Key & Peele, a sketch comedy show on Comedy Central, is peddling offensive comedy. I watched a variety of clips spanning 5 episodes. Not only were the subjects of their humor not ever any non-black group, but jokes solely focused on either parodying aspects of black culture (think black fraternities or soul food), or, worse, "black pathology," an all-encompassing category for any negative behavior exhibited disproportionately in urban areas for which, apparently, blacks have been genetically predisposed for over 25 years (according to the media). And maybe that's why Key and Peele feel the need to remind audiences they're only half-black. Less chance of the pathology gene manifesting itself perhaps?
Comedy Central, the home of South Park, isn't exactly a place known for its humility. Notching Comedy Central's best premiere in two years, the Key & Peele show earned 2.1 million viewers and was recently renewed for a second season. Clearly, it's a success. The brainchild of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, the show seeks to deal with issues of race in a fresh and "universal" way that lets the audience in on the joke.
But apparently, when Key and Peele say their comedy is universal what they really mean is that blacks will be the butt of the jokes and others will be the ones universally yucking it up. If that's their thing, that's fine, after all it is their show. But they shouldn't serve audiences horse crap and call it horseradish.
This isn't to say there isn't a demand for these kinds of jokes. Far from it, there certainly is. But why is that? And more important, why do Key and Peele believe they should be the ones supplying it?
I'm neither a mental health professional or expert on race. But even a layperson can recognize the level of self-loathing required to produce such comedy. Key and Peele go to extraordinary lengths to consistently remind their audiences of their biracial heritage and who they are both a product of: white mothers and black fathers.
Let's step back a bit. There's been a movement afoot in the U.S. for biracial people to be recognized as multiracial (as proven in the 2010 Census results). For too long they have had to 'choose a side' and predominantly identify as one race or another. The Census, college applications, and government forms all have forced this decision and some still do today. But overwhelmingly, that is changing. Those who are biracial espouse the view that it is their right to be identified accurately and holistically.
In the biracial movement, there's an implied disadvantage in a system that pits individuals in a tug-a-war between one race and another. But what about the advantages that biracial individuals have? Interestingly, studies show that "depending on the ethnic composition of their environment, many mixed race individuals will adopt that racial identity that is most congruent with their environment and/or most rewarded." In other words, as individuals take note of the world around them they are more likely to identify with the race that will yield the most benefits for them as they advance through society. Research has yet to show if individuals also base this decision on how they physically look -- skin tone, features, or hair texture -- and if they can "pass" as white or not. But it can be presumed that an individual, who is already leaning toward identifying with the white race, would find it that much easier to do so if they look the part.
Key and Peele are far from looking the part. With light brown hues, there is little doubt they were always perceived by others as black, or at least mixed. And maybe this is where the tone of their comedy emanates from: a sense that they have always been on the outside looking in and now they get to produce the stuff their non-black peers have always found incredibly funny.
Further research shows that there is a "protean identity, in which an individual can change his or her racial identification to suit the needs or appropriateness of the situation -- thus allowing someone to -- choose his or her identity." The biracial individual is essentially a chameleon equipped to change identity to suit a particular purpose at a particular time.
"When we write, we say, 'This is a really funny premise, it's pretty universal; we just happen to have melanin in our skin,'" Key recently said to The Root.
He went on to say: "At its core, race is an absurd notion," he says. "For some reason we find ourselves obsessed with something that's primal: If you don't look like me, you must be from a tribe that's not next door to me. It is intertwined with our basic fears. Only in this point of time, as the world gets smaller and smaller and we achieve a greater sense of what it means to be human in this world, can we find the humor in it."
But why should the subject of that humor only reside in black culture? Taking negative stereotypes that have existed for years and regurgitating them in some "universal" packaging that is little more than spoon-fed coonery is neither funny nor courageous; least of all is it achieving a "greater sense" of anything.
When did black comedians ever have to strive for "universal" appeal? Or package jokes differently in order pander to a particular racial group? There is a long list of black comics who were or are successful with a broad range of audiences: Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor, and Redd Foxx, are just a few. Usually when comics seek a "universal" audience they just clean up their acts and use less profanity. They sterilize their comedy and take it down a notch from an R-rating to PG. Eddie Murphy in Dr. Doolittle or The Nutty Professor is a perfect example.
Blacks will have little use for Key and Peele's brand of comedy. It's not that we don't get the jokes; it's more so we're tired of being the butt of them.
This post was originally featured at Loop21