Sam Richardson interviews Keegan-Michael Key

Up-and-comer Sam Richardson queries Second City vet Keegan-Michael Key on his top sketches.

Photograph: Taylor Castle

Lanky and whip smart, MADtv’s Keegan-Michael Key (in photo) was a driving force behind early ’00s e.t.c. shows, including Curious George Goes to War and post–September 11’s cathartic Holy War, Batman! It’s no wonder that TourCo’s Sam Richardson (pictured, right), a forceful, character-driven actor who, like Key, came to Chicago via Second City Detroit, is such a fan.

Sam Richardson: How do you feel Detroit shaped you as a comic performer versus Chicago?
Keegan-Michael Key: The comedy was always very physical in Detroit. In Chicago, there was more creating character through relationship. Getting to Chicago taught me to slow down a little bit.

SR: Where do you think you learned some of your comic sensibilities?
KK: I think some of it, not to be maudlin, comes from being a really sad kid. I’m not a big guy; protecting myself against bigger kids was a little out of the question so it was a case of using one’s wit.

SR: What was your favorite show or scene at Second City?
KK: In Holy War, Batman! I felt like for one of the rare times in my career, people said we need artists because they’re here to entertain people and [help them] forget about their lives. I never felt more that way than when we were writing that show because it was almost like it was our responsibility to take the temperature of the country on what just happened. I was so very proud of that entire process.

SR: In Second City shows, there’s usually only one person of color in the cast. How do you feel that shapes your writing process?
KK: Brandon Johnson, who I did a lot of shows with in Detroit, said no matter what scene you do it’s a black scene. By virtue of the fact that you have melanin in your skin, you can’t make anybody think that you’re not black or Hispanic or of a brown persuasion. Every scene has a racial component especially if you’re the only person of color in the cast. You either make a choice to play an “urban” character or you don’t. I actively try to make it not affect my writing, but the fact that I’m conscious of it means it does.

SR: What advice would you give a black actor trying to rise at Second City, knowing that our experience is different?
KK: Make an effort to write a character who has different sides to them so that we’re not just seeing a black man. Don’t worry about the race so much as developing a character that you can realize as fully as you can. That way people see us as really interesting people with different-colored skin as opposed to necessarily drawing on stereotypes all the time.

Richardson humors us Saturday afternoons and Monday nights at the Best of Second City. Key appears regularly on MADtv.

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