Achieving a breakthrough in the competitive world of show business requires not only talent but utmost originality and Keegan-Michael Key can be counted among those that have displayed this quality. Key became popular after starring alongside Jordan Peele in the sketch series, Key & Peele (2012–2015) which aired on Comedy Central.
His breakthrough wasn’t instant as it came after years of paying his dues with his early works, including the sketch comedy series, Mad TV (2004–2009). Since then, he has gone on to feature in projects like Playing House, Let’s Be Cops, Tomorrowland, Pitch Perfect 2, Friends from College, and The Predator. The humor merchant has also lent his voice to Toy Story 4 and The Lion King remake.
The Biracial Background that Influenced Key’s Showbiz Career
Born on March 22, 1971, in Southfield, Michigan, Keegan-Michael Key is the product of a relationship between a Caucasian woman named Carrie Herr and an African-American man, Leroy McDuffie. His biological parents gave him up for adoption when he was very young and he was equally adopted by an interracial couple, Michael Key and Patricia Walsh, both of whom are social workers from Detroit, Michigan.
Key traces his love for comedy and theater to his dad as well as his interracial background. According to him, while growing up, his father loved watching kiddies shows such as The Bugs Bunny Show, and he would often join him to watch them. He was mesmerized by how a full-grown man could be reduced to fits of laughter by the antics of a coyote and a roadrunner. He, therefore, found that quite powerful and dreamt of exerting such influence one day.
As a means of going into comedy, Key took to theatre and playwriting as a high schooler. He found the theatre community quite welcoming as no one cared about the color of the other’s skin but rather focused on the passion that one had for the art. He, therefore, felt quite at home in this setting and subsequently went on to study theatre arts at the University of Detroit, Mercy. Key obtained his BFA in 1993 and three years later, bagged a Master of Fine Arts in theatre from Pennsylvania State University.
Meeting Jordan Peele and Joining The Cast of Mad TV
During his college days, Keegan-Michael Key joined a local improvisational troupe in Detroit known as The Second City. This led to comedic performances at several venues in both Detroit and Chicago. During one of such performances, he met future collaborative partner, Jordan Peele.
He and Peele became good pals and coincidentally auditioned for the same spot on Mad TV, the popular sketch comedy TV series which spoofed everything in pop culture. This was in the year 2004 and both men exhibited such great comic chemistry that the show creators hired them both. Key would eventually spend about five years on Mad TV, 2004 – 2009, during which he appeared in about 107 episodes.
During this time, he impersonated an eclectic mix of celebrities including the likes of Barack Obama, Eva Longoria, Tyson Beckford, Snoop Dogg, and Bill Cosby. He also portrayed other random characters with his most memorable being Coach Hines. His portrayal of the excessively-dramatic high school sports coach, who sports a thick mustache, unfortunate haircut, and super-high shorts, made him one of the most memorable performers on the show. It also endeared him to the American public.
Here Are Keegan-Michael Key’s Most Notable Works
After 15 glorious years on air, the creators of Mad TV decided that the show would be halted in 2009 and Keegan-Michael Key thus moved on to other projects. For the next two years, the Detroit native scored bit parts in movies such as Due Date, Just Go With It, Hell Baby, and Wanderlust. He also appeared in episodes of TV series such as Gary Unmarried, Love Bites, The League, and Wilfred.
Through it all, Key kept in touch with Jordan and together, they came up with the idea for their sketch comedy series titled Key & Peele. The show heavily drew upon their experiences as biracial persons and saw them explore ethnic stereotypes including the history behind African-American names. It also included a highly-popular character known as Luther, an angry translator tasked with giving life to the angry thoughts that President Obama cannot express.
Key & Peele debuted on Comedy Central in 2012. It ran for three seasons during which Key and his partner received about 16 Primetime Emmy nominations. They also scored a Peabody award for entertainment honouree as well as a Primetime Emmy award for outstanding variety series. Following the end of Key & Peele, Keegan-Michael has gone on to become an in-demand actor in Hollywood. He has featured in productions such as Pitch Perfect 2, The Lion King remake, Hotel Transylvania 2 and 3, Playing House, Fargo, and Parks and Recreation.
He also serves as the host of two TV shows, Game On! and Brain Games. Brain Games is a Nat Geo series in which experts in cognitive science, neuroscience, and psychology explore various components of the human brain. Game On! is a CBS sports-based comedy game show which sees two teams of three competitors go head-to-head in sports trivia.
His Marriage and Divorce from Cynthia Blaise
Keegan-Michael Key got married for the first time in 1998 to Cynthia Blaise. Blaise is an American actress and dialect coach. As a dialect coach, she has worked in movies such as The Tiger Hunter, Hardcore Henry, The Truth About Emanuel, Bad Teacher, Faster, and 6 Souls.
The couple met shortly after the comedian left graduate school, during the filming of a movie written by two of his friends in honor of another who died in a car crash. Although Cynthia was 13 years older than Keegan-Michael Key, it did not deter them from falling in love. Two years later, they tied the knot and Keegan became the step-father to Cynthia’s son who is just eight years his junior.
Sadly, the couple fell apart 17 years into their marriage and they reportedly got separated on November 15, 2015. On the 31st of December 2015, Key filed for divorce citing irreconcilable differences and in November 2017, their divorce was finalized. The divorce settlement required the comic to make an outright payment of about $655,649 to his ex-wife.
She also got to keep their shared apartment as well as their car, a 2016 Subaru Crosstrek. Key is also required to pay his ex-wife about $34,000, as well as 21% of his gross annual income in monthly spousal support. This will subsist until she remarries, either of them dies, or further court order is received. There was no talk of child support as their union did not produce any kids.
Taking a Second Shot at Happily-Ever-After
The Mad TV star wasted no time in putting his first marriage behind him as he announced his engagement to actress, producer, and director, Elisa Pugliese, in a Twitter post on 14th November 2017.
She shows me every day that each one of us has the ability to help make the world a better place. I’m the luckiest man ever. She said yes! pic.twitter.com/UYhtSQ4GQH
— Keegan-Michael Key (@KeeganMKey) November 14, 2017
It is not certain when Key and Elisa first became a couple as they kept their relationship away from the media. They however made their debut joint public appearances in 2017, appearing at the US Open, BAFTAs, Emmys, and Tony Awards. The couple later made their relationship official in a marriage ceremony which took place on 8 June 2018, in New York City.
Best. Day. Ever. pic.twitter.com/6PPb1H5yx5
— Keegan-Michael Key (@KeeganMKey) June 9, 2018
Elisa is a native New Yorker (specifically The Bronx). She has served as the producer of projects such as Boy Meets Girl, Better Off Single, The Blackout, and Maja. She has also scored minor roles in productions such as School of Rock, Law & Order, The Agency, and Fair Game. Elisa and her husband have also worked together as she has produced some episodes of Game On! and Brain Games.