Key & Peele Explain How ‘Keanu’ Is Their Ode To ‘The Wire’

Laughing out loud to the comedy stylings of Keegan-Michael Key (the taller bald one) and Jordan Peele (the shorter with hair) was a Wednesday family tradition in my house. Their astute observations on post-9/11 race relations and near-flawless chemistry have proved a winning formula from their early days as the two best comics on Mad TV to each of the skits from their now concluded Comedy Central sketch series *still* racking up millions of YouTube views. K&P sketches are high concept takes on familiar comedy bits with precocious musings baked right into the crust. Keanu, the duo’s first foray into movies post-K&P, brings the tried and true method over to a Hot Fuzzstyle action comedy that should prove once and for all that the duo were born movie stars.

Action movie obsessed best friends Rell (Peele) and Clarence (Key) run into some trouble when Rell’s newly adopted kitten Keanu is stolen from his house. They eventually find out from Rell’s weed dealer Hulka (Will Forte) that the 13th Street Blips stole Keanu, so they attempt to infiltrate the gang and get him back; and since the two are the farthest thing in the world from bangers, their knowledge only stretches as far as New Jack City will allow. Typical “dorky Black guys melding with standard tough Black gang members” comedy ensues, which is pushed to its limits by K&P’s chemistry and how well it plays off of the game cast, even if it’s lacking the usual subtext that gave their comedy so much punch in the first place.

That reach for accessibility makes the jokes less contemplative and a little more juvenile and even dated than usual, but some great cameos, fun performances from Straight Outta Compton’s Jason Mitchell, Tiffany Haddish, and the one and only Method Man, and a frenetic pace keeps the laughs big when they do connect.

WatchLOUD talked with Key & Peele about naming the cat Keanu, geeking out with Method Man on set, and the pair’s respective solo projects coming down the pike.

WatchLOUD: Where did the idea for the movie come from?

KMK: Alex Reubens (writer) and Jordan wanted to write a movie that fit neatly within the Key & Peele universe, but was it’s own thrill ride; a movie made like the kind of movies that we have a passion for like New Jack City and The Wire.

JP: It really started from the base idea of “What if Keegan, myself, and a cat got swept up in a life of crime?”

WL: So whose idea was it to name the cat Keanu? Was Keanu Reeves on the brain at all?

JP: Well, there’s only one celerity named Keanu (laughs). It’s an iconic name that played into the story we wanted to tell. We decided we wanted to give him some company and Keanu the cat will hopefully get that job done.

WL: Giving ‘John Wick’ a run for his money, eh? I’ve gotta ask, what was it like working with Method Man on this movie?

JP: Oh man, it was crazy. I was a Method Man fanboy lip syncing all the words to Tical in high school (laughs). So naturally when you meet him, you gotta play it a bit cool.


KMK: The beauty is [Clifford Smith] is an amazing actor with playful energy. While we were on set, he’d be professional one minute and then we’d all geek out about comic books and horror movies the next. He’s incredibly devoted and a stand up nice guy. You know you’re dealing with a good person when they’re passionate.  

WL: Speaking of horror movies, Jordan’s horror movie Get Out is currently in the works. Can you give us an update?

JP: It’s coming along, man. We shot it in Alabama and me and the team are in the editing process. I’m very happy with it. It’s not a comedy at all, but a completely different kind of horror movie that deals with race in America. All I can say about it for now is that it’s about an interracial couple that goes out to the country and shit just gets crazy from there. Don’t sleep on it. 

WL: Keegan, you’ve been keeping busy, too. You recently worked on a movie with Mike Birbiglia called Don’t Think Twice.

KMK.: Yes, and it was an absolute pleasure. Since it’s a film about an improv comedy troupe who’s star member gets famous, the cast got together and did real improv workshops and live shows two weeks before the shoot just so we could get that lived-in feeling. My hope is that our feelings for each other show on screen. Mike Birbiglia is a laid-back and easygoing director who knows what he wants. Working with people like Gillian Jacobs, who used to write for 30 Rock, Ira Glass, and Amanda Marshall was such a fun experience.


WL: Last question for you. I’m sure you both know a thing or two about Rachel Dolezal. Did you hear that she’s got a book coming out soon?

JP: I hadn’t heard, no. That’s actually pretty hilarious.

WL: It’s been hard to describe for me, but funny is a good place to start. As bi-racial men working in the world of comedy, how does a situation like Dolezal’s make you feel?

JP: Now that I think about it, there haven’t been many bi-racial comedians in the mainstream. It’s very complicated, obviously. That’s how things get when you deal with race and identity. At the end of the day, we’re all human beings and you should identify yourself with whatever your passion is, as long as it’s respectful. 

KMK: Race plays a huge role in the way we live our lives, but money has a lot to do with oppression, too. It’s nearly illegal to be poor in this country, and I think we need to take some bold steps to fix both of those problems.

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