The Envelope:  For Emmy nominee Keegan-Michael Key, ‘supporting’ is the way to go

Keegan Michael Key says of his Emmy nomination: "My hope would be that what people get is that what we [Key and Jordan Peele] do is support each other" on "Key & Peele."

Keegan Michael Key says of his Emmy nomination: “My hope would be that what people get is that what we [Key and Jordan Peele] do is support each other” on “Key & Peele.”

(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

In a small conference room at the office of his PR firm on Hollywood Boulevard, Keegan-Michael Key is animated until he sits down — and then he’s even more so. Half of the comedy duo “Key and Peele,” whose Comedy Central show is in its fifth and final season, the 44-year-old Key speaks with his hands in a torrent of gestures that embellish his thoughts on everything from the nature of comedy to running lines with President Obama last April before the White House Correspondents’ Assn. Dinner.

When you get the nomination for supporting actor in a comedy, and your name is in the show’s title, is there even a brief disconnect of “Huh?” Or do you just get it and appreciate it?

It’s more the latter. And to be quite honest, now that I’ve processed it more, my feeling is, my hope would be that what people get is that what we [Key and partner Jordan Peele] do is support each other. We support each other on camera, we support each other off camera in regard to decision-making about the tone of a sketch or the length of a sketch or in the editing process. So, “supporting” to me is pretty apt. Because without him what do I have? And vice versa, I assume.



But the semantics of these things gets a little strange.

To be honest, I do not understand. I am confounded as to how that turned out that way. But with our show, there is a strange logic in that I’m supporting half of the sketches and I’m lead in half of the sketches, so maybe they’re enjoying all the straight-man work I’m doing. [Laughs.]

In April, you got to run lines with the president for a sketch featuring your character Luther — Obama’s fictional “anger translator.” Did you get to run through the sketch at all?

We got to run through it twice, and it was at his request. We ran through it once, and I figured he had to leave and go down the grand hallway and take a left into the Situation Room for a few minutes to fine-tune the economy or our relationship with Iran. But it was at his insistence that we do a second run-through of the sketch; he hadn’t seen the script in a while. So he did his first line and I did my first line, and he said [perfectly imitating Obama]: “OK, I got to get it together.” So we ran it back.

The classic line about Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, fair or not, is that “He gave her class and she gave him sex appeal.” What does Jordan Peele bring to the work that you appreciate as something you may not have?

Jordan has a knack for being able — especially when we’re improvising in the middle of writing a sketch — to improvise within the context of the piece. The other thing is that he’s the best sketch writer I’ve ever met. Ever. The thing that he does is he brings a bulletproof sketch to the table 90% of the time, so what I get to do is work with fantastic source material. If I’m adding anything to a sketch by Jordan, it’s just clarifying. Other than that, it’s just me chucking cherries at an already perfectly made sundae. He’s going to be the consummate producer for the rest of his life. He just sees the world in a different way.

There’s a great sketch you do, “The Prayer Circle,” and you’ve stated you’re a Christian; can Christianity and comedy have comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable in common?

Yes, they can; it doesn’t often happen. There are so many factors, including how [a person] decides to look at their higher power. It’s no skin off my teeth; God is an omnipotent being — he’s not going to be offended. Other people say, “You’re offending our Lord.” I say, “Well, if our Lord was an impetuous man, I would be offending our Lord; since he’s an omnipotent being who created the universe, I think God will be fine.”