Comic Keegan-Michael Key preps for Emmy Award

Detroit native hopes to be second African American to win supporting comedy actor trophy

Mekeisha Madden Toby
Special to The Detroit News
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Keegan-Michael Key wants to set the record straight — he reps the 313 not the 248.

“I’m from Detroit,” said Key, 45, at a Saturday pre-Emmys event in Hollywood. The comedic actor has been nominated for three of the prestigious golden statues this year, including one for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for his work on “Key & Peele.” The sketch series came to an end last year after five beloved seasons on Comedy Central.

The 68th Primetime Emmy Awards will air Sunday on ABC (WXYZ-TV, Channel 7).

It’s true that Key, who graduated from Shrine Catholic High School in Royal Oak and the University of Detroit Mercy in Detroit, was born at Providence Hospital in Southfield. But he is quick to tell you he grew up around Livernois and Fenkell as a little boy and later, near Eight Mile and Woodward.

“My mother hates that. She goes, ‘Why do they keep saying you’re from Southfield?’ ” Key said. “My whole life growing up, I was a Detroiter. This Southfield thing is a fallacy. I’ve got nothing but love for Southfield, but that is not where I’m from. Every time I go home, I’ll be on Channel 4 or something and they’ll say ‘Southfield’s own.’ And I say, ‘Nope. Nope. Detroit, not Southfield.’ ”

Area and zip codes aside, Key is psyched about his supporting comedy actor Emmy nod. This is the second year he’s been nominated in the category, but says he hopes this time around will be the charm. If he wins, Key will be the second African-American actor to do so in 68 years. The first was Robert Guillaume in 1979.

“This is the year I’m going to really get a speech together,” Key vowed. “They give it to white people and give it to white people and then it’s your time as a black person. It’s like, ‘This is the last year for the show and he’s a black guy? We’d better give it to him.’”

As for the future, Key has a lot of plans in the works. His passion project would be to do something in his hometown again. He was one of the founding members of the Planet Ant Theatre in Hamtramck and performed with Second City Detroit before moving on to Chicago.

“We’re working on something right now about the Detroit bankruptcy,” said the actor, whose TV credits also include “Archer,” which won an Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program over the weekend, “MADtv” and “Bob’s Burgers.” “Keanu” and “Hotel Transylvania 2” are among his list of movie credits.

“It’s my dream to make a movie shot in Detroit about the bankruptcy,” he said. “I’m not supposed to say that, but I have a production company and we’re working on projects that are Detroit centric.”

More than anything, Key said, he’s excited that outsiders are finally giving the Motor City its due and shooting in and around Detroit.

“Everyone is teetering on the brink, waiting to see if the American dream can be reborn in this city,” said Key, the son of retired social workers. “When I was a kid, everybody made fun of Detroit. It was tough and rugged and they thought we got what we got as a city. Then 10 years ago, people stopped making fun of Detroit and instead got very concerned.”

Like many, Key sees the passion and the promise.

“Our city has the potential to be this phoenix that rises from the ashes,” he said.” It’s happening but as a species, we humans don’t have a lot of patience. So we have to support it. We were the crown jewel of the industrial world. The crown jewel of middle-class society — black and white — and what happened is a cautionary tale, but also a tale of hope.”

When Key isn’t getting fired up about Detroit, he works. Fans can look for him in season three of “Playing House” on USA and the new Netflix comedy “Friends from College,” both premiering in 2017. Key, who graduated from Pennsylvania State University with a Master of Fine Arts in theater, would also like to return to the stage sooner than later.

“I want to get back to my roots in theater,” he said.

Mekeisha Madden Toby is a Los Angeles-based TV critic and entertainment reporter.

‘68th Primetime Emmy Awards’

7 p.m. Sunday


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