Keegan-Michael Key is famous for headlining Comedy Central’s “Key and Peele” alongside his colleague Jordan Peele. However, before reaching his famed heights, he was ostracized by his Black classmates because his mom was White.
Keegan-Michael Key is a biracial comedian born on March 22, 1971, in Detroit, Michigan. He was born following an affair between his Black father and White mom.
However, after Key’s birth, his parents put him up for adoption. Eventually, a Black man and his White wife adopted him. His adoptive parents were social workers.
Key grew up in Detroit. He was epileptic as a child and could not take part in football. Hence, he developed an interest in performing and loved comedy so much that he was convinced he would make a living from it.
He attended the University of Detroit Mercy and delivered singing telegrams while he was a student there. Key also bagged his MFA in theatre at Penn State.
Key planned to chase a theatre career but auditioned for the improv group Second City Detroit. He joined in 1997 but moved to Second City Chicago a few years later.
In 2003, he met Jordan Peele and struck a close bond with him. Both of them ended up on Mad TV and wrote sketches together. Together, Key and Peele headlined Comedy Central’s hugely successful sketch comedy show “Key & Peele,” from 2012 to 2015.
In a chat with CNN, Key and Peele, both biracial, opened up about their childhood. Key revealed he grew up in an environment marked by segregation and white flight.
He described his childhood neighborhood as a Black city that had been a White city not so long before. He revealed he was sometimes ostracized by Black classmates when they found out he had a White mom.
Key said that period of his life was very hard and rough, and school was not comfortable for him. He recalled his mom bringing him lunch at school and explained:
“My mom is a cute, ruddy little white woman, and there’s no category for that – the kids don’t know how to respond, and so they tease: ‘That ain’t your mama!’ ‘Why you talk white?'”
He further explained that not every child in grade school spoke to him that way, but he remembered those words clearly. Key and Peele’s comedic work stretched and tested the limits and definitions of what it means to be Black, White, both, or neither.
Their show was compared to standup comedian Dave Chappelle’s successful Comedy Central sketch comedy, “Chappelle’s Show,” which also tackled racism.
Key and Peele said they were inspired by Chappelle’s work. They also saw their comedy as deconstructing racial stereotypes. The duo has never shied away from bringing the subject of racism.
The couple discovers a magical town in which everyone is acting like they are in a 1940s musical.
In a 2013 interview with NPR, Key talked about being biracial and said he thinks he went into theatre ultimately because that was one of the multicultural groups. He said in theatre, one identifies with others with similar passions irrespective of their skin color.
Key has spoken about his personal experience with the American racial divide multiple times. In 2016, he spoke about the pressures of tackling race on “Key & Peele” during The Hollywood Reporter’s Comedy Actor Roundtable. Key said:
“Very often, if you’re a person of color, the fact that you have melanin in your skin makes the sketch exist on more than two or three levels.”
He noted that sometimes ordinary sketch ideas without any focus on race turned out to be the most revolutionary.
Meanwhile, Peele said he was lucky to have grown up in a great town and attended great schools with a certain amount of diversity. He added that all of that went into their work.
Last year, he appeared on “A Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” and narrated his experience with a police officer who recognized him because of his celebrity status.
Key made another appearance on Colbert’s show in July and shared a picture of him pointing at its logo and smiling excitedly as he celebrated his return to the show.
Besides his successful comedy career, Key also has a prosperous movie career and has starred in several television shows, movies, and series. He played an FBI agent on “Fargo,” and had a recurring role in the sitcom “Parks and Recreation.”
In “Playing House,” he played a love interest and also starred in Netflix’s “Friends From College.” His film credits include “Horrible Bosses,” “Pitch perfect,” “Tomorrowland,” “Why Him,” “Keanu,” and many more.
Last year, he portrayed Gustafson, a villainous toymaker and fashion dandy in “Jingle Jangle,” and Principal Tom Hawkins in “The Prom,” a Netflix adaptation of the Broadway show.
Key and Cecily Strong play a couple in the Apple TV+ series, “Scmigadoon!,” released this year. In the series, the couple discovers a magical town where everyone is acting like they are in a 1940s musical.
Key’s multiple roles and their diverse nature show that the star, who made his Broadway debut in 2017, is an incredible talent and can do it all.
Key has been married twice in his lifetime. His first marriage was to “Star Trek V” actress Cynthia Blaise, and they were married for 19 years before divorcing in 2017.
A year after their divorce, he got engaged to and married actress and producer Elisa Pugliese. Last year, he celebrated Loving Day by posting a sweet tribute to his wife, describing her as the love of his life.