Comedy Central’s Keegan-Michael Key’s humor is anchored in Utah
Television • Comedian’s father grew up in Salt Lake City “with the other 12 black people.”
Published: February 27, 2012 12:05AM
Updated: February 24, 2012 05:07PM
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Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele

“Key & Peele” is a sketch comedy show that’s very much the product of its two stars, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, with humor drawn from their personal histories and biracial backgrounds.

And Key’s family history includes several Utah chapters. “My father grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah, with the other 12 black people,” Key joked, adding that his grandmother still lives here.

Key was born to a black father and a white mother, who gave him up for adoption. His adoptive parents are a black man from Utah and a white woman from Illinois, who met and married in Detroit.

“I was a special-needs child,” he said. “It was like, ‘Here’s a kid with no arm. Here’s a blind kid. Here is a biracial kid. Let’s take the blind one.’ So because I’m high yellow, I’m special needs, which means I would dominate at the Special Olympics.”

And that’s the kind of humor you’ll find in “Key & Peele.”

“I truly believe that this show really could come from no one else but these two guys,” said Kent Alterman, head of original programming and production at Comedy Central. “It’s so derived from their personal history and who they are as people.”

The show is part stand-up, part sketch comedy. The stars — longtime friends, former roommates and former “MADtv” co-stars — talk about themselves and their shared, biracial experiences.

“We really are just comedy nerds,” Key said. “We really just want it to be funny. If we happen to offend you, we really didn’t mean to.”

Their bit in which Peele plays President Obama and Key his anger translator, Luther, is all in fun. They’re not taking shots at the chief executive — who is also biracial. “Obama was the best thing for black nerds everywhere,” Peele said. “Finally, we had a role model.”

Key added: “It’s [now] OK for black people to walk down the street saying, ‘Yeah, “Star Trek!’ ”

“Before Obama, we basically had Urkel,” Peele said.

That kind of humor “is part of coming out and saying we’re biracial,” Key said. “It means all of a sudden we get to take potshots at everybody.”

Peele, whose father is black, was raised by a single white mother, which he says meant he experienced a different type of discipline as a child. “The interesting thing is white moms can’t hit black kids in public,” Peele said.

On the other hand, “Black moms can beat the [expletive] out of black kids,” Key added.

Key still visits his grandmother regularly and was in Salt Lake City in 2010 for the reopening of Bar X, owned by his pal Ty Burrell (“Modern Family”). He’s planning another trip this spring.

“I love it. It’s so much hipper now than it used to be,” he said. “But, boy, when I go visit, it’s crazy. I’m like, ‘Whoa, there’s white people all over the place!’ ”

His father’s family has been in Salt Lake City for decades. His great-grandfather worked at a local speakeasy, Key said with a laugh, while his grandfather did maintenance for Mack Truck. His father moved to Detroit, where Key was born and raised. But he said he loves visiting his grandmother in the same Central City home where she’s lived for decades.

“Salt Lake is kind of a surreal place, but I think it’s great,” Key said.

spierce@sltrib.com

‘Key & Peele’

New episodes of the Comedy Central show air Tuesdays at 11:30 p.m., with repeats throughout the week.