Often hailed as the spiritual successor to “Chappelle’s Show,” Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele’s Comedy Central skit series, “Key & Peele” was an equally short-lived, but critically lauded and intellectually sharp television show that riffed on race relations and pop culture amongst satirizing serious political issues. In other words, they offered the type of incisive hijinks our country sorely needs right now.
Never ones to withhold their blunt honesty, even when it comes to their own self-deprecating humor towards their biracial heritage, they’re two of the few modern American comedians able to provoke laughter without resorting to insensitive, mean-spirited jokes, while simultaneously still not adhering to overt political correctness.
Taking a few cues from the puppy vengeance action flick “John Wick,” Key and Peele’s first feature film “Keanu” follows the pair as Clarence and Rell, repsectively, as two suburban, straight-laced cousins who reluctantly infiltrate a grimy, organized criminal underworld, posing as gangsters pursuing their kitty, Keanu, after he’s “catnapped” by the drug lord Cheddar, played by Method Man.
Keanu inherits his name from the legendary 90s actor Keanu Reeves, who played the lead in “John Wick.” In the process of retrieving the once adorable and helpless, but now hardened street king feline, the duo prompt a war within the streets larger than expected.
In the tradition of their sketches, “Keanu” continues Key and Peele’s trend of subverting racial stereotypes and hyper-masculinity such as in their “Manly Tears” and “School Bully” skits. In a separate interview, Peele was quoted as saying that the film intends to “satirize how pop culture paints masculinity and what it means to be African-American — and how many of us don’t fit into the mold expected of us.”
In our interview, which Key unfortunately had to drop out of due to unforeseen circumstances, I asked Peele to elaborate on this. He explained, “I think every person has two individuals living inside themselves: You got the warrior and then they’ve got the more sensitive artist. Keegan and I got the artist and sensitive sides turned up to 11. The way we get out our warrior spirit is just by being willing to do anything and push buttons in our comedy.”
He continued, “We want to do things that are going to piss people off as much as we can, while also being able to make them laugh at the same time. It’s all about duality.”
He went on to quip, “I mean, you put a kitten in Method Man’s arms and all of a sudden it’s like they’re a force multiplier.” Method Man, being the former Wu-Tang Clan member who dominates the room with his intimidating, larger than life, but still extremely friendly and comedic presence, nodded in agreement.
Additionally, Peele and Method Man clarified why they went with a cat as a drug lord’s pet instead of a more typical one, such as a snake. Peele explained, “We took the cutest thing in the world, and we put it in the craziest situation. We always hear about these gangsters that have pythons and tigers, so we saw an opportunity there to do a little juxtaposition.”
Method Man cut in humorously with fabricated conviction, “I mean, look at this picture, man…” He pointed to the film’s promotional poster featuring a close-up shot of the cat sporting a do-rag and gold chains. “It’s adorable. It looks like Justin f*****g Bieber! Come on, man…He’s more gangster then Justin Bieber.”
When asked about what action and gangster films they took inspiration from, which just from the film’s trailer is already made apparent, Peele commented, “It’s based on our favorite type of genre, which is just ‘cool’ movies. Like that’s what we all want to be. We all want to be a ‘cool’ movie star like Liam Neeson or Denzel Washington.” He continued, “The kind of movies I watch have lots of over-the-top violence where you see brains exploding and gore n’ stuff. This is not that. This movie was about taking Keegan and I, putting us in that over-the-top violent world, and seeing how we’d do in that type of environment.”
Method Man went on to add, “It’s a fish-out-of-water type situation.”
Peele also spoke on overcoming the obstacle of “Keanu” becoming a skit dragged out too long, as well as the liberties of the medium of film as opposed to the restrictions of television.
“It was very fun, and a challenge we were ready for. You can tell by our sketches that we love movies and we wanted to make something original and classic,” said Peele.
He continued, “The biggest difference with this one is that you have to sustain a story. You can’t just sell out the comedy and expect to be able to go back and have people care about what you’re doing. You have to ground it and you have to give it a heart. Keanu takes us through this journey, and I think people laugh because it’s a crazy movie, but I think they also care about the characters in it.”
In regards to what projects are next on the comedy team’s bucket list, Peele detailed, “We’re always going to be doing movies together, I think. We have too much fun doing that. I’m also producing, along with Tracy Morgan, a pilot at FX and we’re very excited about that. He’s just hilarious.” He elaborated, “I also just directed a horror movie called “Get Out” that I’m editing right now. It’s a straight horror film too. It’s not in any way a comedy and it’s definitely going to push some buttons and scare the s*** out of people.”
“Keanu” opens April 29 in theaters nationwide.
Rob Gabe is a fifth-year student majoring in communication studies. Contact him at RG770214@wcupa.edu