Keegan-Michael Key has not forgotten Detroit Mercy

Keegan-Michael Key






There is no escaping Keegan-Michael Key.

The university’s most famous alum is everywhere – starring on numerous TV shows, in movies and, soon, on Broadway (with Amy Schumer).

But with all his success, he hasn’t forgotten his alma mater at McNichols and Livernois.

Last month, Key mentioned Detroit Mercy twice while on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.”

And, of course, those who knew him during his time on campus haven’t forgotten him either.

Many, in fact, remain in touch.

Kate Peckham-Korte had always been good at theatre – until she entered college. Receiving her first really bad critique in her scene-study course here was a wake-up call.

“I, like everyone else in the program, had been one of the best actors at my high school and had gotten nothing but praise until that day,” said Korte.

All it took to recover was a party, and Korte’s life was changed forever.

Keegan-Michael Key, Korte’s friend and classmate, was there that night.

“I remember saying something (to Keegan) about how I was glad he still liked me, even though my scene sucked, and he said, ‘Listen, Katie, you know nothing about how to take criticism. That’s what you’re here to learn, and once you do, everything will change,’ ” she recalled. “He was absolutely right and I think that’s the best advice I’ve ever gotten in my career.”

Korte, along with other theatre majors, thought that they would make it to the top of their industry.

However, she said, she always knew that Keegan-Michael Key had something special about him.

“Everyone loved him,” said Korte. “He was always looking for ways to connect and relate to people and he found humor in any situation.”

Fellow alum Karen Kron Dickson counts Key among her best friends.

They met in 1989 during her freshman year at the university, and they clicked instantly.

“We discovered that we were both adopted and neither of us knew our birth families,” said Dickson. “I believe that this was the bond that began our close friendship.”

The two would spend many late nights talking about the endless possibilities of who their birth families could be, where they thought their roots were and how they would handle actually meeting their birth parents.

Both being actors, this opened up endless realms of possibilities for characters they could play and empathize with and they found these possibilities to be fascinating.

Dickson said she knew without a doubt that Key would make it as far as he has.

“Keegan commands a room like no one else I have ever seen,” she said. “Most people only know his comedic work, but he is also a classically trained actor and hopefully the world will see just how talented he is on the other side of the coin.”

She describes him as a beacon of light because people are drawn to him and his warmth.

Key will always be part of one of Dickson’s most cherished memories: her wedding day.

He officiated her wedding to husband Scott.

“Neither of us were particularly religious, but we wanted someone we loved to join us,” said Dickson. “We both thought Keegan would be a great choice.”

Key was pretty famous at that point, so she knew his schedule was crazy busy, but he still made it work.

Key got ordained online, made the trip in and on New Year’s Eve 2013 married the two.

“My bridesmaid was my daughter, Kaila, and Scott’s groomsmen were my sons, Jack and Gavin,” she recalled. “All of them are Keegan’s godchildren and they call him uncle.”

Kron has called Key her brother for years because he has seen her through the good times and the bad. He has been and continues to be an important person in her life, she said.

Sean Moran, one of Key’s Phi Kap Theta fraternity brothers, remembers when Key first started an improv troupe at The Rathskeller Bar, which used to be located in the basement of the Student Center. Key and his group performed monthly.

“This is where he honed his craft,” said Moran. “People would yell out the most random things and he would create comedy from it.”

Moran never envisioned that Key would make it as big as he has, but he knew that he was never going to give up.

“All of us from the Phi Kap Theta fraternity went to watch him perform at Second City in Detroit after we graduated,” said Moran. “He was awesome, but, still, you never think a superstar is going to be born.”

Key fought the industry for so long, Moran said. He would do commercials and little bits of acting every now and then.

“He was so determined,” said Moran. “It was his own originality and his comedy that ended up pushing him over the top – not someone’s script, but rather his own material, which never happens.”

Melinda Pacha, chair of Detroit Mercy’s theatre department, remembers Key practicing his craft at stand-up at an early age.

“The Theatre Co. students had mandatory work call on Fridays, where we would be building scenery, hanging lights or, in some way, working on the current show,” said Pacha. “Keegan would show up at some point and begin working on something.”

Pacha could tell that Key was a driven individual and noticed that his work was fed by his natural curiosity.

Arthur Beer also was one of Key’s theatre professors.

“My best moment with him was when my class took a theatre trip to Greece and he was rapping about everything he saw,” Beer said. “The entire bus was cracking up. It is a moment I will never forget.

“Keegan is a prime example of opportunities the university may be able to provide to students who work hard and commit themselves. To see him where he is comes as no surprise.”

Beth Finister of University Ministry also was around during Key’s college days.

 “He is by far one of the humblest young men I have ever had the privilege of being around,” said Finister. “On top of that he was very talented. It comes as no surprise to see him get to where he is now.” said Finister.

She recalls seeing one of his shows at Planet Ant in Hamtramck.

“He pointed at me and told everybody to clap for me,” she said. “It was embarrassing and funny at the same time.”

Professor Cynthia Langham has been teaching communications studies at Detroit Mercy since 1984.

She recalls Key being very active on campus.

“He was very hard to miss,” she said. “There was always something going on around the campus during the day and you would always spot him.”

David Regal, former artistic director of the theatre company, first worked with Key on a play called “The Belly of the Beast.” Regal played a guy named Jack, who got into an argument with a bus boy, played by Key.

“I spotted him being very good at improv,” said Regal. “If he didn’t know his material, he was really good at faking it.”

From then on, Regal knew that Key was going to excel at improvising.

Regal remembers when Key started a comedy group called 313.

Regal said he had always envisioned a lot of his students making it, but noted that you can never be certain.

Regal believes that Key’s interests and energy are what make him a good actor.

“All of that energy, charm, smile, wit and intelligence keep him running, and I think it’s evident to the audience,” said Regal.