We use the similar-opposite technique as we did with the "Substitute Teacher" sketch: We said, what if there's a white player now? To do justice to the comedic game, it's Dan Smith, the most boring name of all time, and after that, there's not a lot of places to go.
People love the names or the looks of the characters, but it's the heightening that they're really responding to. If we swapped up the order of all those names, it would not be the same experience.
The announcers don't say in the beginning of the sketch, "This year you may notice that the African-American players have ahhh, pretty creative names." You just start doing it, [and] by the third name, the audience goes, "Oh my God, this is kind of true. This rings true to me. I see what they're doing, and they keep getting crazier and crazier." We're trying to make the names one step crazier than they think it's going to be. When we get to Dan Smith, they're the ones who figured out the game of the sketch. We never explained it to them.
"I Said B—"
There's several games going on. There's the game of guys that clearly didn't say what they're saying they said. There's the physical game as they get farther and farther from any place they could possibly be heard. We get them to the point where they're in the middle of the field, and we've got them literally in a place far away from anybody, you can't heighten anymore than that, and then we said, let's push it: Let's push it outside of the bounds of reality here, in order to get our final heighten. So we end up in space.
That's a satisfying enough heighten to present our button, and that's not even the button. The button is, my character then ejects himself into space and essentially sacrifices his life. The implication is he is going to the vacuum of space where no one can hear him.
You'll notice in "Key and Peele," one of the outs that can continuously come up is somebody either sacrificing their life or getting killed. The highest heighten of life, really, sort of keeps rearing its head, which is death, which is the ultimate absurdity of this existence, in a way.
This is the first sketch we ever did, our first code-switching sketch. Keegan is talking to his wife on the phone about the theater, and then I walk up, and I'm a dude in a bubble vest, and he changes the way he talks to accommodate. He starts talking more street on the phone. My character picks up his phone as well; he has a street dialect, and when I move on, the reveal is, I'm using an effeminate voice or a clearly sort of stereotypical gay voice. We realized that my character was putting on airs as well, and was making an even bigger transition in his voice. That one, for whatever reason, say what you want about the political correctness of the scene, but it clicked and everyone laughs, and that's our number one goal.
That one was a scene where you realize: That out is the scene. It's so good, we don't need to fill this with the heightening of the actual game of the scene. Theoretically, that scene could have been three minutes long, and it could have had Keegan continuing to talk to his wife about the theater in terms that he thought would impress my character. But the out of that just had such a nice element of, we're showing the comedy, we're not telling it, we're presenting it. I think it resonated so much, we knew the out sort of trumped the scene.
From executive producer Jay Martel:
That was just a question of getting the line right. Because the entire sketch had been about how the subtext was racist. So the heightening of that would be to have the throw to next segment be incredibly, overtly racist.
The throw was the white female broadcaster saying, "Next up: Why is America being ruined by black people?" I remember we went through a lot of different permutations of that line. I think eventually we scaled back from something that was really, heinously racist to something that was just obnoxious. Because our first inclination is always to go crazy, to go as dark and as deep as we can.
That one was really interesting. The way we shot that ending, basically, they figure out that these guys who don't understand race are aliens. And then at the end, there's a guy who is clearly just an obnoxious white guy, and they kill him anyway. We went back and forth a lot on how graphic to make the killing, because I think originally the white guy's head exploded. But I'm proud of that ending because it's pretty much non-verbal.
We went around a lot of different ways of who should speak and what should be said. And this is why it's so hard to get endings right, because the line has to be perfect. In the middle of the sketch you can get away with a clunker line. We had different versions where they were saying to each other, "You know that guy wasn't an alien, right?" And the other guy would go, "Yeah but, you know…"
But what we ended up with was, there's this white girl with them and she goes, "He was an alien too, right?" And they both look at each other and nod their heads. And that worked better because it lets them off the hook a little more. If it's clear that they're saying it to each other, knowingly, and as a result you can laugh at it more.
That ending was pretty central to the writing of the sketch — that they would alienate the slave owners by calling out the short slave. That's a rare case where the actual ending was just improvised. We had Jordan and Keegan just riffing for a while on things they would say to get the slave owners to come back. Keegan improvised, "I'm very docile." And as he was saying that, when we were shooting it, an insect flew in his mouth. You can see it: If you watch the ending, he blows the insect out of the side of his mouth.