Despite what NBC might have you believe, Saturday Night Live isn't the only sketch comedy show in the world, so it's inevitable that they will occasionally have sketches that share the same premise with other shows or comedy troupes (and sometimes they get called out on this when it's eerily close). It happened last night: SNL's Cold Open was all about the Super Bowl, via a talk show hosted by Richard Sherman (Jay Pharoah) and Marshawn Lynch (Kenan Thompson). Key & Peele also did a sketch for their Super Bowl Special on Friday featuring Sherman and Lynch. Guess which sketch was better?
First up, SNL:
And here's Key & Peele:
Comedy is subjective and blah blah blah, but let's be real: the Key & Peele sketch is exceptionally funnier. The premises aren't exactly the same (talk show vs joint press conference), but the basic concepts (Lynch doesn't want to talk much, Sherman is boisterous) are the same. We certainly wouldn't say SNL ripped Key & Peele off at all—Sherman and Lynch have become beloved national figures, and their antics in recent weeks have been ripe for parodying—but the similarities between the sketches provide some easy context to compare the two shows.
And it all comes down to execution: SNL's cold opens, which tend to be the most "relevant" commentary on current news events, are notoriously weak, often the worst sketches in recent years. Last night's wasn't even that bad compared to some others this season (Thompson is always pretty reliably funny with things like this). The best moments came when Pharoah and Thompson played the characters, and weren't just trying to emulate them—in particular, Pharoah's brief rant about Mayor de Blasio and the blizzard that wasn't ("I've seen bigger blizzards at Dairy Queen!") was a hilarious moment.
But it was just a moment. The rest of the sketch lumbered from beat to beat, and completely died by the time Taran Killam's gum-chewing Pete Carroll impression was wheeled out. Really, the whole thing was just a series of sorta-funny impressions: Lynch avoids saying anything and wears sunglasses, Sherman went to Stanford and... talks loudly.
There was no depth, wit or surprise to it—which becomes particularly noticeable when placed next to Key & Peele. Even though their sketch is half as long, they imbue both players with far more personality: Sherman is furious about the Academy Award nomination process, and Lynch has some serious issues with the adaptation of In The Woods. Physically, they're constantly moving around the podium, with lots of hilarious, unexpected gestures and dips. They're not scared of heading out of frame or pausing for a moment so Peele can pull off a very confused Lynch squint. Pharoah and Thompson feel like they're holding the audience's hand, trying to convince us they can do the football stars, but it's all mannerisms (with the exception of that de Blasio bit); Key & Peele treat them like characters.
Live sketch comedy is, admittedly, a different beast from what Key & Peele are doing—but at the same time, it isn't like Key & Peele are relying on graphics, quick cuts or anything unusual for their bit. It appears to be one consistent take, just as SNL would do. And SNL constantly wheels out the "guy speaking at a podium" form for their Cold Opens, and they rarely if ever reach the energy or hilarity of what Key & Peele do here just by wandering around angrily.
SNL has a lot of talented performers (hi Kate McKinnon!), and the new cast has finally gelled this season, leading to some truly hilarious sketches. But it doesn't mean they can't learn a few things from the best sketch comedians currently on TV.