On the evening of Friday, May 9, popular comedian Keegan-Michael Key was presented with the 2015 Coup de Comedy’s Revolutionary Comedy Award at the Claire Trevor Theatre.
Key, who is best known for his six-season stint on “MADtv” and his current hugely popular Comedy Central sketch comedy show “Key & Peele,” was chosen by the Coup de Comedy committee due not only to his work in the world of comedy, but the way he approaches his work and utilizes his platform as a comedian to address social issues.
“Keegan-Michael Key is an incredible human being, not only in his talent but also for how much he’s giving to the community,” Joel Veenstra, producer of the Coup de Comedy festival and Associate Head of Stage Management at the Claire Trevor School of Arts.
According to Veenstra, Key works with a number of nonprofit organizations including the Detroit Creativity Project, which aims to put arts into Detroit public schools.
“(Key) also has a real holistic view in terms of the value of improvisation towards building skills that can be valuable for the rest of your life,” Veenstra said. “Also as a man of color, I think it’s really important to honor him in that respect, because that’s just a very important element in our world today.”
Key’s foray into comedy began with a passing interest in the Second City, an improv troup based in Detroit.
“I didn’t know much (about Second City), but it sparked something in my mind,” Key said.
In college, Key began experimenting with short films. After graduate school, Key went home to Detroit to discover that a number of his friends were a part of the Second City troupe.
“A lot of the long-form improv, I learned by trial through fire (with Second City),” Key said.
From there, the show runner of MADtv at the time, who is also a Second City alum and constantly went back to the troupe to recruit, selected Key to replace some of the exiting actors on the popular sketch show. For Key, the rest is history.
After the brief recap of Key’s career, Veenstra asked Key a number of questions submitted from the public.
When asked for advice to any aspiring comics or writers, Key was adamant about dispelling the myth that anyone who was an expert at their craft was so because they were born with prowess.
“If you take time out of your day to do something, then that’s what you are,” Key said. “I’m not big on ‘geniuses.’ There are people who work really hard, and the only way you get better at something is if you do it over and over again. An expert is not a genius. It’s someone who has done something a ton of times.”
Key also addressed a question regarding incorporating social issues into comedic sketches.
In an interview for the New University with the comedian, Key noted that he tries to incorporate commentary on social issues into his sketches as much as possible.
“Very often, I’d say probably 60 percent of the time I’m thinking about (social issues in my sketches),” Key said. “Comedy is the best delivery system for talking about social issues, because once you start talking about these topics in a serious setting, emotions get involved.”
Also in the interview, Key addressed questions about the changing landscape of comedy.
“I believe diversity in comedy is snowballing and I hope for me personally, more and more people of color would get improvisational training and develop improv skills because they can create instant play-writing with these skills,” Key said. “You’d be hearing their stories through a brand new venue.”
Additionally, Key looks at the almost instantaneous impact social media has had in the world of comedy as something that isn’t necessarily bad.
“I believe that the cream will rise to the top. Some people may have an innate comedic skill, or a learned skill they may not be aware of that’s happened upon them from years of unconscious practice,” Key said. “If they hit all of the benchmarks of comedy without professional training, more power to them,”
When asked in the interview about people who still don’t think comedy is a carefully crafted art that takes hard effort to appear effortless, Key hopes they will pause momentarily to think about how a piece of comedy is conceived.
“Anybody who is maybe not a constant purveyor of comedy should be aware of the fact that what they’re hearing, someone wrote those words down on a page and someone else had to learn those words,” Key said. “At least understand that it is a craft, not just a bunch of people screwing around. There is training involved — I just want people to pause and ask themselves ‘how do I think this was created?’”
As for general advice to the audience, Key is a staunch believer in appreciating life as it comes in order to both stay sane and inspired.
“Everything should be moment to moment; everything in your life should be moment to moment. But everything else should be moment to moment in your work as well. Make the macro moment-to-moment count as well as the micro.” Key said.