Sketch comedy creates converts, not fans: stumble upon the right bit, and you’re an instant devotee. With Key & Peele, on Comedy Central, the only skit I’d seen from the show was the viral hit “Obama Anger Translator.” In it, Jordan Peele (the stocky guy) plays the ultra-calm President, while Keegan-Michael Key (the lanky bald one) plays Luther, the guy Obama’s hired to say what he can’t. “I am not a Muslim!” Luther howls through a megaphone, sputtering and cussing. The skit was smart, it was cathartic, but it also felt kind of like a one-joke gag.
Then one day, killing time on YouTube, I fell down a Key & Peele rabbit hole, and realized that, like Gob from Arrested Development, I had made a terrible mistake. The sketch that hooked me, about an obese nerd named Wendell, was from Season 2. Initially, it seemed like another one-joke concept, as the mountain-size Wendell, played by Peele with an unsightly goatee, ordered three large pizzas by phone. “Good question, I’ll gauge the room,” he says agreeably, responding to the pizza guy’s queries about cheesy crust. But, when the camera zooms out, we see that Wendell is actually alone, talking to his action figures. A fat joke, right?
But, midway through the order, the pizza guy—played by Key—gets interested in Claire, one of the dolls with whom Wendell is pretending to party. Wendell tries to bat his questions away, first by saying of Claire that “she’s kind of a big girl,” then by claiming that he’s slept with her already. (“I hit that, sexually,” he declares, with Reddit-esque hauteur.) But the pizza guy doesn’t care how Claire looks, or what she’s done. He begs Wendell to tell Claire that he’s her soul mate. Wendell is shaken. “Wow,” he says, after a long pause. “You really do care about Claire.”