If you’ve been watching comedy on television for, you know, any time over the past 40 years, you’ve seen your share of sketches that don’t end as much as they just…stop. (Yes, Saturday Night Live, we are looking at you.) Sketch comedy is an art and one of the best practitioner of said art is Key & Peele, which is, sadly, coming to an end in a scant couple of weeks.
Not every sketch can be a home run, but Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele — along with their writing staff — have cracked the “how to resolve a sketch in a satisfying way” code. And on a recent episode of Pete Holmes’ You Made It Weird podcast, Key laid it all out:
“There’s an ending of attrition. In the “Bitch” sketch, you can’t go any further than being in outer space. Even though, apparently, one of the cardinal rules, the dogma of sketch comedy is that you’re never supposed to go to space. Someone said you’re not supposed to heighten to space and I said, “Well, that’s exactly what we’re going to do.” That has to be the ending of the sketch because you can’t go any further than that. And it’s one of those sketches that work where people are giggling as its trailing off, as he’s disappearing into the nothingness of space.
“The other way is that there might be one more thing in the frame that we haven’t seen yet. I had a teacher/director named Dave Rizowski, he’s a Second City guy, he’s amazing. And he used to say, it’s almost as if an entire scene — and I think this works for blows, too, the ending of a sketch — the entire scene is you’re looking at a framed picture. There’s a picture in there that somebody painted. There’s glass over the painting. But then painted on top of the glass is grey matte paint. So if you take a paint scraper and you scrape away one swath of the paint on the glass, you see the painting back there. But you’re not exactly sure exactly what you’re doing yet. Then you scrape, another swath, another swath and it starts coming together…you’re like, “Oh, that’s a ship. Oh, it’s not in the water, it’s docked. Oh, that guy’s got a weird…oh, they’re pirates that are docked on that ship.” And you just keep scraping away that grey paint to reveal more and more aspects of the painting. The way you get to the ending of a scene is there’s always one more scrape that could reveal a thing you didn’t know before. Very often, you get to a blow by offering one new piece of information.
“If you know the what and the who, reveal the where. If you know the where and the who, reveal the what. Reveal that other “w” in the circle.”
It sounds so simple when you hear it.
Marc Bernardin is the Deputy Editor of Playboy.com. He is going to end this bio poorly.