, audiences begin to question cultural practices, such as singing country music with derogatory lyrics. 

Key and Peele also use extended metaphors to effectively spread awareness about racial problems in the United States in a humorous way. In the sketch, “Black Ice,” Key and Peele play a black weatherman and a black reporter, reporting to a newsroom with white anchors. The anchors warn viewers about the presence of black ice on the cold roads, using a graphic image of an ice cube in gangster attire with a gold tooth, a backward baseball cap and lots of gold chains. The weatherman and reporter are so offended by the graphic and the language of the anchors that they begin to describe snowplows and salt trucks as the ‘oppressors’ of the black ice. The white snow is constantly used to refer to white people, and Black Ice is used to refer to African Americans in a heated discussion between the reporters and the anchors. As the tensions between the anchors and reporters rise, their racist language becomes less disguised. Then the anchors come out and say: “Next up, why is America being ruined by black people.” In other words, they grow tired of speaking in metaphors and simply say what would otherwise be considered offensive. Key and Peele use language in a way that exposes how ridiculous people are when they use metaphors to try to hide their racism. 

Furthermore, Key and Peele subvert common cultural paradigms in order to address racial inequality in a funny way. In most of their sketches, they create a scenario that is easily recognisable for audiences, and then they deliver the unexpected. Key and Peele use this technique in the sketch, “White Zombies,” in which Key and Peele are frightened characters in a typical zombie apocalypse horror movie. When their white friend is bitten by a zombie and turns into a zombie, Key and Peele start running for their lives. The twist occurs when they realise they are not being chased by the zombies. Instead, the zombies only seem to have an appetite for white people. Key and Peele stumble upon a house party nearby, where African Americans are enjoying a barbeque and some drinks, while the zombies wreak havoc and destruction on the white neighbors nearby. Audiences do not expect zombies to discriminate on the basis of race, as they usually eat everyone they see. What is even less expected is how happy the African Americans are with the zombies’ racist behaviour, because it means their lives are spared. The sight of African Americans celebrating racism is bizarre for the viewer, and it makes viewers wonder why humans act worse in reality than zombies in fictional horror movies. Again, Key and Peele sketches make people question racist behaviour through sketches that are so ridiculous that clearly could not be blamed for reinforcing racist behaviour.

Key and Peele produced five seasons of their show before stopping in 2015. The success of the show has been recognised by many, as they have received Emmy awards. Comedy Central shows many of their sketches on Youtube today, with their views in the millions. In fact, at the time of writing, their most popular sketch has over 191 million views. Most of their popular videos explore the topic of racial inequality. It would be impossible to be this popular and promote racist ideas. Instead their popularity can be attributed to their questioning of racist ideas. Key and Peele’s popularity can also be attributed to the clever devices that they use to get a laugh, including the breaking of taboos, the use of metaphors and subverting cultural paradigms. These elements and others add humor to a discussion on racism that is often challenging and divisive.

Works cited

Klassen, Anna. “Key & Peele Explain How They Fight Racial Stereotypes With Comedy.” Bustle, 29 Apr. 2016, (Klassen)

Richardson, Kartina. “‘Key & Peele’s’ Edge-Less, Post-Racial Lie.” Salon, 22 Feb. 2012, (Richardson)

Criterion A: Knowledge, understanding and interpretation – 3 out of 5

The essay demonstrates knowledge about popularity of Key and Peele. While it shows an understanding of their sketches, the application of this understanding to the 'topic' of racism and stereotyping is not always explored. Furthermore, it is stated that some people are offended by Key and Peele, but no sources are references to support these claims, nor are the claims really explored in the essay. The main interpretation of the sketches, namely that they expose the ridiculousness of racist behaviour, are supported with clear examples.

Criterion B: Analysis and evaluation – 3 out of 5

There is adequate analysis of the 3 sketches and their aims to spread awareness about racial tensions. At times it feels that the essay makes big cognitive leaps. For example, the paragraph about 'extended metaphors' explains and describes the sketch in great detail before jumping to the conclusion that it is ridiculous for people to speak in metaphors to hide their racism. Furthermore the director's choices in cinematography are not explored at all. 

Criterion C: Coherence, focus and organisation - 4 out of 5

The essay is well structured, exploring a different stylistic feature and sketch in each paragraph. The final sentences of each paragraph are especially good in adding coherence to the essay, as they return to the line of inquiry. While the essay is organised and coherent, its focus on 'racist behaviour' is rather unfocused.  

Criterion D: Language - 4 out of 5

The student’s use of English is very effective in constructing a persuasive argument. The student manages to describe, explain and evaluate the sketches with a level of sophistication and coherence.


Writing your HL Essay about a non-literary body of work (BOW) is smart because it frees up a literary work that you may want to use for your Paper 2 or individual oral.

Last modified: Tuesday, 17 November 2020, 8:32 PM