Book Review: Sketch-comedy star Keegan-Michael Key breaks down the art form in hilarious new book


Keegan-Michael and Elle know more than a few of the Key characteristics of successful sketch comedy.

Which means they would be the first to point out that lines like that don’t pass muster.

Keegan-Michael Key, half of the famed “Key & Peele” comedy duo, and his wife, Elle Key, a writer, director and producer, have translated their award-winning podcast, “The History of Sketch Comedy,” into a hilarious and informative new book.

“The History of Sketch Comedy: A Journey Through the Art and Craft of Humor” traces the art form from its earliest iterations hundreds of years ago to its current purveyors, including “Saturday Night Live” and “A Black Lady Sketch Show,” among others.

In between, the authors deconstruct some of the medium’s most notable examples. The Keys provide transcripts of some of these classics, such as “The Argument” from the “Monty Python” troupe. As Michael Palin and John Cleese banter back and forth, Keegan-Michael Key interjects every so often. “It’s so stupid,” he writes. “And by stupid I do mean awesome.”

This is where the book is at its best, because it is clear the Keys love and appreciate the science behind a good sketch, which they point out requires the following: “characters, a premise, and some sort of comedic escalation or heightening.”

It was a particular treat to read Key’s breakdown of the famed (215 million views and counting on YouTube) “Substitute Teacher” sketch from “Key & Peele.” Watching Key’s Mr. Garvey character butcher names (A-A-Ron!) is laugh-out-loud funny. So, is reading about how he and Jordan Peele made that three minutes of comedy bliss come to life.

“The History of Sketch Comedy” also features essays from comic giants, and in some cases, famous fans — Peele, Mel Brooks, Carol Burnett, Jim Carrey, Stephen Colbert, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Ken Jeong, Mike Myers, Gary Oldman and others.

Readers probably will feel as though they learned something by reading this book. They definitely will laugh throughout the process.

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