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Keegan Michael Key thinks humor can be a 'spoonful of sugar' in tense times

Keegan-Michael Key (r) with Mike Birbiglia (l), both stars of the new film, 'Don't Think Twice'
Keegan-Michael Key (r) with Mike Birbiglia (l), both stars of the new film, 'Don't Think Twice'
Mark Mann
Keegan-Michael Key (r) with Mike Birbiglia (l), both stars of the new film, 'Don't Think Twice'
Cast photo from the new film - Don't Think Twice, starring Keegan Michael Key
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Before Keegan Michael Key became one half of the duo behind the hit show Key & Peele, he started in the world of improv, at Second City in Detroit.

He channels those roots in the film "Don't Think Twice." Key plays Jack, a member of an improv troupe trying to make it on the national stage.

Each member hopes for a big break, especially Jack, who often steals the show with his impersonations.

Key spoke with Take Two about his love for improv, the way "code-switching" was portrayed on Key & Peele and comedy's role in addressing racial tension.

Interview Highlights

On what appeals to him about improvisational comedy:

It's the immediacy of it and the connection that people crave in the theater. It happens every night. There's always going to be that sense that when you're saying a line, you're saying another human's words. And that's the challenge... Someone said, in performance there's always a divine dissatisfaction. You can't ever achieve this moment of now or this sense of immediacy. But you can! In this other art form known as improvisation. 

On code-switching in sketches:

[A]t Second City, very often I'd play a person from this socioeconomic cultural background, then play a different person from a different socioeconomic background. So what we wanted to do in Key & Peele is go, "No, but Jordan [Peele] and I do that every day as the same person." The very first thing that aired on Key & Peele on the very first episode was a code-switching scene. ​

I think we achieved what we wanted in that moment better than we achieved it ever again. I felt like we started making the same scene over and over again. ... It's just, that's the trick, because that's the technique we use in life to survive.


On comedy's role in dealing with racial tension:

I am a firm believer that humor can help cure what ails us. Humor can be a spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down. But the issue is, if you're comfortable in your fear, if you're thriving in your fear, you're not looking to make that stuff to go away. And that's part of what's happening right now. As a society we don't understand, the fear makes us stuck and some people go, "I don't care."

If you fed someone glass every day of their lives since they were three years old and then met them at 40 and said, "Um, dude, you're eating glass," and then you give them something else to eat, they'd get upset with you. Because they were comfortable eating glass... That said, I am trying to discover, how do you get to the people who'd rather be stuck in their fear? Humor's it. Because if you're laughing, you're busted. Something made you giggle, something made you have that visceral reaction. And that should make you explore.

My problem is, you will explore if you're a person who's open to ideas. And [those who] won't explore — you'll go, "Oh, I guess that was funny," and go about the rest of your life. It's tough. We haven't discovered it yet. We're still working on it. 

(Click on the blue arrow above to hear the entire interview.)