Keegan-Michael Key on his 19-year comedy detour and New York theater debut

Keegan-Michael Key talks new roles

Keegan-Michael Key is best known as one half of the duo behind the award-winning Comedy Central sketch show "Key & Peele." That show spawned the character of Luther the Anger Translator, and landed Key on a stage with President Obama during the 2015 White House Correspondent's Dinner.

But the actor and comedian lists those accomplishments as part of a "19-year detour," as he put it on "CBS This Morning" Wednesday. The classically-trained actor is now taking on a role that you might be more likely to expect from someone with a master's degree in theater, as Horatio in Shakespeare's "Hamlet."

"Horatio's this interesting character. He's like the greatest qualities in a dog: he's loyal, he's friendly, he's helpful, he's dedicated. And so I strive in my real life to be like Horatio. If feel like if everybody was like Horatio, the world would be a better place," Key said.  

The role marks his New York theater debut and is a character he said he's always wanted to play.

"I thought I was going to be a dramatic actor my entire career and it ended up being that I went on this 19-year detour into sketch comedy that was delightful and wonderful but actually unexpected."

The four-hour play at the Public Theater in New York is directed by Sam Gold, who, according to Key, takes a non-traditional approach to Shakespeare.

What's next for Key and Peele?

"In his (Gold's) opinion, the best versions of 'Hamlet' he's ever seen have always been the funniest versions, have always been the ones with the most humor. Hamlet is such a man of such mental adroitness that a person who is that smart has to have humor somewhere within them. So, we wanted to infuse humor into the DNA of this particular production so that you don't feel the four hours," Key said.

Key said the director was focused on getting the "Keegan Horatio."  

"I want a very specific, Midwestern, Detroit, Keegan Hamlet," Keegan said of how Gold directed him. "I used to get in trouble in rehearsal for being too Mid-Atlantic, too Shakespearean, you know."

The play also stars Oscar Isaac, known for his leading turn in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," in the role of Hamlet. 

"He makes the language so accessible and he makes it so contemporary that you just feel like you're doing a 21st-century play. That's part of Oscar's talent," Key said. "It doesn't feel remote. It doesn't feel 400 years old."

Asked if "Key & Peele" will ever return, Key said, "It will probably come back in some form, but I don't know, because my partner has retired from sketch comedy."

His partner is actor and director Jordan Peele. Peele is behind the critically-acclaimed movie "Get Out" earlier this year.

In addition to his role in "Hamlet," Key stars in the new Netflix series "Friends From College," which centers on a group of friends from Harvard who are reunited when Key's character and his wife move back to New York City. The series explores the group's complicated history and romantic entanglements.

While the cast is racially diverse, the topic of race isn't a focus of the series.

"It's a human story and we were trying to tell human stories," Key said. "My big thing is, tell human stories and if you happen to have melanin in your skin, terrific. Because that's what everyone is going to relate to. I want everyone to be able to watch and glean something from everything I do."

He adds, "There are things that you learn from the textures of other cultures. But it's just people trying to get through in the world."