One of the more popular and enduring sketches on Comedy Central’s Key & Peele has been Luther, President Obama’s “anger translator,” which features Jordan Peele as a comically reserved commander in chief and Keegan-Michael Key as the over-the-top voice (and gesticulating arms) of his inner rage. The schizophrenic skit—a hit with critics and viewers alike from the get-go—apparently tickled POTUS’s funny bone too.
It began as a seemingly off-handed remark three years ago, when the duo met President Obama during his visit to L.A., where the show is filmed and the two live— “I need Luther,” Key remembers the president joking. But the meeting took a turn towards the surreal after Key attended a holiday party at the White House last December, and got to talking with one of the president’s punch-up guys. (Yes, the president takes his comedy seriously too.)
“The next thing we know, we’re on an airplane going to Washington, D.C.,” says Key. And then, shortly thereafter, on a very different sort of comedy stage: the White House Correspondents dinner, where the actual president and his fictional anger translator brought the house down.
Which will come as little surprise to fans of the show: What the duo hasn’t needed over five seasons of Key & Peele is a laughter translator. The show has consistently been one of Comedy Central’s top-rated, with about 2 million weekly viewers, has snared an additional 100 million streams online — not to mention the heaps of Emmy love it received this year.
What they’ve also been able to do without? A trainer. While not expressly physical comedians, their brand of humor does require a fair amount of physicality. Key, 44, who might find himself slammed against the ceiling of an airline cabin, like in this season’s “Turbulence” sketch, says he stays limber with “a lot of stretching.” Peele, 36, quips that “Keegan is way more athletic than I am. I feel like when my belly disappears my comedy does, like Sampson’s hair.” But Peele also points out that sometimes, like when he’s donning a fatsuit for hours to play hilariously sad-sack recurring character Wendell Sanders, there’s a workout right there. “I’ll come off shooting a season way trimmer than I will be going into it.”
Of course, that fitness plan may have to change a little: This summer it was announced that Key & Peele (the series) would wrap for good after the end of season 5 in September. But, thankfully, Key and Peele (the friends and collaborators), who have worked alongside each other since both joining the cast of MADtv in 2003, have bigger plans. Or, more accurately, bigger screen plans. With multiple movie projects in the works, including the recently filmed drug-dealer comedy Keanu (2016) and an adaptation of their much beloved “Substitute Teacher” sketch (TBD), they still see getting a lot of laughs together ahead. Says Peele, “We’re living the dream.” And that’s no joke.