Key & Peele to Challenge Sketch Comedy Adaptation Expectations With a ‘Substitute Teacher’ Movie
Like Key & Peele? Wonderful. You’ll be pleased to hear that as Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele rocket to the upper echelons of stardom, they’re working on at least four different films, plus another season of their hit Comedy Central show. The full list, according to Entertainment Weekly: a Police Academy remake; a collaboration with Judd Apatow; a horror movie entirely without yuks (Key only on that one); and a brand new addition, a feature version of their “Substitute Teacher” sketch.
Here’s how “Substitute Teacher” goes: Key plays Mr. Garvey, a straight-arrow drill sergeant of a substitute teacher who spent 20 years teaching in the inner city and isn’t about to take any of your gumption. Only, now he’s teaching in an upper-middle-class, all-white (mostly) high school and entirely unprepared for students that aren’t constantly trying to screw him. Also, 20 years in the inner city have left him incapable of pronouncing the name “Blake.”
If we must have a movie made from a Key & Peele sketch (and clearly, we must), “Substitute Teacher” is the way to go. The only other sketch popular enough to get the feature treatment is “East/West College Bowl,” and while I would personally love to watch Key and then Peele rattle off increasingly nonsensical, stereotypically black football player names for two hours without stopping (think of it as some terrifying form of performance art), that’s probably more of a niche thing.
“Substitute Teacher” is a little more feature-worthy. It’s just as big a hit as “East/West,” but also it’s universal ‐ everyone’s had a crappy substitute teacher at one time or another (mine was Mr. A, a squat Indian man with an impenetrable accent who mispronounced the name “Evan,” was corrected by Evan, then promptly tossed aside the lesson plan to spend an entire algebra period lecturing about how we must always respect our elders).
The only issue is the obvious one, that taking a three-minute sketch and extending it (at least) 30 times over usually ends in disaster (there’s a reason it’s been at least 10 years since you’ve thought of Tim Meadows in The Ladies Man). But Substitute Teacher doesn’t have to stumble into the same pitfall littered with the bodies of basically every sketch adaptation in history. The trick with a sketch-to-movie movie ‐ at least from the two examples we have that are worth remembering, Wayne’s World and The Blues Brothers — seems to be this: adapt a character, not a gimmick.
Allow me to provide an example.
Sketch: “Wayne’s World”
Point of the Sketch: Look at these two wacky metalheads and their antics on a cheap-yet-endearing public access show. Also, “schwing,” “party on,” “no way!”/”way!,” guest appearance by Aerosmith.
Sketch: “The Roxbury Guys”
Point of the Sketch: Look at these two wacky club-goers as they bob their heads to Haddaway’s ultra-infectious “What is Love?”
“Wayne’s World” was a hit because of Wayne and Garth, characters with personalities and some degree of variety in what they did, and it’s not too tough (relatively speaking) to transplant that into a longer form. “The Roxbury Guys” were popular because of one semi-stupid head gesture, so making A Night at The Roxbury required building personalities, setting and story (basically everything that comprises a movie) from scratch. This is why we still love Wayne’s World and can barely remember A Night at the Roxbury exists.
“Substitute Teacher” is stranded somewhere between the two. There’s an actual character in the heart of the sketch (Key and Peele have apparently given him a reasonable amount of backstory, and jettisoned other “Substitute Teacher” sketches because they didn’t fit the character), but that character is famous mostly for saying silly names like “Ay-Ay-Ron” and “Jayquellin.”
The verdict? Substitute Teacher could be kind of wonderful, but it’ll be a long and treacherous road getting there. Best of luck to Key and Peele. Or whoever’s writing the script, because according to Entertainment Weekly, Key and Peele aren’t writing it. “Two of [their] writers” are. Not cool guys. Also, insubordinate. And churlish.