In Praise of Keefe, the Best Part of ‘The Righteous Gemstones’

Pretty much every character on The Righteous Gemstones is a self-interested bonehead with few, if any, redeeming qualities. To be clear, this is great and makes for insanely funny television. But today, we’re here to celebrate the gentle beating heart of the show: Keefe.

Played impeccably by Tony Cavalero, Keefe Chambers is an ex-Satanist, close friend, and devoted follower of the youngest Gemstones son, Kelvin (Adam Devine). He has a gorgeous shaggy mullet, the type most frequently seen at NASCAR races and on art school campuses. The first time we meet him, he’s bare-chested, revealing a faded 666 chest tattoo. He’s just finished house-sitting for Kelvin, explaining in his earnest twang that, “I slept in your room one night but it felt odd, so I slept the rest of the time here on the couch with no top sheet.”

We learn bits of his backstory piecemeal: he used to frequent an industrial goth club, where he would dance naked in a cage behind the DJ. Throughout the first season, he’s repeatedly tempted to return to his old life and eventually he does, until Kelvin saves him from the depths of the club, where he’s floating in a sensory deprivation tank filled with milky liquid while wearing a gimp suit. This season, he’s helping Kelvin mismanage his “God Squad” of beefy Biblical muscled dudes. Not since Kenneth on 30 Rock has a pure, innocent rube of a man been so captivating.

In one awkward, soft-spoken package, Keefe is a shining example of the two qualities that make the Danny McBride comedy universe so masterful. The first is a laser-focused attention to detail, so that no potential visual gag goes unutilized (during the emotional reunion in the sensory deprivation tank, for instance, we can see Keefe’s junk hanging out of the gimp suit in the corner of the frame). The other is the style in which all the characters play their lines, even the raunchiest and most patently ridiculous, incredibly straight. Keefe, with his stoic face and perpetually solemn intonation, is the most achingly sincere of all. “Brother, what’s troubling you?” he asks in the latest episode, after helping Kelvin change out of his underwear. “I promise to keep your secret, and if I don’t, you can cut my tongue out with rusted sheers and bury it deep.”

Wanting to know some more about the method behind the mullet, I called Cavalero up. He says he envisions Keefe as “a sweet baby of a man” who is “living in a human body for the first time.” Cavalero recalls a home movie of him dancing to “The Loco-Motion,” when he was five years old. “I’m literally in the back of the group doing this dance, but I’m barely dancing. I’m just touching the spandex because I love the feel of the spandex on my body,” he tells me. “I feel like that’s Keefe, all the time. There’s a little bit of drug flashbacks, where everything still feels kind of fuzzy.”

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