Jordan Peele: The Thin Line Between Comedy & Horror
They say real comedy comes from pain. And comedian turned director, Jordan Peele, knows all about that.
Peele, along with Keegan Michael Key wrote and performed in the acclaimed Comedy Central sketch series Key & Peele. The show, which ran for five seasons, earned a Peabody Award and two Primetime Emmys for its hilarious and deeply pointed take on race and culture.
Key & Peele had an ingenious way it sometimes mixed humor and horror, for example, the zombies who refused to eat black people.
“There’s a line between satire and bullying,” said Peele. “We won’t go for something that feels so mean, the funny can’t overcome it. ‘White Person Hoodie’ is a good example of a sketch I was nervous about. It’s really about something [the shooting of unarmed Florida teen Trayvon Martin]. When we showed it, the audience was tense. When they went wild at the reveal, I was like, “‘Thank god.'”
The 40-year-old Peele first took that strategy and used it in his directorial debut of a horror film, Get Out. Now, he’s done it again with his newest horror flick, Us.
Now that all audiences will “get out” to take in Us, Peele said it was important that Black audiences saw Us first. The movie, which centers on a Black family trekking to their familial beach town for a vacation, shows how that family’s frightening doppelgängers are not there for a reunion.
“[It’s a] clear commentary for me about this country, the privilege of this country, the fear of the outsider, and the fact that our suppressed demons look like us,” Peele explained to Essence.com. “We are our own worst enemy as a nation.”
In addition to maintaining a careful balance between satire and scares, Peele’s critically-acclaimed “Get Out” amplifies what it means to feel out of place in a roomful of white people. “You kind of have to know what it’s like to be a black man in a world you’re being viewed as black before you’re being viewed as human,” Peele said. “For me, that’s a very personal sort of experience.”
Peele made was a surprise discovery as a writer and director for his first major film. “Get Out could have been a career killer,” he told W Magazine. “I wrote the script—it was originally called Get Out of the House—for five years. In the first ending, Chris was taken to jail! It changed so much. I didn’t think it would see the light of day. My goal was to make a film about race without a white savior, and I didn’t know if that would be allowed.”
“As with comedy, I feel like horror and the thriller genre is a way, one of the few ways, that we can address real-life horrors and social injustices in an entertaining way,” says Peele. “We go to the theater to be entertained, but if what is left after you watch the movie is a sort of eye-opening perspective on some social issues, then it can be a really powerful piece of art.”