Jordan Peele had an audience of 200 inside Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre on Sunset Boulevard in East Hollywood March 25 hanging on his every word. The appearance — part of the improv mecca’s new conversation series — came just a day after the massive opening weekend of his latest horror smash Us, and while his filmmaking career was well covered during the 80-minute Q&A, his sketch comedy beginnings were not completely forgotten.
Peele even had the audience in stitches as he revealed the real reason behind his bitter split with MADtv. Peele joined the Fox sketch show in 2003, staying on for 94 episodes through 2008. Toward the end of his contract — a time when Peele was busy perfecting his Barack Obama impression during the would-be president’s campaign run — the 40-year-old revealed he was offered a job to join Saturday Night Live on NBC but “MADtv wouldn’t let me out of my contract.”
Losing out on what he believed would fulfill a dream, Peele retreated to his apartment where he wallowed in self-pity and weed smoke. “They done fucked up now,” he recalled thinking of the time, blaming MADtv producers for “using my fate as chess pieces.” He plotted revenge “like a comic book supervillain” and then a lightbulb switched on in his head. “I wanted to be a producer. These producers are making these decisions about art and comedy, and they didn’t know anything about art and comedy. I want to be a producer and bring my artistry to that and they’ll all be sorry.”
He definitely was not sorry for declining the invitation that came from Fox in 2015 to join MADtv’s 20th anniversary special. “You will note that I’m not present,” he joked.
He got serious, however, when explaining his relationship with marijuana and how it both helped and hurt him. “It allowed me to open my mind and pushed me into side of myself that was the loving, accepting side, and away from the ego-driven side,” he said, even if it eventually led him down a darker path. “My addiction was also ignoring shit that was important to deal with as well. Anytime you’re down and out, it is connected to the ego. The work that you can do, the love that you put into something, is more important than yourself. What can replace the ego is your love and belief in something else.”
A version of this story first appeared in the April 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.