This past Sunday, I had the privilege of asking a question to Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele of the hilariously inventive sketch comedy show Key & Peele. My question was part of a conference call hosted by Warner Brothers in which university students from Canada and the U.S. got to ask the duo about their new movie Keanu.
Keanu is a throwback to the R-rated action comedies of the 80’s and 90’s with a plot that lovingly evokes that of the Keanu Reeves vehicle John Wick: two mild-mannered cousins, Rell and Clarence (played by Peele and Key respectively), must go undercover to rescue their beloved kitten Keanu after he is kidnapped by gangsters.
Keanu marks the first film produced by the two comedians, and their first creative effort after leaving Key & Peele in 2015. When asked about future projects, Peele responded by saying “there’s lots of personal projects that we want to work on, apart from each other as well as with each other”, and even mentioned that he was interested in exploring the science fiction genre further down the road.
Also taking part in the conference call was up-and-coming actor Jason Mitchell, who garnered a lot of buzz for his phenomenal performance in last year’s Straight Outta Compton. In my question to Michell I addressed his breakout role and what audiences can expect from his performance in Keanu:
Me: You gained a lot of positive attention from critics and audiences for your portrayal of Eazy-E in Straight Outta Compton. What do you want people who discovered you in that movie to take away from your performance in Keanu?
Jason Mitchell: I just want people to not stereotype or type-cast me [...] and I want people to see that I’m really a contender no matter what, whatever form it might come in. Because even though I do play two different gangster roles, one of them is all about comedic timing and the other one is in a full-blown drama. So, with [Straight Outta Compton] I already got to unpeel my onion and show all the different things that I could do. But in [Keanu], I show a whole different side and really show that I can act in that comic world.
After the conference call with Jason Mitchell had wrapped up, I waited in eager anticipation to interview two of my comedy heroes. I decided to go with a question about how Keanu might convert those who aren’t familiar with Key and Peele, or their hit Comedy Central show of the same name.
Me: When you were making this film, what aspects did you consider to make it appeal both to fans of your show and also to people who aren’t familiar with your television work?
Keegan-Michael Key: Well it’s no accident that a kitten would be the central character in the piece because everybody loves a kitten. And also, there’s a certain amount of strategy in calling the kitten Keanu. [...] That name is iconic. [...] If you’re in the international community, you certainly know who Keanu Reeves is, but you may not know who Key & Peele are. So, our hope is that when you see that name, in a manner of speaking, it’s kind of like putting the best foot forward. And then you get to learn about the comedy of Key & Peele once you’ve stepped through the door. So there’s a bit of marketing wizzardy going on there.
Key’s absolutely right: everybody loves a kitten. But on the topic of marketing wizardry it should also be mentioned that most advertisements I’ve seen for Keanu feature the line: “from the visionary minds of Key & Peele”. At the end of the day, Key & Peele have about the same success rate with audiences as adorable kittens, and that’s really saying something. So, if you’re a fan of kittens, Key & Peele, or a talented supporting cast that includes Jason Mitchell, Method Man, Will Forte, and Luis Guzmán, then you should definitely check out Keanu when it hits theaters this Friday, April 29.