Key and Peele: Why 'kittens and gangsters' make Keanu work
by Mahita Gajanan
8 highlights from comedy duo’s Reddit AMA
Ahead of the April 29 premiere of their new film Keanu, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele took to a Reddit AMA to answer questions about the movie and their work as a comedy duo on the sketch series Key & Peele, which ran on Comedy Central for five seasons, ending in 2015.
In Keanu, the duo play a pair of friends who pose as drug dealers in an attempt to rescue a stolen cat. Their feline costar was a top of discussion, as was their favorite pizza toppings (ground beef, onions, and mushrooms for Key, and classic pepperoni for Peele), and how they both prefer herbivorous dinosaurs. Of particular interest, though, was their show that made them household names and Emmy nominees.
1. Favorite Key and Peele sketches
The comedians share their picks.
Keegan-Michael-Key: My all time favorite sketch for Key and Peele would have been Michael Jackson Halloween. It was one of the first sketches where we just kind of said, "Alright, let's just do it." It wasn't about the lines so much as it was about literally making Jordan laugh, and then hearing him pepper these one liners back at me, which was really just very free pure joy. I really enjoyed that sketch.
Jordan_Peele: I loved getting to do "Gremlins 2.” I feel like in the first season it wouldn't have been received well because it was so niche, such a nerdy sketch. But it was received well by the network and by the end we didn't care, so we just did it.
2. How Keanu came about
It was inspired by the funny juxtaposition of gangsters and cats.
Jordan_Peele: We really wanted to make a movie for us. We didn't pitch this movie. One of the Key & Peele writers, Alex Rubins, and myself wrote this on spec. So, we basically created what was to us the perfect Key & Peele movie and we wrote the whole thing, the first draft, without a kitten in it. And then we realized we needed something to bring us in and bring the heart to the movie, so we came up with this idea of this kitten that wears a do-rag and we put it on the poster and everybody who doesn't know Key & Peele would hopefully have to go see the kitten do-rag movie. Besides that, any movie that we've ever really laughed at is a movie that we've cared about the characters. So, Keanu is a way for the audience to reaaally, reaaally root for our character through the whole arc.
Keegan-Michael-Key: And I would say a thought process for comedy is always think in juxtapositions. You have the most vulnerable, fluffy, cute thing in the world and the majority of our movie takes place on the gritty streets and in a dank, grimy strip club with a bunch of gangsters. So, you're taking kittens and gangsters and mixing them together. Or you're taking nerdy guys who have to pretend they're assassins, guys who've never handled a gun are pretending to be the two greatest assassins in the world. So, you just take opposites and you smash them together and you use juxtapositions to make people giggle. To make people say, "Oh my god that's ridiculous, how's that happening?!" So, if you're writing comedy, to think in that way is always helpful.
3. What happened to the seven kittens who played Keanu?
They were adopted by the film’s crew members. Aww!
EvenBetterCool: How many different cats did you use, and did any of them get adopted by either of you?
Keegan-Michael-Key: That's a great question. Seven kittens were used in the film interchangeably. Neither of us adopted any, but of the seven I understand that three of them have been adopted by members of our crew, and then the other four as far as I know now live on the farm where trainers live with all of the other wonderfully intelligent and well cared for stunt animals.
4. Arnold Schwartzenburgers is the shiznits
The duo has no problem becoming thei characters from Key & Peele at a moment’s notice, answering one question as the valets, two action movie enthusiast car attendants from their sketch series.
theArnoldFans1: Hi K&P, Love it when you guys do the enthusiastic action movie fans "The Valets”...and those characters go off on their admiration to guys like Liam Neeson, Bruce Willis and other action heroes...could you PLEASE, right now on Reddit, tell us Arnold fans what the K&P Valets would say about Schwarzenegger?
Keegan-Michael-Key: Oh, you talking about Schwartsie? You talking about Arnold Schwartzenburgers? Arnold Schwartzenburgers is my shit. He's my shiznits.
Jordan_Peele: Remember that one, where he was in the jungle? And that dude came out with the dreadlocks and no mouth? And the vagina face? That was my jam.
Keegan-Michael-Key: You know man, I like the one where he was the second one when he was the computer monster, and he was talking about, "I'm here right now, but I will be back as well." That's like the greatest line that was ever in a movie ever.
5. The ‘DeNiro/Pacino of comedy’
Key and Peele were fans of each other’s work before they met.
Keegan-Michael-Key: "You good," is the first thing I said. Um, what did I first think when I met you? I guess I just thought you were tremendously talented because I saw you perform before I met you, is that right?
Jordan_Peele: We saw each other perform first, and so we were fans of each others’. And then we met at a diner, and it was like the DeNiro/Pacino of comedy.
6. Major influences
Key and Peele name their “comedic parents.”
Keegan-Michael-Key: Question 2:
I would have to say that if I had two parents, comedic parents, they would be Peter Sellers and Richard Pryor. Those are my comedic parents, and they inspired me because both of them were actors and I've always been I'm an actor first and a comedian second, and I think they both were that. Richard Pryor may not have known he was an actor first and a comedian second, but he was just a rare, rare talent. And the same for Peter Sellers. So they are my spirit animals in regard to my vocation.
Jordan_Peele: I would go with Martin Lawrence and Steve Martin. Steve Martin Lawrence.
7. Freezing in Fargo
Playing FBI agents on FX’s Fargo left the duo with chilly memories of Minnesota.
suaveitguy: When did you know Fargo was going to be that good? It could have been a bad tv version of a very, very iconic film - but it bettered it. Any good anecdotes that you can share?
edit: almost bettered, to just plain bettered
Jordan_Peele: Yeah, I mean we were very nervous going into it because we were such big fans of the film, and it's kind of like, why would we be in this? Why would you put Key and Peele in this? Would we not be distracting? And when we got there, Noah Hawley - the guy who created the show and is the showrunner - he's such a genius. He has a real patience and poise to him. I think we kind of figured it out as we were there. Now as far as stories go, we were in Calgary, and it was freezing.
Keegan-Michael-Key: Twelve degrees below zero, all day every day, to be exact.
Jordan_Peele: Yeah, I remember the first scene we shot was our first scene in it, where Billy Bob is going up through the building shooting, and afterward we find that somebody's been thrown out of one of the windows on the ground. And between every single take, the guy on the ground had to get up and go warm up off in a van; it was that cold.
Keegan-Michael-Key: I remember there was one point in time where this poor gentleman was on the ground shaking because he was laying on the bare cement, twelve degrees below zero, and the director walked up to him, and was very kind, but he said, "I am so sorry, but is there any way you can not shiver when you're laying there as a dead body? I'm gonna need you to not shiver." Which was crazy!
The other thing that I thought Noah did that was so elegant and so wonderful, is that he simply made this new story peripheral to the original story. I think everybody was thinking, "Why would you just remake a really great movie?" What he did is, he moved everything about 40 miles down the road, and it was such a simple, ingenious decision; it made all the difference in the world. Then it allowed him to do these cool things where he's paying homage to other characters; because the culture is so homogenous, it was just a new story in a homogenous culture that he just moved down the road. It was such a simple, simple answer; such a simple, simple thing.
8. Why ‘Keanu’?
The cat’s name was an homage to the many movies they love.
southsamurai: why Keanu? I mean of all the possible names, why pick that one? was out just the silly factor?
Keegan-Michael-Key: You know, it wasn't as calculated as a lot of people think. There's definitely the fact that the movie is a love letter to movies. We do love Keanu, we love movies like Point Break and Speed, and we wanted to put these characters in an action world. Really, it all came a moment where when we came up with the idea of the kitten it was the first name that came to my head, because I love names that only have one connotation. Once you say you're gonna put a kitten in it, and the kitten's name is Keanu, from that point forward it's a done deal. It wasn't too calculated.