The Comedy Central series is TV's new best ongoing exploration of race.
Dave Chappelle's frustration with doing his Comedy Central first became public in a June 2004 performance, the month before Barack Obama, then an Illinois State Senator, became a national political figure with an electrifying speech at the Democratic National Convention. The end of Chappelle's Show as a regularly televised program was the end of America's best ongoing comedic exploration of race. And this ending came precisely at the moment the country needed Chappelle's Show most, when the elevation of a black man to the nation's highest office unleashed a torrent of racial insecurity and racial vituperation. It's taken eight years, but Comedy Central has finally found the vital comedians for the age of Obama in Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, biracial comics who plumb race in America in Key & Peele. The half-hour combination of sketches and standup, which airs at 10:30 on Tuesdays, premiered to strong reviews in late January, pulling 2.1 million viewers to give Comedy Central its biggest launch of a new show since 2009.
It helps that Jordan Peele does the best Obama impersonation in Hollywood (Saturday Night Live auditioned him as a cast-member, but inexplicably, decided to stick with Fred Armisen's impression), a perfect replication of the President's voice he deploys to do more than just deliver punchlines. In one of the show's early sketches, a group of men are freestyling on a corner with a rigged-up microphone and speaker. When one of them (Key) finishes his routine, which is mostly an enumeration of his own excellence, a limousine pulls up, and President Obama steps out. "I'm the leader of the free world," he intones, holds out the microphone, and drops it with a decisive hiss of static.