Comedian, actor, and writer Keegan-Michael Key has forged a successful career out of making people laugh. He first started out performing improvised skits at comedy clubs but soon got a spot doing impressions on “MadTV.” Key then rose to fame for co-starring in the Comedy Central sketch series “Key & Peele” alongside Jordan Peele. Their iconic “Substitute Teacher” sketch has racked up nearly 200 million views and is remembered fondly by fans for Key’s performance as a teacher who mispronounces the names of his students.
After his success on “Key & Peele,” it was easy for Key to transition into more serious acting and he began bagging supporting roles in hits like “Pitch Perfect 2” and “Horrible Bosses 2.” It wasn’t long before he was scoring leading roles either, Key starred in the 2015 film “Keanu” and was a part of the series main cast of “Friends From College” from 2017 to 2019. He has spent the last few years building an impressive resume, and he’s become a household name in the process.
While there’s no doubt Key is a hilarious guy, he’s also so much more than his work in comedy. Fans may be keen to know about his long-lost sibling, the truth about his relationship with Jordan Peele, or the truly bizarre side jobs he worked to get by. Here’s the untold truth of Keegan-Michael Key.
Keegan-Michael Key never met his accomplished half-brother
Keegan-Michael Key has always been very open about his early life and proudly shares the story of his adoption in interviews. Speaking to The New Yorker, Key broke down the details of his complicated family tree, explaining that he was actually the result of an affair between a white woman and her married black co-worker. He was adopted at birth by another mixed-race couple, two social workers from Detroit. Key’s parents encouraged him to reconnect with his birth mother later in life, and he learned he had four-half siblings from her subsequent marriage. The actor now enjoys a close relationship with his birth-mother, but he rarely mentions his birth-father. Speaking to Pete Holmes on the “You Made it Weird” podcast, Key explained it was because he passed away in 1989 before he got the chance to know him. Key also revealed that he’d recently discovered that he had two older half-brothers on his father’s side, one of whom was the famous writer Dwayne McDuffie.
While Key didn’t directly name Duffie as his brother, he revealed to GQ that he was related to a comic-book legend who had worked for Marvel and DC Comics and was in charge of an animation department that was responsible for “bringing characters of color on screen.” This profile matched McDuffie, who was vocal about the need for more diversity in the comic-book industry throughout his career. McDuffie tragically passed away at the age of 49 before Key discovered his existence. While they never got to meet, Key is sharing McDuffie’s work and celebrating the writer’s legacy, which is helping to keep his memory alive.
He has experimented with different religions
Keegan-Michael Key described himself as a very “spiritual Christian” to Think Progress in 2012 and said he was a member of the Disciples of Christ, a Mainline Protestant Christian denomination, at the time. However, Christianity is not the only religion he’s practiced — in fact, Key has experimented with quite a few different faiths. The actor was raised as a Catholic but told Think Progress he’s always been “fascinated by spiritual thought across the board.” Key’s exploratory religious background stems from his inquisitive nature, which led him to study different religions from around the world. “I studied a little Buddhism and maybe a dash of Hinduism,” he told the outlet, also noting that he’s “fascinated by Hebraic culture and how our culture has been informed by Hebraic culture.” He also explained that he’s especially “fascinated by the fact that we practice a Near-Eastern religion in a super-Western society, and how our faith has changed.”
Key’s understanding of different faiths is perhaps the reason he feels so connected to his spirituality. This eventually led him back toward Christianity, and he started exploring different branches of the religion. Key isn’t shy about trying new things, having “spent a good deal of time in the Charismatic church,” he realized it was time for something new and ultimately moved to the Disciples of Christ.
Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are real-life besties
On the hilarious sketch series “Key & Peele, “Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele frequently debunked ethnic and social stereotypes and, during the years it was on air, you couldn’t mention one of their names without bringing up the other. But their relationship encompasses much more than their shared Comedy Central series. Key and Peele’s friendship spans almost two decades.
As Key told Big Boy at Power 106, he met Peele back in 2002 at The Second City Comedy Club in Chicago after being introduced by a mutual friend. He also said it was completely by chance that he and Peele ended up on “MadTV” together from 2004 to 2009, having originally auditioned against each other for the part. After “MadTV,” both comics were hungry for work in which their jokes wouldn’t have to pass through a dozen producers to get on air, according to The New Yorker. Having spent years honing their sketch-writing skills, it wasn’t long before “Key & Peele” was born and they became two of the funniest guys on the small screen.
As their show developed, so did their friendship. “We’re brothers,” Peele told The New Yorker. “It’s not even best friends. It’s a total brother understanding.” In an interview for Wired, Key revealed that he and Peele even “lived together for a while.” When their series ended, the duo jumped onto the big screen together with the feature film, “Keanu.” Speaking to The New York Times, Key shared how “special” it feels for both of them to continue working on new projects together. It’s not all work and no play for these two though, as Peele was spotted by his bestie’s side when he married Elisa Pugliese in 2018 (via People).
Keegan-Michael Key counts Barack Obama among his fans
President Barack Obama’s anger translator Luther was one of the most popular recurring characters on “Key & Peele”; Jordan Peele played President Obama while Keegan-Michael Key played Luther, who loudly voiced the unspoken feelings and frustrations of Obama and his supporters. The Luther sketches became so popular they even caught the eye of the President himself. In an interview on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” Obama expressed his amusement at Key’s character and called the sketches “really good stuff.”
Obama showed his support for Key again when he invited the comedian to make an appearance as Luther at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2015. Key told Jimmy Fallon that the rehearsal process was hilarious, adding that the President couldn’t stop laughing. The actor also revealed on The Tonight Show that the President gave him some notes on how he could improve. Doing an impression of Obama, Key repeated that he’d been told: “You know, um, my register’s a little bit lower than what you’re doing.”
He found success as a voice actor
As “Key & Peele” ended, Keegan-Michael Key transitioned from his sketch comedy roots to acting, finding further fame and success with voiceover roles in high-profile animated films like “The Lego Movie,” “The Lion King,” and “Toy Story 4.” In an interview with The New York Times, he explained that one thing he likes so much about voice acting is that he has to convey everything through a microphone. “It allows you to be broader, more energetic,” Key said. “Especially when you’re doing animation work — the figure of what you’re performing with your voice is often so exaggerated that it gives you license to be peculiar or over the top.”
He also enjoys the creative freedom that comes with voice work. “You can say to the director, “What if I just was like [yodels loudly and cartoonishly]?” And the director will go: ‘That might work.'” Key explained that this was especially the case with “The Lion King” director Jon Favreau, who gave the actor creative license to make the role of the hyena Kimari his own. He revealed more details about this process to USA Today, saying that he and Eric André “were given a lot of license to do what we wanted.” This gave Key and André the opportunity to improvise a lot of their own dialogue and “develop a little more nuanced relationship than you saw in the original film.”
He had a side job planting flowers in a graveyard
According to Celebrity Net Worth, Keegan-Michael Key boasts a net worth of $12 million, so it’s fair to say his career is doing well. However, before making it as a comedian, actor, and writer, Key had to work some weird side jobs to get by. In an interview with Rolling Stone, he revealed his weirdest job was planting flowers in a cemetery: “Every shift was the graveyard shift! But no, that was actually during the day.”
Planting flowers in a cemetery is one of the more unusual side jobs we’ve seen celebs do before getting famous, however, it wasn’t the only weird side gig Key had. To pay the bills, he also dressed up and performed as a singing telegram. Key told Rolling Stone: “I had to dress up as these characters: I did Caveman, Grim Reaper, and someone called Mr. Wonderful, who wore a white tux with tails and sang to women on their fiftieth birthday.” Key also said that the Grim Reaper costume didn’t fit in his car so he would have to strap it to the roof — talk about hard work!
While these side jobs were tedious and truly bizarre, the actor believes that one of them taught him a valuable lesson. Working summers as a theatrical lighting technician, Key failed to get what he thought was going to be an automatic promotion. However, he realized that not getting the part was “the best thing that [could have] happened,” and credits this experience as the moment he truly learned the importance of hard work. He now understands that “No matter how talented anyone thinks you are, you gotta put in the work.”
Keegan-Michael Key has been married twice
Keegan-Michael Key has been married twice and both of his wives are women in the entertainment industry. Key’s first wife, actress and dialect coach Cynthia Blaise, is best known for her role in the 1996 movie “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” in which she starred alongside the likes of Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner, and Nichelle Nichols. Blaise has also worked behind-the-scenes in big movies like “Bad Teacher,” “8 Mile,” and “Miami Vice.” In 1998 she married Key, who was 11 years her junior. Their marriage lasted 17 years but ended when Key filed for divorce in 2015 (via People).
The couple finalized their divorce in 2016 and a year later Key announced his engagement to actress, writer, director, and producer Elisa “Elle” Pugliese. A lot of Pugliese’s credits come from her behind-the-scenes work; she’s served as executive producer on “Better Off Single” and the eight episodes of “Brain Games” for which Key served as host. Key and Pugliese tied the knot at their New York home in 2018 and made their red carpet debut at the “Ant-Man” premiere a month later. According to the Daily Mail, Key was beaming with pride as his wife showed off her new ring. In an interview on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” Key talked about their shared love of comedy, which could be one reason the pair are always spotted looking so loved up.
The actor is a self-professed 'blerd'
Keegan-Michael Key considers himself a total “blerd,” a portmanteau of “Black” and “nerd.” Not only does he have a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a Master’s degree, Key continuously spends his time learning new things. “I am a self-proclaimed blerd. I am one of those guys who sits around and reads books on neurobiology, something that I just find fascinating,” Key said when promoting his new show “Brain Games” in 2020 (via The Associated Press).
He also joined forces with his wife, Elle Key, to turn his passion for learning into an exciting quarantine project. Their joint love of comedy inspired the podcast series “The History of Sketch Comedy.” During the aforementioned interview with Jimmy Fallon, Key credited his wife, who hoped that, by pooling their combined knowledge, they could “create something for everyone.” It’s not just a quick look at how comedy has changed over the last 30 years either; the series goes all the way back to “the ancient Sumerians from the 19th Century BC and works all the way up to today,” Key explains to Jimmy Fallon. While he enjoyed getting to do all the voices and sound effects for the series, Key especially loved researching for the podcast, saying “I’m a nerd about this kind of stuff.”
Keegan-Michael Key's first love is theater
Despite his overwhelming success working in comedy, Keegan-Michael Key’s first love is actually the theater. Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Key jokingly referred to his entire career as a “19-year detour into sketch comedy,” adding that going back to theater work felt like he was “coming home.” The idea of coming home makes more sense when you understand a little more about Key’s professional training and theater background. With two Fine Arts degrees in theater and professional Shakespearian training, a career in comedy was perhaps not the most obvious route for Key. He has definitely been successful in the comedy field, but enjoyed his return to theater in 2017, which was incredibly special because he got to perform in his dream role. Key told THR that it’s always been his dream to do Shakespeare and “the classics” and the role he always wanted to play was Horatio in Hamlet. He also expressed his excitement at the opportunity to be performing off-Broadway alongside Oscar Isaac, whom he credits as an “extraordinary performer.”
Key also made his Broadway debut in 2017 when he starred in Steve Martin’s comedy, “Meteor Shower,” alongside Amy Schumer, who also got her start in sketch comedy. He told The New Yorker that one thing he and Amy both love about the theater is that it gives them time for “fine-tuning” which is something that you don’t get with television. “In a play, you get to sculpt the moments. The moments are wrought. And that’s probably the biggest difference, which is something that Amy and I both adore.”
He's very vocal about social issues
Tackling about race through humor is something about which Keegan-Michael Key has always been passionate. Previously, he and Jordan Peele used their Comedy Central sketch series to tackle topics like race relations in a digestible and entertaining way. Now, Key uses his platform to speak out about social injustice and inequality. He did several interviews about the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 and used a thoughtful analogy to explain why saying “all lives matter” isn’t the right response. Talking to James Corden, Key explained, “Saying ‘all lives matter’ as a response to ‘Black lives matter’ is like saying the fire department should spray down all houses in a neighborhood, even if only one house is on fire, because all the houses matter. And yes, your house does matter. One hundred percent. But your house is not on fire.”
Key has also voiced his political opinions and made public appearances to support Joe Biden (via The Daily Mail) during his presidential campaign, saying “I’m all for Joe.”
The actor wants to do more dramatic roles
At this stage in his career, Keegan-Michael Key has a very well-rounded portfolio, with plenty of credits to his name. However, he’s still very much known for his comedic roles and reckons its time for him to do some more serious roles. The actor believes he’s ready to try his hand at new things and experience fresh challenges. He told The Associated Press that he’s ready for roles that are “a bit more nuanced or maybe a little more dangerous or a little more scary.” Key also revealed that he previously had anxiety when he returned to the stage after so many years in comedy, but said that he soon got over it and it is like riding a bike, meaning it’s still “full steam ahead in this new direction.”
Key is refusing to limit himself in whatever comes next and has even expressed an interest in taking on action roles, becoming the next Jason Bourne, or playing a Bond villain. Whatever he lands on, we’re excited to see what Keegan-Michael Key does next.
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