Keegan-Michael Key: "I Think That Key & Peele in Its Current Form Has Kind of Run Its Course"

In the post-Chappelle's Show era of sketch comedy, it's hard to argue that there has been a more influential TV show than Key & Peele

Currently in its fourth season, the Peabody Award-winning show on Comedy Central is equal parts insanely funny and culturally important. The duo have played black Republicans, white face-wearing black men in Nazi Germany, and two guys who have no problem calling their wives "bitch" -- as long as they aren't around and can't hear what they're talking about. Needless to say, the show doesn't exactly limit itself. 

This week, one half of the Key & Peele phenomenon, Keegan-Michael Key, joins John Moe and musical guest Bhi Bhiman as the featured guest of Wits. Before he takes the stage, we talked with Key about sketch comedy, his ventures into feature films, and how we might be seeing the end of Key & Peele sooner than we think.

[jump] This isn't your first time being a guest on Wits, right?

Yeah, I did show in Largo a few months back and I couldn't wait. I actually had just started listening to Wits on my local radio affiliate, so I was already a fan of the show. 

What made you decide to come out to Minnesota for this week's appearance?

John Moe has incriminating photos of me. The real reason is that I've been an enormous fan of Prairie Home Companion since I was a teenager, and before that my father was a fan as well. Having the opportunity to do a show on the Fitzgerald stage is such a huge honor, and there is no way I could pass this up. Plus John is just so terrific and so much fun, and the timing is perfect for me, so really everything couldn't have come together any better.

I recently had a conversation with Moe, and he called you "one of the most important voices in comedy today." Do you agree with that assessment? 

I recognize the phenomenon of Key & Peele and the cultural and social impact of what we're doing, so in a way I'll say I don't disagree with that. The thing about it, though, is that so much of that credit has to go to Jordan [Peele]. He's of an age where he's very much in the now. There's an eight-year gap in age between us, so while we're both working on crafting the best possible thing that we can comedically, we have two different views of the world.

I mean, he tweets all the time, and I do very rarely. I think that's the perfect example of that difference between us. That being said, our goal has been and continues to be to make the funniest thing we possibly can while being true to ourselves. So while I don't necessarily disagree with that statement, I feel that Jordan deserves much more of that spotlight.

At what point did you realize that you were creating such an impact with the TV show?

I guess when someone handed us a Peabody Award? Seriously though, this season we told our writers to go ahead and do whatever they wanted. It didn't matter to us if it was political, social, whatever. The great thing about our show is that Comedy Central trusts us enough to give us that sort of freedom, and I think they know that with us we're more interested in topping what we've already done before than creating some bold social statement. 

The thing you have to remember is that we can't write sketches that are super topical. We'll get people who tweet at us about covering whatever is big in culture at the moment, but we shoot our episodes four or five months before air. That's why we have to be very thematic as opposed to being topical, because it needs to have enough shelf life to still be funny by the time a sketch is aired.

In terms of topping yourselves, how many seasons of the show do you believe you have in you without jeopardizing your creativity? 

It's actually interesting you bring that up. Jordan and I were just talking about that very thing the other day, and to be honest I think that Key & Peele in its current form has kind of run its course. The last thing that either of us wants to do is go out and just keep repeating what we've already done. That would be horrible. Plus, this year is shaping up to be our year of feature films. With the Police Academy reboot, the Judd Apatow film, and the horror movie that Jordan is directing, we're committed to quite a few projects. I think that for that reason these episodes that you're going to see in early 2015 or whenever Comedy Central decides to run them may be the last episodes of Key & Peele in its current form. 

Earlier this year, you and Jordan had a role in the Fargo television series. How was that?

That was such an amazing opportunity for me, because I come from that world of more serious, dramatic acting. Comedy isn't the direction I had thought of for my career back when I was reciting Shakespeare at Penn State. I was thrilled to be offered that role, and it was really great because it gave me the chance to flex some old acting muscles and develop some new ones, too. The thing about that show is that they did it right, and by that I mean they didn't try and remake the movie. You can't remake a movie that fantastic. So when I read the script for the first time, I knew just how good it was going to be. It's funny, because I'd be reading it at home and my wife would give me these crazy looks because I'd audibly gasp like, "Oh!" 

Does that mean you want to see your career go in a more dramatic direction in the future?

To me, the most important thing is to do work that I'm proud of and put my point of view out there, regardless of the format or the tone of the project. Whether that's a TV show or films or whatever; it doesn't matter. 


Wits with Keegan-Michael Key & Bhi Bhiman
Friday, November 21, 8 p.m.
Fitzgerald Theater
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