Rising comedy duo finds match in 7 kittens, 1 snake | Inquirer Entertainment

Rising comedy duo finds match in 7 kittens, 1 snake

By: - Columnist
/ 12:09 AM May 06, 2016

KEEGAN-MICHAEL Key (left) and Jordan Peele Ruben V. Nepales


LOS ANGELES—They may be comedy’s hottest duo, but their costars couldn’t care less. Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, also known as Key and Peele, which is also the name of their acclaimed Comedy Central series, had to contend with divas in their first feature film, “Keanu”—seven tabby kittens and an 18-foot long python.

The two friends, who first met at Chicago’s well-known improv troupe, The Second City, enjoyed dishing on their animal coactors in “Keanu.”


Director Peter Atencio’s comedy, written by Jordan and Alex Rubens, tells about buddies who try to retrieve a stolen kitten by pretending to be drug dealers for a street gang.


Jordan (J) and Keegan (K), who appear to be headed for bigger things, are cool cats themselves, sometimes finishing each other’s sentences and often trading quips.

Excerpts from our talk at The Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills:

 Do you understand how some people would go to extremes for their pets, especially cats?

J : When you see Keanu, everybody falls in love with it. Everybody who has a pet knows it’s like, I’d do whatever I need to do to get my pet back. It’s one of the absurd things about humans and how important family is to us.

K: The kitten is the Helen of Troy of this movie (laughs). Everybody’s clamoring for the love of this kitten—they’re caught under a spell.

And about being a cat person?


K: Oh, yes, we both grew up with cats. The film has brought back special memories of cats from my childhood. My first pet was a cat. My parents regale me with adorable stories about the cat.

J: I began as a cat person, too. I have a dog now, so I’m kind of a traitor (laughs), but it’s the same.

How would you describe your comedy pair?

K: We are the Hasselhoff comedy team.

Who is David Hasselhoff, and who is Pamela Anderson?

K: OK, I’m Pam Anderson (laughs). The comedic world that we’ve created is so unlike Dean Martin and (Jerry) Lewis or (Stan) Laurel and (Oliver) Hardy, where each guy played a particular archetype all of the time.

We switch back and forth. Sometimes, he’s the clown and I’m the straight guy. Sometimes, we’re two characters who have the exact same point of view about the world. We try to be as chameleon-like as we possibly can.

J: We enjoy playing every ethnicity, nationality, gender and sexual orientation.

Were there particularly challenging scenes where it was tough to get a cat to do something?

K: There’s one scene where I have to tell the cat to scratch the picture of my ex-girlfriend. I say, “Get that b*tch.”

Of course, when you are writing that, you don’t think that it’s going to be tough like, oh, but then you have to make the kitten actually do it at the time you want it to do it.

J: Human actors, if they don’t want to do something, at least give a reason (laughs). It was tricky.

Often, the cats would create a problem—you couldn’t get past a certain thing. They’d be fidgeting or it’s supposed to be in love with you, but it’s looking the other way.

The other thing that happened is we found that there’s a certain respectfulness that everyone has when a kitten comes on set. Everyone gets quiet. You don’t make sudden noises.

Jordan, the irony is that you are allergic to cats.

J: I didn’t have any problems through the entire film. In the press tours, we’ve met so many cats and been to so many places where they’ll put cats. They will say, “Hold this cat.” So my allergy has been acting up a little bit now. But I was OK during the shoot.

How did using kittens actually work to your advantage?

K: Our trainers, who were extraordinary, started working with the kittens before they were ever on set, when they were about nine weeks old.

They would just play with them and get a sense of their personalities. This cat likes to frolic, so he’ll be the one that does all the running. This cat likes to cuddle.

In the midst of that, they would also bring them around to the production office to get them used to the noises and the bustle of the environment. So, when we got to set, the transition was a nice, soft landing.

They were doing lots of training. Like if I give you food, you do this for me. As the trainers call it, they pay them. Make sure to pay her more, like sometimes the cat gets paid like “$5,000” which was a piece of kibble; “$50,000” was a little bit of catnip.

The other star in the movie is an 18-foot python named Fluffy. How comfortable are you around snakes?

K: I owned some snakes when I was in school. Actually, I should say my roommate owned snakes. I tolerated snakes.

J: She’s stronger than both of us.

K: We can’t really handle her (laughs). Cats are hard enough, but it’s harder to train a snake. The snake doesn’t care. The snake’s going wherever it wants.

Who came up with the idea of calling the cat Keanu?

J: It was me. Not everybody in the world knows who Key and Peele are. So, it was definitely a choice to pick a mascot and make this movie about someone and something bigger than who we are.

K: There’s a second association now to the name. But that kitten is cuter than Keanu Reeves (laughs).

Did you talk to Keanu Reeves about this?

K: We did not speak to Keanu first about it, but when we released our trailer, his sister sent him a link to the trailer. He watched the trailer and enjoyed it thoroughly.

So, yeah, in the drug trip when the kitten is speaking to me, that’s Keanu Reeves’ voice. It’s very generous of him to take 10 to 15 minutes out of his day and just got on a link with our director—and they worked it out.

Are you as streetwise as your characters:

K: We are definitely as un-streetwise as our characters.

J: The truth of the matter is that the African-American culture is very diverse. We are lovers. We are not fighters. We shy away from conflict.

K: Certainly, there’s a dearth of characters like us in the movies, let alone the leads in the movie, so we just wanted to shine a light on a different part of this experience and make sure people understand both in the States and across the world that the African-American experience is not a monolith, that we’re not just one thing.

J: So, that’s a huge part of the Key and Peele phenomenon.

How did you discover that you can work together as a comedy pair?

K: We were on a television show together before “Key and Peele” called “MADtv.” There’s Mad Magazine, so we had a show called “MADtv.”

He and I met in Chicago at the famous American improv theater called The Second City. So we met, fell in comedy love (laughs) by complete and utter serendipity and ended up on the same television show together for five years.

J: That was “MADtv.”

K: Because of our training from The Second City, it’s like being in the Merchant Marine together. We know all the same things.

We have the same ideas of how to make comedy to a point where it can almost be telepathic, because we have that shared experience. It just made sense to be together.

What happened to the kittens who played Keanu after filming?

J: I regret not adopting one. But my allergies don’t regret it (laughs).

K: Two of them were adopted. Jordan’s love interest in the movie, Tiffany Haddish, adopted one—Catalina—and renamed her Catatonic (laughs).

K: Our makeup woman, who’s a dear friend of ours, adopted one of the cats. The other cats live with the trainers and are being trained as adults.

You will see them all star in cat food commercials from now on.

J: They will have their own reality show.

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 E-mail [email protected]. Follow him at https://twitter.com/nepalesruben.

TAGS: Cats, Comedy, Entertainment, Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Key and Peele, movie, Pets

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