You probably know comedic actors Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele best from their time together doing tons of impressions on MADtv. After that, they went their separate ways working on shows like Reno 911! and Childrens Hospital respectively. But sometimes fate has a way of bringing people back together. Around the same time that Key had a series get cancelled and Peele had a pilot not get picked up, the two decided to join forces once again and make their own show with their own rules. That show, aptly titled Key & Peele premieres Tuesday, January 31st on Comedy Central at 10:30 ET/9:30 CT. We recently had the pleasure of speaking with the two creators and they give us the low down on the new show, their favorite impressions and how they can be nice in an industry that’s made to be mean.
To begin, it’s gotta be a very exciting time for y’all with your show coming out soon.
Keegan: Yeah, exciting’s one really good word. I think another good word might be overwhelming (laughs) cause there’s a lot of press going on and there’s also market stuff. It’s funny cause as we’re talking to you; we just finished a wardrobe fitting, so it’s been like a cavalcade of things taking place. But it’s exciting and I can’t think of a better way to describe it other than like a dream coming true.
Jordan: Yeah, we’ve both been doing sketch comedy for so long, like over 20 years between the two of us that to be able to actually be here and be able to produce and write and star in our own show, we just realized it’s something that few people get to do. We’re through the moon.
I know you both worked on MADtv together. Is that how you first met?
Keegan: We met before MADtv. We met in Chicago when I was with the Second City and Jordan was working at a theater in Amsterdam called Boom Chicago. And for a couple of years there, there’d be a week every year where the main stage cast of the Second City would go to Amsterdam and the main stage cast of Boom Chicago would come to Chicago. And I didn’t work on the main stage on Second City; I worked on the other stage the ETC stage. So I had the opportunity to spend time with Jordan when they would come over and visit us from Amsterdam. We hit it off right away.
Jordan: Yeah I was in Amsterdam for a while but both of us also spent a good amount of time doing comedy in Chicago. And in Chicago, anybody that’s doing improv and sketch sort of knows each other; it’s a big but tight knit community. And it was really destiny. As soon as I came back for that swap, we got introduced to one another immediately. So at that point Keegan was sort of taking Chicago by storm and winning awards and stuff and just really maybe the be st sketch performer ever to come through there really.
Keegan: Oh my goodness! What a thing to say!
Jordan: I’m gonna throw that out there…We were immediate friends. Not really fans of each other but being two black sketch performers there’s not a whole lot of us out there really grinding on it in the early days. So we have a lot in common. And also we have white moms.
Keegan: (Laughs) We got white moms and black dads. We got tons in common!
So how did the idea of the show come together?
Keegan: Well it basically came down to the fact that we both had free time on our hands after a long while. I was working on a sitcom on CBS and Jordan had just finished doing a pilot for FOX. And then my show got cancelled and his pilot didn’t go and our manager suggested maybe we might want to work together. And we both said, “yeah, that’s a great idea.” And that’s kind of where the idea was born. But then from that point in time it took another six to nine months before we were writing and finding our voice together and all that.
Jordan: Yeah, we had a great time working with one another on MADtv. We did a number of sketches that were just some of the most fun sketches to do with one another. So our on stage relationship has pretty much always been there since the beginning. So yeah, when we became free at the same time and we had interests from Comedy Central for example, it became a no-brainer that we could offer something new to sketch comedy that hasn’t been explored before.
Did the cancellations of those shows have any effect on you for this show?
Keegan: No, no, I don’t think so.
Jordan: But that’s the story of so many things in Hollywood. If you get a show that gets cancelled or you get a pilot that doesn’t go, that’s a good thing in our business. At the very least we got work. So that was all stuff moving in the right direction. Hollywood, stuff doesn’t work out for whatever reason. But yeah, the great thing is that the timing was so serendipitous.
Keegan: Yeah, it never affects you that way. I think a lot of the time with our work you can’t get emotional about it. You gotta hustle. You just go from one job to the next job and you hope a job sticks. That’s the thing. So yeah, in the end the most emotional moment was that this serendipity took place.
After watching the show I can only describe it as almost like Louie, but it’s not, and almost like Chappelle’s Show, but it’s not. How would you describe it?
Keegan: I’m gonna steal what you said, Blake. I’m gonna start describing the show that way. That’s a very good way of putting it.
Jordan: Growing up we’ve been a huge fan of (Dave) Chappelle and In Living Color in the early days. And essentially it comes down to, a lot of African Americans, the comedians that we look up to tend to be stand ups because most black comedians go into stand up because of (Richard) Pryor and (Eddie) Murphy and what not. And we were sort of inspired by, like I said, In Living Color at a young age and we set out to be sketch comedians. So one of our hopes with this show is that we can kind of inspire other black comedians to maybe go the improve sketch route as opposed to the standup route.
Keegan: Yeah, I think a lot of it is that we’re also both actors. And Jordan went to Sarah Lawrence College for a couple years and I went to the University of Detroit and got my Undergraduate degree there and I went to Penn Sate. to get my Master’s Degree. So I’ve always gone to school for acting so I think sometimes we have a little bit of a different approach. There’s a lot of storytelling in our scenes and the live segments. There’s a very huge performance aspect to it that I hope, it seems like it does, comes across a little differently than just stand up. I don’t know how to put words to it but there’s a difference in being a stand up comedian and being a comedic actor.
Jordan: Also we very much set out to make a different show from MADtv, which was what it was. It was a great experience for us but I think we also found some things about our voice for our show that we wanted to be very different. I mean, namely, there’s a certain honesty that both Louie and Chappelle, those shows that you named, have about whose behind it. We sort of get to know Chappelle and Louie personally in their shows. And that’s something we tried very hard to achieve, was a candidness and honesty and a straight forwardness with our audience so they can know that they’re actually meeting us. And that’s a very vulnerable place to do comedy. And it sort of gives us a texture or appreciation for what stand ups do all the time.
Comedy can be very mean. And from what I’ve heard you both are very nice. How do you get mean for comedy’s sake?
Keegan: You know Blake, we just work really hard. The work is in the comedy. If we have enough confidence that we’re doing good work then there’s no reason to push. I’m not trying to be edgy in real life, I just like to spend time with my Godchildren and go to church. And then in like comedy, Jordan has inspired me in this. Just give it your all in the comedy. And then you can go ahead and be any kind of person you want to be. Our personas outside of our comedy is only a small part of our comedy if that makes any sense. Cops gotta make a lot of decisions that might be hairy or dark or aggressive in their job and they go home and you don’t have to be a particular type of person to be a cop. We’re both damaged, don’t get us wrong. We’re damaged. (Laughs)
Jordan: Yeah, our job really is to have fun. If we’re not having a blast, we’re doing something wrong because the audience can feel that. Audiences can tell if you’re letting loose. Keegan’s situation, I happen to be working with actually the nicest guy in the world. I have to kind of pretend to be as nice as he is to sort of keep up (laughs). But it’s great to have somebody that is as gregarious and can sort of talk to everybody while I stew and think of something bitter.
Keegan: Or sometimes it’s like I’m running interference so that you can go off and be the mad genius that I need you to be (laughs).
Jordan: So we have a good balance and I would attribute the real positive vibes to really any set Keegan’s on.
You both are very well known for your impressions. First off what’s your favorite impression that you’ve done and secondly what’s your favorite impression from the other person?
Jordan: Well Keegan’s done a couple of really classic impressions. His Snoop Dogg is pretty spot on; the Laurence Fishburne is amazing.
Keegan: Oh I forgot about that.
Jordan: And for myself, Montel Williams is fun. I don’t know why; it just is. There’s something about that guy that cracks me up.
Keegan: My favorite impression that Jordan does, I’ve never seen it on television, but he does an impression of Danny Glover (laughs) that just destroys me. And the Montel Williams one is a really close second. But the Danny Glover one kills me. But my favorite impression is Bill Cosby. Oh yeah, Cosby’s my favorite. You can’t not have fun while you’re doing a Cosby impression cause he doesn’t even speak English. That’s the best part!
Jordan: This is a print ad, right?
Yes, it is.
Jordan: Then we won’t bore the readers with our impressions.
Keegan: “And then Keegan said something about Jello Pudding Pops and you’re just going to have to believe me, readers.” (Laughs)
Jordan: This show that we just did has a couple of impressions in it but we were really going for a real fresh type of sketch.
Keegan: Yeah we’re trying to steer away a little bit from celebrity impersonations, which we can admit is a mainstay of African American comedy. But there’s a smattering of that on the show.
Jordan: Yeah, we didn’t want to lean on it. We have 8 episodes to get everything we want to say done. We do Obama in there a good bit just because we found a lot of fertile ground with him to explore but otherwise what you’ll see in the show is really small movies; short movies is what they feel like. And we’re just taking you all over the map to fun places, dark places, places you’ve never seen sketch comedy go before, social commentary places. Everything from hiding out in Nazi Germany to a slave auction, we explore. We’re really going for the edge and the stuff that only we could pull off the way we do.
What else is coming up for the both of you? I know you’re in the David Wain’s new film Wanderlust.
Jordan: It was a blast to shoot and we shot in separate days. We didn’t get to work together on that. But yeah, that was Wanderlust a Jennifer Aniston film. I believe it’s coming out the 18th of February; a total blast. We love working with the former members of The State in every capacity. We both did Reno 911! and Keegan really slays me. That’s another great group that we were very inspired by this year. To be able to be in Wanderlust and Keegan was also in Role Models as well, to be able to work with them now is just crazy.
Keegan: Yeah, I’m so humbled and I just feel blessed that they want to use us in their films (laughs). You know what I mean?
Jordan: Other than that we’ve pretty much been working on this. I did a couple episodes of Childrens Hospital last season. But besides that, we’re waiting for the calls to come in. (Laughs)
Keegan: Get ready! (Laughs)
Key & Peele premieres Tuesday, January 31st on Comedy Central at 10:30 ET/9:30 CT. For more information on the show visit their website or like them on Facebook. You can also follow them on Twitter @KeeganMKey and @JordanPeele.