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Best comedy skit ever? Ask Keegan-Michael Key and Elle Key

This doesn’t need to be answered definitively, but ask yourself this for a moment:

What is the best comedy sketch of all time?

From any source — Abbot & Costello, Monty Python, “Saturday Night Live,” “Portlandia,” “Chapelle’s Show.” There is no authority to address the issue, not even a comedy magazine like Rolling Stone to claim that authority. But there is one smart married comedy couple: Elle Key and Keegan-Michael Key, actor (she), producer (him), currently co-authors of “The History of Sketch Comedy,” a slim, conversational book. And they’re trying to answer that question at the end of this history, and so they have to go through Chicago.

Key and Key’s choice? Bob Odenkirk and David Cross “Selection” HBO’s influential ’90s series “Mr. Show.” The setup: Cross-auditions for Odenkirk (Second City vet, Naperville native) and Dino Stamatopoulos (Columbia College grad, Norridge native) are asked to perform a monologue, ironically titled “The Audition.” Here’s the problem: When Odenkirk and Stamatopoulos If he addresses , they respond politely and Cross has to stop – no, no, that’s behavior. piece from his monologue. Ah… OK, start over. But as Cross’s monologue becomes increasingly angry – “Someone answer me! Don’t look at each other! Look at me!” — Odenkirk and Stamatopoulos squirm, unsure if they should respond to this auditioning actor. pretend – Maybe? – attend auditions.

In his book, Keegan describes the sketch as “the pinnacle of sketching…my turducken”. This outline is “everything you need to do,” they explained over the phone recently before Key and Key attended the Chicago Humanities Festival. Increasing intensity, based on improvisation Yes and’ and the ending is unexpected.

And they also agree.

In fact, discussing comedy with Key and Key might sound vaguely sketchy:

So you both agree on what comedy and comedy history should be like?

Elle: “There was a moment when Keegan was presenting at an awards show and I texted him something and I stopped him for a laugh – he was on video, waiting for the audience reaction, like he was live – and he fought me about it because he didn’t think he was going to get the laugh I was expecting. But I can’t think of another time when we disagreed…”

Keegan: “Neither can I.”

Elle: “Look, he can’t agree with me anymore.”

They have been married for five years. from New York City; He’s from Detroit. They were talking from New York; As Elle explained, this is how she described her husband: “Keegan ran a red light today. I think this is huge. “I can count the number of times he ran a red light in New York, and I don’t think he would have done that if I wasn’t around him.”

Keegan, whose contribution to sketch comedy as one half of the duo Key & Peele should be included in any serious discussion of the funniest sketches ever, maintains the kind of proper, formal demeanor that serves sketch characters well in everyday life. He instinctively knows where a draft needs to get out of control and where it needs some quiet time. It came from the Second City ecosystem, first from the satellite Detroit group, then from Second City’s roster in Chicago. “There was definitely a difference in styles,” he said. “Detroit was extremely physical and very raw, and there was something much more dazzling about the Chicago scene. That was my experience coming from Detroit. Someone from Chicago told me that the majority of listeners there have long come from the 60614 zip code. They were trained to follow such drawings. There is more tourism now. Detroit didn’t yet have an educated improv or sketch audience, so when we did great physical humor or marriage humor, that was most successful. You can get away with experimenting in Chicago.

Physical chaos is not necessarily less finely tuned.

I asked him what the best sketch shows were right now, and he didn’t hesitate to say: HBO’s “Black Lady Sketch Show” — where Robin Thede debuted at Northwestern University and then Second City — and Netflix’ in “I Think You Should Leave” program. It was created by Detroit native and Chicago Second City star Tim Robinson. The latter in particular “looks like a descendant of the Marx Brothers,” Keegan said. “I think Harpo brings things out of a coat that wouldn’t be found in a coat, and Tim does the same thing with the use of details. He finds something that 99% of humanity would let go of and focuses his characters’ attention on that. This is how the Marx Brothers worked. They would stop a plot – no matter how loose – to go crazy. My favorite moments are when they take a second to enjoy a joke they just told. You could never do that in a movie today, but Tim does it. He enjoys being obsessed with something small.

Throughout the book, Key and Key are fascinated by chaos; They are fascinated by this chaos; This pairs well with another characteristic of chaos: superiority. A few examples referenced in the book: Carol Burnett and Lucille Ball as rival car dealers; Monty Python’s legendary parrot sketch; and a great “Kids in the Living Room” routine where two friends have lunch and one of them tries to remember the name of the movie he saw last night, which is obviously called “Citizen Kane.” (“No, that’s not the point,” Dave Foley says to anyone who reminds him of “Citizen Kane.”)

“Key & Peele,” Keegan’s remarkable sketch comedy show with Jordan Peele for five seasons on Comedy Central, often savored this kind of gamesmanship, raising the bar, raising the bar, and raising the bar. Elle and Keegan love discussing the mathematics of these types of sketches. In his own words: “How do you start from 6 and get it to 412. Some sketches, the script will create so much that someone will have to explode.”

“I’ve been in some of these,” Keegan said.

“Wait, right?” Elle said.

“Yes, ‘Key & Peele’, butlers; They burn themselves. “They get carried away by themselves.”

I said don’t forget the burger one at the barbecue.

“Hamburger?” Keegan asked.

You stand over Peele and tell him to flip the burger and not use cheese…

“Ah! Kobe beef draft.

“That’s right – ‘This meat came all the way across the Pacific! By boat!'”

“That came from my perspective, it just escalated,” Keegan said. “I wouldn’t bring Kobe beef to a cookout in real life. But if I do this, what’s the worst thing that could happen? It will fall into the hands of someone who doesn’t want it honour product! Why would I want you to cook my food? ‘You are not worthy! You’re not worthy!’ It’s mine.”

One-upmanship and ego are so ingrained in older sketches that even sketches based on less short-sighted subjects are still about one-upmanship. Elle said the slave auction sketch in “Key & Peele,” in which two slaves played by Key and Peele are angry because they didn’t sell, was actually about “vanity.” “Everybody calls it the slave sketch,” Keegan added, “but that’s just the angle. Jordan was sitting in his apartment and was like, ‘How can I make someone laugh at this?’ says.” The same goes for the racist zombie sketches, in which zombie apocalypse survivors Key and Peele take on the microaggressions of the undead. To achieve this as a comedy, Keegan said: “‘I’m not just going to be contrarian on shock value, but I’m going to find a kernel to exploit—then You have to be willing to say, “I will raise, I will raise…”

There’s a patience to sketch comedy that can feel old-school in the age of social media. When a “Key & Peele” or “SNL” or SCTV classic comes across my TikTok or Instagram feed these days, it’s almost always devoid of context and so fragmented that there’s no room for the comedy to soar. There is no need for chaos to come. It’s already there.

Key and Key call it “DMV Theater,” and it’s a mixed bag: Sketch comedy is so prevalent on the internet that it’s thriving. But still, as he runs away, he is consumed with boredom.

“Kevin Nealon told us in the book that his son would watch ‘SNL’ sketches on YouTube but would check the timestamp first,” Keegan said. “What’s fascinating is how old sketches await installation. They are boiling. You may have two minutes before you get to the comedy.

“(‘Key & Peele’) never looked at it as coming online one day. We organized skits to live together. We didn’t know they were going to be divided into sections. The episodes were like albums where there was movement in the series and one thing led to another for some reason.

Python pioneered this, I said.

“Yes,” he said. “This is how these sketches were designed. Have you ever heard of the theory that every episode of this series is a dream in the head of a guy named Monty Python? You made these mismatched sketches flow – literally, and now it’s something completely different. We dream like this. “It’s probably a made-up story, but I love it.”

“An Evening with Keegan-Michael Key and Elle Key” Oct. 5 at 7 p.m., Francis W. Parker School, 330 W. Webster Ave.; www.chicagohumanities.org

cborrelli@chicagotribune.com

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