Comedians Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele have become well-known for their humorous take on race relations. Their video series featuring a cool President Obama and his Vesuvian "anger translator" Luther has become a viral sensation. The duo talks about using comedy to explore touchy racial issues in the 2012 campaign.
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Comedians Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele have an avid following for their weekly show, "Key and Peele" on Comedy Central. They've parodied everything from the names of black athletes to white people with dreadlocks. This year, the duo set their sights on the presidential campaign and examined the role that race played in it.
NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates has that story.
KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: Most modern presidents have had comedians impersonate them, but apparently Barack Obama is so complicated, he requires two - one for his public persona, one for his id. That's where comedians Key and Peele come in. Here, in a fake presidential address, together they're explaining who Barack Hussein Obama is and isn't.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "KEY AND PEELE")
KEEGAN-MICHAEL KEY: (as Luther) I am not a Muslim.
JORDAN PEELE: (as Barack Obama) I'm not - my intentions as your president are coming from the right place.
KEY: (as Luther) They coming from Hawaii, which is where I'm from, which is in the United States of America, y'all. OK? This is ridiculous. I have a birth certificate. I have a birth certificate.
BATES: Key's Luther is a scary guy, whippet thin, shaved head, frenetic pacing and he's an effective foiled appeals, careful judicious Obama. For instance, as the vehicle for the president's alleged inner feelings, Key/Luther is free to gloat about a dramatic turnaround in the second debate, while Peele's Obama remains diplomatic.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "KEY AND PEELE")
PEELE: (as Barack Obama) I'm confident I was able to communicate the strength of my convictions.
KEY: (as Luther) Mitt, when you was talking about Libya, you got a little special treat right there, dog. You got to see my angry eyes like this.
BATES: Keegan Keys says a public insult was the trigger to Luther's creation. When Republican Congressman Joe Wilson called the president a liar during an address to a joint session of Congress in 2009, Key was outraged, so Luther became the president's alter ego, the Obama that dares to anger. Supporters who felt Mr. Obama was being too calm about racist attacks on his character, his origins, even his mother, were ecstatic.
The Luther videos quickly went viral on the Web and got Key and Peele an audience with the president.
KEY: This is funny because when we met him, he turned to me and said to me, I need Luther. Not like I just - say it Jordan, do it, do it.
PEELE: I need Luther. I need him. It's going to have to wait until second term, but I need him.
BATES: Jordan Peele said the president obviously was joking.
PEELE: The implication was, you know, right now while I'm running, Luther's going to say some things that aren't going to - I don't want to align myself with necessarily, but hey, most of them are true.
BATES: At a recent press conference, the president himself went a little Luther when he felt Republican senators were criticizing United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice unfairly for American deaths in Libya.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me.
PEELE: These days, you see a little bit more, he's pushing back a little bit.
BATES: That's Jordan Peele. And Keegan Key agrees.
KEY: I think we're going to see more of that. I think we're going to see more of him flexing his muscles. You can't fire him.
BATES: They'd love to fire a couple of the president's critics. Mogul Donald Trump is a particular irritant with his constant demands for an Obama birth certificate. Jordan Peele says they refuse to give more attention to someone who so clearly craves it.
PEELE: I think what it usually comes down to is someone worth our time, even if they infuriate us.
BATES: Apparently, you have to earn your parody and the standards are high. The comedians say their mission is to provide provocative comedy that makes people laugh and then think. Keegan Key.
KEY: You have to come to terms with what you just did. You just laughed at the slavery sketch. Uh-uh, you laughed. So why did you laugh? That examination is the beginning of the discussion.
BATES: Keegan Key and Jordan Peele say we're not post-racial yet. For them, post-racial America is a desired goal that we might, eventually reach. Meanwhile, they intend to continue to point out the absurdities they encounter along the way. Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
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