Key and Peele Comedy Steps Outside Freud’s Box

Key and Peele’s ‘Substitute Teacher’ [1] sketch is an example of linguistic modification humour. In this sketch introduces a black substitute teacher from the inner city into an all-white classroom and uses the students’ names as an example of their social division. The humour of the video derives from the stereotypical ‘whiteness’ of the students’ names and the contrasting ‘blackness’ of the teacher’s pronunciation.

Sigmund Freud’s ‘Jokes and Their Relations to the Unconsciou’ describes words as ‘… plastic material with which one can do all kinds of things … There are words which, when used in certain connections, have lost their original full meaning, but which regain it in other connections’ [2]. He breaks down linguistic jokes, which he calls ‘double meaning jokes’ into three categories; condensation, multiple use of the same material, and double meaning [3]. Key and Peele’s video is an example of multiple use of the same material because it presents the same words with slight modifications to evoke a humorous response. Freud takes his argument further and suggests that all of these jokes must be examples of condensation given that a ‘… play upon words is nothing other than a condensation without substitute-formation’ [4]. However, this video is an example of how multiple use of the same material does not necessarily mean word play, it can mean manipulating a word outside it’s typical form. Key and Peele take the students’ names and turn them into contorted versions of their original, but they do not attach a new meaning to them.

This video is an example of a joke that challenges Freud’s theory and the notion that there is a rule of thumb for the formula behind jokes. The sketch highlights some of the flaws in his ideology and asks the viewer to question his rhetoric.




[2] Freud, Sigmund. ‘The Technique of Jokes’ and ‘The Purpose of Jokes,’ Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious (London: Vintage/Hogarth, 2001), 22.

[3] Ibid, 28.

[4] Ibid, 29.





  1. I think that the humour of the video, more than being in the mispronounced words, lie in the mispronunciation itself and, most of all in my opinion, in the exaggerated reactions of the teacher. While I see how the meaningless words could make someone laugh (the first times it did it for me), ultimately it’s the teacher’s performance what does it.

  2. I thought it was very interesting that you chose to challenge Freud’s analysis of linguistic jokes instead of supporting it. I think the Key and Peele clip you discussed was a good example of multiple use of the same material humour. Understanding this clip in terms of the social context of the racial stereotypes explains why the use of multiple uses is humorous.

  3. I agree that some of the humour of this sketch comes from a simple contortion of the original pronunciation of names; however, the main reason it is funny is the juxtaposition between the backgrounds of the students and the teacher. This is made apparent in the way the teacher pronounces the names – so, in this sense, the words (the names) are given a different meaning. They are changed from signifying the individuals in the class to signifying the differences between the teacher and (most) of the students.

  4. I appreciate that you acknowledge the multiple levels of comedy at play here. I agree with most of your analysis with the exception that this joke does not follow a formula. A lot of jokes are based off of the fact that one person misunderstands something that others do not creating a comedic situation. While this is a unique take on it, it does follow a similar format.

  5. You break down Freud’s argument very well and link it nicely with the Key and Peele video. I like it that you go further than the links and argue that this form of comedy actually challenges Freud’s work. For next time include more screenshots from the actual video.

  6. I really like the idea, and the logical path you follow in regards to how attach the video to Freud’s idea of condensation and word play. However, I would argue that the changing the pronunciation of names is word play as there is a new meaning attached to them, one of class and position.

  7. I like the fact that you brought up a skit that challenges Freud’s ideals, while showing that there are many different types of humor in this video. I believe that this also shows how multiple different people could laugh at this video, and all be laughing at a different element of it. By asking the viewer to question his rhetoric you allow for a discussion to be opened up about his theories, which I find to be very thought provoking.

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