Much has been written about Key & Peele, which returns for Season 5 on Wednesday, and its deft send-ups of race, politics, and culture. But a big part of what makes the show work so well, aside from the performances themselves: the extremely imaginative hair and makeup.
There’s a reason Zadie Smith, in her New Yorker profile of the duo, called the wigs on Key & Peele “the hardest-working hairpieces in show business.” So many Key & Peele sketches feature characters with ridiculous looks from the neck-up: Wendell, LMFAO, Das Negros, Sexy Vampires, practically every character in the “East/West College Bowl” sketches. Largely to thank for this are the show’s hair stylist and makeup artist, Amanda Mofield and Scott Wheeler, respectively.
The hair and makeup operation on Key & Peele is a truly collaborative one, as Mofield told me—when it comes time to discuss the looks for a particular sketch, Key and Peele often know exactly what they want. For the exasperated substitute teacher Mr. Garvey, for instance, Mofield used a hairpiece called “The Donald,” after actor Donald Faison, whose hair she worked on for Scrubs. “When Key and Peele interviewed me, they were like, ‘Can you do a tight fade?’” she says. “And I was like, yeah, I used to do something like that to Donald … So I would do it around [Key’s] natural hairline to make it look real and then on the top—we wanted him to look as dorky as possible. I made it as thin and receding as I could to make it look ridiculous, and it worked.”
For each of the “East/West” sketches, Mofield had to create 32 different looks, so the elaborate hairstyles picked out for characters such as D’Squarius Green, Jr. and The Player Formerly Known as Mousecop were chosen by Key and Peele from an assortment of wigs and pieces pulled by her.
In other cases, Mofield has come up with some ideas of her own. “I’ve gotten a few characters from people that I’ve seen sitting at a bus stop,” she says. “There’s one that’s coming up this season [the skit is called “Air Marshals”], and [Peele’s] hair is in the shape of a baseball cap … I’d been begging to have that hairdo in Season 1, and they’re like, “Yeah, we’ll find a character for it.” Finally, it’s Season 5—here we go!”
In another sketch from the upcoming season, Key plays a white cop, his skin tone made up to be extremely light (think a less-cartoonish version of Dave Chappelle as the white news anchor). “Jordan and Keegan, being bi-racial, are not terribly dark people,” Wheeler tells me. “And Keegan can play Middle Eastern or Italian without changing his skin tone at all … But for [the trigger-happy cop sketch] it was so specific that [Keegan] had to be lily white, that we needed to take that to an extreme.” It was so extreme, Wheeler explains, that when Key went to set, people didn’t recognize him. I asked Mofield and Wheeler to name their top three favorite sketches to work on. Here are their picks:
Best of Key & Peele’s Hair
“Boxing Press Conference,” Season 3
“Jordan played Mike Tyson, and he was bald in that sketch because the day before we had to shave him for something else. So I hand-laid all of that hair, and you can’t even tell—I can’t even barely tell—but it looks just like Tyson’s hair.” -Amanda Mofield
“Stan Lee’s Superhero Pitch,” Season 4
“That was all hand-laid as well. We did a bald cap on him, and then I hand-laid it, because Stan Lee has a very distinctive hairline and it’s very thin but needed to be a ponytail.” -Amanda Mofield
“Negrotown,” Season 5
“We wanted it to look like it hadn’t been touched by anyone white. No straight hair—1940s and free and beautiful, and just natural.” -Amanda Mofield
Best of Key & Peele’s Makeup
Wendell’s Sketches, various seasons
“He’s a full prosthetic. Wendell takes about 2 ½ hours in makeup, and then another half hour in hair, which is actually very fast for that kind of a makeup.” -Scott Wheeler
“East/West College Bowl,” Season 2
“We shot the first one—we did 32 characters, made them up, wigged them and shot them—in two hours, total. The way we made that work was … we were doing very small tweaks on each character, and slowly building up the facial hair. And then when they showed the characters, they showed them out of the order from how we made them up, so they looked like bigger jumps. And that was our master plan that worked perfectly.” -Scott Wheeler
“Air Marshals,” Season 5
“Those looks were stupid.” -Scott Wheeler
Read more in Slate: