Keegan-Michael Key was the big guest on Tuesday’s Late Show With Stephen Colbert, and why wouldn’t he be? Apart from being the taller, balder half of one of the best sketch shows ever, Key is—like his comedy life partner Jordan Peele—killing it at essentially everything he does these days. There to promote his new Netflix series Friends From College (and bringing along a very Colbert-friendly clip), the versatile Key also talked about his current run off-Broadway as the steadfast Horatio to Oscar Isaac’s Hamlet, trippingly reciting one of Horatio’s precious monologues—that was cut from the production in favor of more of that scene-hogger Isaac/Hamlet. (Key joked that Juilliard-trained Isaac “only learned acting,” while MFA holder Key knows lots more theater stuff, before conceding in a very Horatio-like manner that his co-star is “so much better.”)
But Colbert and Key wound up talking shop after the break, commiserating that, as political satirists, the Donald Trump era presents some unique challenges. While the measured President Obama was tough to get a handle on comedically, that was a doddle compared to, as Key explained of the current office-holder, how difficult it is “when a person is the most ideal comic version of themselves.” (“You know what would be funny? Oh, he did that?”) Setting up the bit to come, Colbert agreed that his former blustering, buffoonish “Stephen Colbert” alter ego would similarly seem passé in a world where, for example, the actual president routinely tweets out all-caps insults at his reality show host successor, along with the occasional bit of inexplicable but furious gibberish. As if by telepathy (or, you know, a pre-planned bit), the two agreed that, perhaps, only the cleansing catharsis provided by Key’s most famous Key & Peele character could bust through the current comic bafflement.
With Colbert taking the place of Peele’s ever-stellar Obama and reading out some of the former POTUS’ typically levelheaded statements on health care and Trump’s dream of an anti-Mexico wall, Key allowed the former president’s anger translator Luther out to rip through the veneer of civility and let loose. Channeling the as ever not-having-your-bullshit Luther (he enters Key through the suddenly crazy eyes, clearly), Key committed to the task of profanely laying bare all the underlying insanity that’s become the country’s daily reality. “Y’all gonna kill some people!,” Luther boomed, addressing the Republican leadership’s (seemingly failed) attempt to destroy Obama’s legacy in providing affordable health care, for one brief but glorious segment (there was a backward somersault involved), giving voice to the anguished, horrified cry that’s been building in a lot of people since Trump took office. “Obama still needs me, so I am back!,” he concludes. We should be so lucky.