[Ed Note: The audio above is from our extended interview with Jordan.]
You may know Jordan as half of the comedy duo behind “Key & Peele.” The Comedy Central show produced some of the funniest and most incisive satire of the last many years, often centering around issues of race.
Jordan’s latest project also tackles race head-on, but this time with a totally different tone. It’s a horror movie he wrote and directed called “Get Out.” The film is about a black man named Chris, whose white girlfriend takes him home to meet her parents. And though they welcome him into their suburban home with open arms, he slowly starts to suspect something racist and evil is afoot.
When Rico met with Jordan, they talked about the comedian’s transition to the horror genre, how the film can help open up a new dialogue about race, and more.
On some of his favorite horror films
Jordan Peele: The first lesson you sort of learn as a horror fan, I think, is that the mystery is the scariest thing of all. Often the idea of a horror movie is scarier than when you actually see in the horror movie…
“The Shining” is, I think, still undeniable as probably the best horror film, certainly the best ghost story ever told. “Alien” is a special movie. That’s a true classic. And I’ll say “A Nightmare on Elm Street” as well. And, by the way, “A Nightmare on Elm Street” is sort of the opposite — especially as the franchise unfolds — the opposite idea of just give him all the gore, give them all the horror. It creeped me out in a very special way because there was little left to the imagination and Freddie [Kruger, the main villain] had this messed up sense of humor. That was particularly psychopathic for me.
The best horror movies hit on some fear that all of us have that is relatable. “Jaws” made the water scary. So it’s tricky to do a movie about race [because] you know, people have very different experiences of what race means in this country. It’s tricky to do that in a way that’s inclusive and a way that allows everybody to relate to the main character thoroughly.
On the audience for “Get Out”
[“Get Out”] was aimed at everybody, but aimed at everybody, I think, for slightly different reasons. For black horror movie audience, I wanted to give them the movie they’ve always wanted and haven’t gotten the representation of the perspective and skin in that movie.
For somebody who’s not black, for someone who’s not a minority, for someone who may not feel in their day-to-day basis in touch with the fear of being the “other”… yeah, I think this is what the power of story is. When stories are entertaining, we can use them to step into each other’s shoes, right? You have a protagonist, like, we’ve got this surrogate that everybody in the theater is seeing through the eyes of Chris, whether you’re white or black. Everyone’s in it together. I don’t think there’s a feeling of separation when you’re watching the film.
I think that black people are [a] really loyal horror of fanbase. Many minority groups I think are. …I think part of it is horror is one of the ways we purge our fears of the real-life horrors. And when you have an oppressed group, you’ve got more horrors to purge, I think.
On how “Get Out” encourages a different conversation about race
[The] film is at the very least a new reference point for how to talk about race. I think part of the issue with our being able to begin to heal is that conversations about race are difficult. And the way we talk about race is broken. You can just tell by how uncomfortable it is and the deep emotions of guilt, of anger that these horrors arise in people.
And I think, most importantly, “racist,” you know the word “racist,” cuts really deep and prevents all of us from looking at our own dealings with racism for fear of being called one. So I think that it is correct to feel awkward talking about it the way it is, and I feel like that’s part of the process, part of what we need to get over as a society. So hopefully this kind of movie that’s entertaining, like I said, it’s meant to be inclusive. It’s meant to give us a less awkward no way to talk about it.
On how his comedy background helped him write a horror film
I know it definitely was huge for me to be able to pull from the way I look at comedy. Which is that you have to be conscious of what an audience is feeling and thinking from moment to moment. You don’t really have the freedom to say, “Well, you know, everybody’s gonna pull from this moment what they want.” No, you want everybody on the exact same page at all times. So there’s a certain precision with the storytelling.
And also, tonally, both horror and comedy, I believe, require a certain amount of realism, a certain amount of grounding.
I think a horror movie is only as scary as it is realistic. That’s why “The Exorcist” it is terrifying. Something as well-acted as “The Shining” …even the found footage phenomenon I think felt more real somehow than what we’ve been used to. The same consists in comedy for me as well. Even the broadest comedy, the reaction, the way we tie comedy to a reality, that kind of works to me. I love, you know, like, the British “Office” as a style. It makes me squirm and it could not be more real.
On the question he’s tired of being asked
You know, people ask me why I’m obsessed with race. And it’s not even a question that you can’t ask me, but, I think within the need to ask that question is also a need to not discuss race and a fear of that discussion.
I feel like the discussion, however it happens, if it’s a movie, if it’s an awkward conversation, if it’s a TV show, I feel like the communication is the only weapon we have against the true horrors and violence in the world. So we have to just keep talking about what we see.
On something about him we wouldn’t know
[Laughs.] I’m a huge Disney fan. Growing up, I loved Disney movies. The amount of precision that goes into Disney movies is one of like the core, inspiring ideas for me as an artist. It’s like you want to try and get something perfect. Disney is kind of like weird, happy Kubrick [laughs].
[This interview has been edited and condensed.]