Keegan-Michael Key is coming to Dallas to play. Not to be a star—though he could easily do that since his Comedy Central series Key & Peele is such a hit—and not to do stand up. He is here to play, specifically improvise, with a half-dozen of his oldest pals in The 313 as they headline Friday at the Dallas Comedy Festival.
The 313 refers to the Detroit area code where many of them, including Jaime Moyer and Maribeth Monroe, worked together at The Second City Detroit. But as the club starting going downhill and eventually closed, the performers dispersed to Chicago and other cities, before finding each other again in Los Angeles. After the friends did some demonstration shows at The Second City training space in LA, says Keegan-Michael Key, “It was so much fun we decided to continue as a group.”
“We’re really thrilled to come to the Dallas Comedy Festival,” says Key. “I do a lot of live shows with my partner [Jordan Peele] as Key & Peele, but with a group, especially a group like this, it’s so festive.” Making it even more festive is the presence of Key’s mother and sister, who live in North Texas.
“Key & Peele is a wonderful environment to work in, but it’s definitely a scripted environment and that’s the engine that makes the show go,” says Key. “There’s just this liberation you experience when you do an improv festival. If I had the opportunity and the time, I always have the druthers to go. It’s something that makes me feel very creatively wide.”
For Key, improv hones the spontaneity skills that keep his comedic material fresh: “There are times that one can surprise oneself: Did that really just come out of my mouth? My logical writing brain would have never thought to have written that line. That’s how humans act in the moment in the world. There’s a proclivity to using the logical, problem-solving, part of your brain when you’re writing, instead of solving it in the moment.”
Key not only comes to play, he comes to learn.
“Comedy festivals are like interactive conferences. Instead of there being a big speech or Power Point presentation, it’s the performance that you glean information from. There’s nothing else like it in entertainment,” he says. “It’s kind of athletics for the mind. It’s something that rejuvenates me and refurbishes me and reinvigorates me.”
♦ The 313 performs in the 10:30 p.m. slot on Friday, March 29 at the Dallas Comedy Festival