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Keegan-Michael Key Will Do Anything for a Laugh

KEY Well, a lot of what Elle did is that, as we were putting the structure together, we started to go through history and just say, “What do we know about comedy and where there were comedic performers in history?” Then we just started putting them on the timeline. I discovered through our research about female jesters — was not aware that they existed. There are a lot of wonderful things that I discovered, like the “rural purge” and Beyond the Fringe.

Putting all that on a timeline and then being able to kind of zoom out, did it make you see comedy in a different way? Or affirm things you already knew?

KEY I think that it probably affirmed things. One of those affirmations was the basics: that people figured out tens of thousands of years ago that it was satisfying to watch someone overcome obstacles to achieve a goal. That is somehow inherent in our programming, to excite us and bring us meaning.

Yours is the only voice we hear in the series, and you act out a lot of the sketches you discuss. Was it strange to perform without an audience?

KEY Technically speaking, I wasn’t alone: I had Elle in the booth, the engineer and a production assistant. I’d be in the booth looking at them [while performing], and I’d see them start to smile. To me, if I start improvising and I see people start to grin, that’s chum in the water and I’m a great white shark. I’m going to go right the [expletive] off script and do everything in my power to make them burst out in laughter. In certain episodes, you actually hear me talking to Cameron [Perry], the engineer. I go, “Right, Cameron? I mean, it’s a pretty filthy joke, but you’re laughing. Everybody, Cameron’s laughing.”

What have you liked most about working in audio?

KEY One thing I like is the fact that sometimes it allows you to go bigger. It allows you to be broader, more energetic, because you have to convey something through a microphone. Especially when you’re doing animation work — the figure of what you’re performing with your voice is often so exaggerated that it gives you license to be peculiar or over the top. You can say to the director, “What if I just was like [yodels loudly and cartoonishly]?” And the director will go: “That might work.”

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