‘Key & Peele’: The Comedy Duo Once Shared the Inspiration Behind Substitute Teacher Comedy Skit

Key & Peele was an American sketch comedy series that Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele created. The show aired on Comedy Central for five seasons before ending in 2015. While the series was still on the air, Key & Peele produced several comedy sketches that found life on YouTube. For instance, the substitute teacher comedy sketch has over 200 million views to date. But, what was the inspiration behind this skit?

One writer pitched the sketch idea to Key and Peele

In the comedy sketch, an inner-city teacher named Mr. Garvey goes to a predominantly white classroom to serve as their substitute teacher. Keegan-Michael Key portrays the teacher, and he proceeds to mispronounce the student’s name. However, when the students try to correct Mr. Garvey’s pronunciation, he erupts in a tumultuous rage and starts hurling classroom items across the room.

In an exclusive interview with The Week, the comedy duo explains how they created the substitute teacher sketch. Initially, the idea was pitched to Key and Peele by one of the show’s writers. “Keegan immediately starting embodying Mr. Garvey, the substitute teacher character,” said Peele. 

“It was one of those things where it just a great nugget for a sketch,” he continued. “Once that first draft was down, it came to a community vibe; as a collective, we came up with what names were going to work, deciding how Keegan was going to heighten Mr. Garvey’s physicality.”

What inspired Mr. Garvey’s appearance in the sketch?

Key went on to share the inspiration behind Mr. Garvey’s appearance in the skit. He explained that he wanted the character to look like he was in the military. “He had spent 20 years disciplining these children in the inner city to no end — so he has this kind of hard, rigid sensibility about him, and I wanted that to be in his dress,” he explained. 

“He’s wearing a short-sleeve shirt and a really ratty, terrible tie and has a receding hairline, to give him some age. I wanted his tie to be short, but not too short,” he added. “And then his mustache, to me, looked like a mustache that a substitute teacher might have. We also gave me a little bit of age around my eyes and under my nose. Just to give him a spice of haggardness.”

The sketch was so popular that it spawned a sequel. In the scene, Mr. Garvey comes back to the school he subbed for in the previous skit. While taking attendance, a student informs him that the class has to leave a few minutes early to take club yearbook photos. 

Ultimately, he believes the students are lying and proceeds to ask the students their club names. As the students say the club names, Mr. Garvey proceeds to have a tantrum – further insinuating that the request is a ruse.

Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele attending a special advanced screening of their show 'Key & Peele.'
Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele | Getty Images

During the interview, Key and Peele explained they didn’t know the substitute teacher skit would be a huge success. “We did not realize [while we were making it],” said Peele. “We knew it was going to be a hit, but we didn’t realize how much it would really speak to the educators’ community. We got a lot of feedback that people were showing it in classes.”

Key attributes the skit’s success to its relatability, making it a stand-out hit for viewers. “It’s funny. You look back on it now and go, of course. Everybody goes to school. Everybody can identify with a substitute teacher,” he shared. “That’s a thing everybody’s had. But you don’t think about it when you’re writing the sketch – or certainly, we didn’t think about it then.

Key & Peele is available to stream on HBO Max. 

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