Any list of comedy all-stars wouldn’t be complete without Keegan-Michael Key and Kate McKinnon. They’re Emmy nominated for a third consecutive year — McKinnon for her fourth season on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” and Key for the final season of Comedy Central’s “Key & Peele” — a true rarity for sketch performers. Variety got the pair together for a wide-ranging chat that spans hugs, meeting their political idols, and Bill Cosby.
You were voices in “The Angry Birds Movie,” but have you worked together in person?
McKinnon: No. And it’s the single biggest regret of my life. Now it’ll never happen. Something will be said in this interview that makes us turn away from each other.
Key: Did we meet at the American Comedy Awards?
McKinnon: We did meet on stage at the American Comedy Awards. Don’t you remember, we held each other for eight minutes at least?
Key: It felt like 80 minutes. It was only eight, but it felt like a blissful eternity.
McKinnon: And yet, not long enough.
Key: You’re right.
McKinnon: Did I ever tell you I went to see Second City early in my life and I saw you in one of the shows? I remember individual lines from the improv stuff you did after that were just the funniest things I’d ever heard. I said to myself, “That guy is going places.”
Key: Did you really see me perform? You’ve never told me that.
McKinnon: Yeah. Was it “Better Late Than Nader”?
Key: “Better Late Than Nader,” it was my put-in show. It was a show I came into, me and Jack McBrayer and Abby Sher. I had a lovely time. All that stuff in that show was great. I took over for David Pompeii. Where are you from?
McKinnon: Long Island. You?
Key: I’m from Detroit.
McKinnon: Different places and yet there we were in the same house, and you touched me.
Key: I did. We’re both huggers. I have two hug relationships in my life. One is with Kate McKinnon and the other is Kristen Schaal. So Kristen and Kate are gonna have to go in the steel cage. Someone’s gonna come off the top of the ropes with a chair.
Who’s the better hugger?
Key: Oh boy, we’re just gonna do it?
McKinnon: I think we all know the answer to that question.
Key: We all know the answer and I’m just gonna say it, even though I’ve had a smaller sample selection with Miss McKinnon. Right now I’m officially in trouble with Kristen Schaal.
McKinnon: I don’t want that. We’ll say Kristen Schaal. It’s fine, I don’t need to build myself up like that.
Key: She doesn’t need it.
McKinnon: I don’t want to put other women down.
For years, men like Jerry Seinfeld, David Letterman and Jon Stewart have toiled away on the comedy circuit, just to crash against a glass ceiling, struggling to make the same money or gain the same notoriety as their female counterparts. So few movies, sitcoms or late-night shows feature men in a leading role that journalists have finally begun asking, “How can this still be happening?”
PEOPLE gathered a group of Emmy nominees who agreed to discuss the ugly truth behind Hollywood’s institutional sexism: Men just aren’t funny.
You made such specific choices in your portrayal of Holtzmann. How did you approach the role?
I just wanted to make a character who was very alien but so joyful and earnest and fascinated by the world that you would relate to her anyway. In the script, there were these moments where she would be talking so lackadaisically about an extraordinarily lethal piece of equipment. I thought, what sort of a person could let that terror slide off her shoulders? But I noticed that I underreact in a similar way, in a lot of situations.
In most combat scenarios, I find that I’m pretty steady. [laughs] No, seriously. “S.N.L.” can be a stressful environment, and I am panicking constantly, but I guess I keep it pretty internal. Because I’ve been told that I seem calm-ish.
Did you consult with any real-life scientists?
I’ve been a big astrophysics nut since I was 12. I have always had a real soft spot for the bizarreness of quantum mechanics. But I gave up on being a scientist in high school — I’m just not that good at math. So that ticks me off, that I’ve limited myself and my life choices in that way. I will never be a theoretical physicist.
Who devised her wardrobe and hairstyle?
The costume designer, Jeffrey Kurland, had gotten all these wacky things, and when I saw them initially, I thought, this is way too cool. I wanted to be the plainest of the plain. But then I rationalized it by saying that, to her, it’s not even cool. She just has these objects and throws them on. The hair was a collaboration between me and Brenda McNally, my hairstylist. I was like, what hair would a person who doesn’t care about an exploding nuclear reactor have? Probably Tilda Swinton’s hair.