Keegan-Michael Key on Pressures of Tackling Race on 'Key & Peele': "Why Do We Have to Justify Why We Have Melanin?"

"Very often, if you're a person of color, the fact that you have melanin in your skin makes the sketch exist on more than two or three levels," Key tells THR.

During The Hollywood Reporter's Comedy Actor Roundtable, Keegan-Michael Key admitted that finding a smart way to address social issues with humor was a challenge for him and his Key & Peele partner Jordan Peele.

Following the tragic shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Key shared he felt a sense of responsibility to write timely sketches tackling issues of race.

"You check your Twitter feed and everyone is like, 'Why isn't Luther talking about this?'" he said, referencing a recurring character he plays on the show, President Obama's "anger translator." 

Key credited his creative partner, Peele, for finding a thought-provoking way into the race conversation: "He's the base of the lightbulb and I'm the filament. I need him to go, 'Hey man, let's just keep writing our reality' and keep leaning into what we find comedically — structure-wise — is gonna work for us. Then, our reality is going to reflect off of other people and they'll think about it." 

Citing the sketch "Hoodie," a response to the 2013 shooting of Trayvon Martin written by Peele, as an example of a "proactive sketch" that's also comedic, he explained, "It's fighting that didactic nature of satire sometimes."

Key continued, "Very often, if you're a person of color, the fact that you have melanin in your skin makes the sketch exist on more than two or three levels."

He went on to note that sometimes ordinary sketch ideas, not focused on the topic of race, prove to be the most "revolutionary."

"We wanted to do a sketch about Victor Hugo and Les Miserables. ... We just happen to be people of color. [But] we're gonna put on our powdered wigs and our cravats and do our sketch. And that should just be OK. Let's just do that," he said. "Why do we have to justify why we have melanin?"

The Key & Peele star also told THR his hopes for the sketch show's future: "100 years from now or 200 years from now, if you're looking at our archive — I would love someone to watch a Key & Peele sketch and go, 'I don't get this at all.' I'd love them to hate how stale our show is. That's my prayer for Earth, is that our show has no meaning in 200 years."

More roundtables featuring comedy actresses, drama actresses and actors and reality hosts and producers will roll out throughout June in print and online. Tune in to new episodes of Close Up With the Hollywood Reporter starting June 26 on SundanceTV, with the premiere of the Comedy Actors Roundtable on Sunday, July 17. And look for clips at THR.com/roundtables with full episodes on THR.com after broadcast.

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