Ian Roberts on running “one of the really good TV sketch shows,” Comedy Central’s Key & Peele

Comedy Central’s sketch comedy series, Key & Peele, returns for its third-season premiere tonight.

From the start of each premise, through a wonderful job of heightening and tight closing buttons to sketches, it’s simply great comedy. And the tremendous onscreen chemistry between leads Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele certainly adds even more to that.

Just check out this third-season trailer. Check it!

Key and Peele had history together as co-stars on FOX’s long-running SNL competitor, MADtv. But what about the UCB connection? UCB?!

The Comic’s Comic caught up with Upright Citizens Brigade co-founder Ian Roberts, who serves as showrunner for Key & Peele, to talk about it, as well as how the UCB’s guiding principles, such as finding the unusual thing (the game) in a scene, playing to the top of one’s intelligence, and more all plays a role in the success of Key & Peele.

It seems like we’re in a new golden age for sketch comedy on TV. Does it feel that way to you?

“It’s amazing,” Roberts said. “To me, it’s like actualizing because technology has gotten better, so the high level of production that you can achieve on a low budget is much better than it was when we had a sketch show (Upright Citizens Brigade, on Comedy Central, 1998-2000). My ideal in comedy, philosophically, has always been everything but what’s funny. Everything but the game. Everything but the jokes. To be as real as possible, so the contrast in what you expect is possible. Because I think that’s what’s funny. Is the expectations – the further you are from the expectations – so make everything else as what you expect, and then the joke stands out in stark contrast.

“I think we’ve done a great job of that. Our director, Peter Atencio, amazing director, he does all these genres spot-on, to look as good as the movies that they’re parodying and the TV shows that they’re supposed to look like, or if it looks like a commercial, everything looks right. And then the actors are an incredibly high level of actor for sketch. A lot of times – especially these days – it’s a lot of ironic detachment and a lot of, ‘Ah, I just say the funny thing and I just blah blah blah act like myself.’ And these guys really commit to the acting. And then the writing part of it, we have two guys who came up through our theater – Colton Dunn and Charlie Sanders – and then everybody on the show has had improv training. So you went through the, it’s not a situation where you go through the submissions that you get, and ‘It’s 40 people! How do we weed down from these 40?’ What it is, it’s like ‘No, No, No, No, OH MY GOD, this guy knows how to find the game. This guy knows how to write sketch.’ So we’ve got Rich Talarico, Becky Drysdale, Alex Rubens, Colton Dunn, Charlie Sanders – all improvisers, all tremendous sketch writers. So with all of those elements — a guy who’s filming the thing so well, guys who are such good actors and comedians, and then these great writers who really understand game, cutting out everything that’s not related to the game, keeping it tight, and not meandering – you get a great show!”

That is what separates Key & Peele from other sketch comedy shows on TV even now, is that adherence to game. That UCB philosophy of finding the game, finding the unusual thing in a scene.

“Well, I was picking the writers. So what was I looking for? I was looking for, I know exactly what I like in sketch comedy. You know.”

And then get guys like Key and Peele who can execute.

“Yeah. It’s just a dream. I’m so proud of that show. I think if they give us a few more seasons, I think we’ll be right up there with all of those greats. Remembered as one of the really good sketch shows.”

Key & Peele‘s third season premieres tonight on Comedy Central.

This third-season sketch, “East/West College Bowl 2” with new football player names to learn and love, already has more than 5 million views since posting online last week!

Ian Roberts pictured at center, above, on day one of third-season production. Photo Courtesy of Evan Johnson – Champagne courtesy of Comedy Central.  (Left to Rright) Jay Martel, Colton Dunn, Alex Rubens, Charlie Sanders, Ian Roberts, Rich Talarico, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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