Spotlight on “The History of Sketch Comedy” and Keegan-Michael Key

by LitStack Editor

Class clowns rejoice!

With The History of Sketch Comedy, Keegan-Michael Key turns to his roots in sketch comedy. Along with Elle Key and a wealth of comedy emissary guests, we get the best seminar never available to you in college. 

The History of Sketch Comedy and authors Keegan-Michael Key and Elle Key

About The History of Sketch Comedy

Authors Keegan-Michael Key and Elle Key build on the popularity of their 2022 Webby Awardwinning podcast and delve deeper into the world of sketch, helped along with new essays created expressly for the book by comedy greats.

The History of Sketch Comedy will appeal to all kinds of comedy fans as well as fans of Keegan-Michael Key, whether they know him from his Emmy and Peabody-winning work on Key & Peele; his roles in Fargo, The Prom, Schmigadoon!, The Bubble, and the upcoming Wonka; voiceover work in The Lion King; or as President Barack Obama’s anger translator, Luther.

With epic personal tangents and hilarious asides, the Keys take you on an illuminating journey through all facets of comedy from the stock characters of commedia del arte in the 16th century, to the rise of vaudeville and burlesque, the golden age of television comedy, the influence of the most well-known comedy schools, and the ascension of comedy films and TV specials—all the way through to a look at the future of sketch on social media platforms. Along the way, we hear tales of Keegan’s childhood, his comedy influences, and the vicissitudes of his career path. As the New York Times said in its review of their podcast, “this comedy nerd history is filtered through memoir, with Key relating stories of his budding fandom, training and rise from improv comic to television sketch artist.”

Part memoir, part masterclass, and hilariously embellished with priceless commentary, The History of Sketch Comedy highlights the essential building blocks of sketch comedy while interweaving Keegan’s personal career journey and the influence of his comedy heroes. The text is complemented by original art by Elle Key and exclusive essays compiled from conversations with influential performers, sketch writers, and uber comedy fans including Mel Brooks, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Mike Myers, Chris Rock, John Oliver, Tracy Morgan, Carol Burnett, Jim Carrey, Jordan Peele, and many more. This book is as entertaining as it is enlightening—a must-read for fans of comedy and all who aspire to comic greatness.

EXPANDING THE HIT PODCAST: With content from the #1 trending, NAACP-award-nominated and Webby-Award-winning Audible podcast, and featuring new-for-the-book material as well as never-before-heard stories and essays, this book will be a hit for newcomers and avid listeners of the podcast alike.

MASTER OF THE MEDIUM: Keegan-Michael Key is a bona fide maestro of comedy, with the chops, experience, and love for the history of the medium that make him the perfect expert on all things sketch. As co-writer Elle Key likes to say, “If Keegan-Michael Key was a guest lecturer at NYU teaching a course called ‘The History of Sketch Comedy,’ it would be a very popular class.”

EXCLUSIVE ESSAYS: Keegan and Elle interviewed over a dozen comedy legends exclusively for this book, and got their takes on topics ranging from the influence of Saturday Night Live, to women in comedy, to the mathematics of sketch. Hear, in their own words, from Mel Brooks, Mike Myers, Jordan Peele, Julia-Louis Dreyfus, John Oliver, Tracy Morgan, Stephen Colbert, Carol Burnett, Chris Rock, Bob Odenkirk, Mike Birbiglia, Matt Lucas, Ken Jeong, Christopher Guest, Gary Oldman, Kevin Nealon, Laraine Newman, and Jim Carrey.

GIFTABLE VOLUME OF COMEDY GOLD: Original illustrations and personal photographs throughout make this unique comedy book as visually entertaining as it is enlightening. The perfect gift for comedy fans of all ages as well as anyone aspiring to write, perform, or produce comedic art.

Perfect for:

  • Comedy lovers of all kinds
  • Fans of Key  Peele
  • Fans of improv, sketch, stand-up, and shows like SNL, MadTV, Monty Python, and Mr. Show
  • Gift giving or self-purchase for established and aspiring comedians
  • Readers of such bestsellers as Bossypants, Yes Please, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Born Standing Up, and Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama

Praise for The History of Sketch Comedy

This boisterous debut from Keegan-Michael Key, half of the sketch comedy duo Key & Peele, and his wife Elle, a director and producer, adapts their podcast of the same name to the page. Examining how humor has evolved since ancient times, they note that the first written joke dates back to 1900 BCE Sumer (“Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband’s lap”) and that the bent toward the scatological continued as the Greeks developed the art of theater around 600 BCE, with poop jokes scattered throughout Aristophanes’s plays. Tracing the emergence of sketch comedy, the Keys discuss how vaudeville acts adapted their stage routines for radio in the early 20th century before such comedians as Sid Caesar found success putting on sketches for variety television shows, anticipating the rise of Saturday Night Live and similar programs. 

The authors are as funny as one would expect (For “the longest time, it was just straight up… white people, white people, white people, Dave Chappelle, white people,” Key writes), and brief essays from Carol Burnett, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Bob Odenkirk, and other comedy heavyweights offer revealing insights into their craft (Jordan Peele suggests the endurance of toilet humor stems from the “exultation” that comes from discussing taboo topics). This is a hoot. Illus. (Oct.)—Publishers Weekly

“A boisterous debut… the authors are as funny as one would expect …this is a hoot.”—Publishers Weekly

“Elle and Keegan’s collaboration is such a joy to read. It’s a rare occasion where the topic of comedy is being explored by people who are genuinely funny. I recommend this gem to everyone who loves comedy.”—Mike Myers

“The Keys share the evolution of sketch in a way that keeps you laughing with each turn of the page. They cover provocative insights about comedy that would have never occurred to me. Elle and Keegan’s knowledge and enthusiasm for the subject is infectious . . . and of course now I’m hooked.”—Jennifer Coolidge

“Elle and Keegan unlock the secrets of comedy from the beginning of history all the way up to present day. Whether you are a working actor or just a student of the game . . . you will love this book!”—Jack Black

About Keegan-Michael Key and Ele Key, Authors of The History of Sketch Comedy

The History of Sketch Comedy authors Keegan-Michael Key and Elle Key

Keegan-Michael Key is an Emmy® and Peabody Award-winning actor, writer, and producer with an extraordinarily diverse skill set and wide-ranging talent in both comedy and drama. In the comedy world, Keegan-Michael is perhaps best known for starring alongside Jordan Peele in their multiple-award-winning show Key & Peele. His other credits include leading turns in Apple TV+’s Emmy-nominated Schmigadoon!, playing Meryl Streep’s love interest in Netflix’s The Prom, his Critic’s Choice nominated role in Hulu’s Reboot, and starring alongside Timothée Chalamet in the Warner Bros. Pictures’ feature Wonka. 

His voicework in feature animations includes The Lion King, Toy Story 4, and The Super Mario Brothers Movie. He made his Off-Broadway debut in Hamlet with Oscar Isaac, and his Broadway debut in Steve Martin’s Meteor Shower with Amy Schumer. Keegan-Michael redefines what it means to be a multi-hyphenate in the worlds of film,television, and theater, and his wildly varied and indelible performances have won him fans of all ages and backgrounds.

Elle Key is an award-winning film, television, and commercial director, writer, and producer. She was born in the Bronx and spent her early years working off-Broadway with theater companies such as Malaparte, Naked Angels, and the Atlantic. She went on to produce a number of independent feature films (including Nanette Burstein’s Sundance award-winning documentary American Teen and August with Josh Hartnett, Adam Scott, Naomi Harris, and David Bowie, and was a second unit producer on Doug Liman’s Fair Game with Sean Penn and Naomi Watts). She is the co-president and founder of Bigger Picture Media Group and has been writing and producing for almost a decade with her partner Keegan-Michael Key. 

She has helmed numerous national commercial campaigns as well as several projects for the NFL, the Pro Bowl, the Peabody Awards, and the Gotham Awards, and she was the first female head writer for The NFL Honors. She was an executive producer on Brain Games for Disney/Nat Geo, as well as an executive producer with James Corden for Game On! for CBS. She is a member of the Creative Coalition and Women in Film, and is on the Leadership Council of RFK Human Rights. In 2022, Elle won the People’s Voice Webby Award for Best Writing for her original Audible series The History of Sketch Comedy.

Titles by Keegan-Michael Key

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