Detroiter Keegan-Michael is 'key' to The 313

By Donald V. Calamia

PREVIEW:

'The 313'

"The 313" performs Thu, July 27 (8 & 10 p.m.) and Sat., July 29 (11 p.m.) at Planet Ant, Hamtramck and Fri., July 28 (8 & 10 p.m.) and Sat., July 29 (8 p.m.) at Improv Inferno, Ann Arbor. All tickets are $20. For information: 313-365-4948 / http://www.planetant.com. or 734-214-7080 / http://www.improvinferno.com.

While some former Detroiters forget about their hometown the minute they become famous, you certainly can't say that about Keegan-Michael Key and the other cast members of the Los Angeles-based improv troupe, The 313.

That's because the popular group is making its annual trek back to the Midwest for six performances beginning July 27 at Hamtramck's Planet Ant Theatre and Ann Arbor's Improv Inferno.

"It's a homecoming," Key, of "MADtv" and Animal Planet's "All New Planet's Funniest Animals," told Curtain Calls last week from his home in Los Angeles. "Part of our creative history is from there, so for us to come together collectively makes it a really special thing."

Although the comedy troupe was born on the west coast, its roots are firmly planted in Detroit. "Every one of us has worked together in some capacity at the Second City," Key said. "Five of the six of us were together at Second City Detroit."

Besides Key, the five include Larry Joe Campbell ("According to Jim"), Joshua and Nyima Funk ("Wild 'N Out") and Marc Evan Jackson (VH-1's "ILL-ustrated"). The lone outsider is honorary Detroiter Andy Cobb ("Family Guy"). "If anybody ever belonged at Second City Detroit, it was this guy. He loves Detroit so much," Key said.

The troupe formed when the actors were appearing at the Second City Los Angeles Training Center. "The Second City people said, 'Would you mind putting together a group or something and perform? It would be great for the students to see real long-form improvisation.' It made sense, so we became an improv troupe," Key recalled.

Besides a regular gig in Los Angeles, The 313 has performed in Las Vegas at the Flamingo Hotel. But it's Detroit where Key's heart is. "I get to see my mom," he said.

The award-winning Key started on the road to fame at the University of Detroit Mercy where the popular young actor earned a degree in theater in 1993. An MFA from Penn State University followed, after which he returned home to work on an independent feature-length film, "Get the Hell Out of Hamtown." The 1996 film, shot inside Planet Ant - then a coffeehouse - was written by Mikey Brown and Yasmine Jaffri and featured several up-and-coming actors, including Campbell, Kate Peckham and Danny Jacobs.

Although the innovative film didn't set the world on fire, a play staged by Key at the coffeehouse to help pay for the movie led to the creation of Planet Ant Theatre, of which Key is a co-founder.

It wasn't long before a friendly tip brought Key to Second City Detroit. Nearly four years later, he was in Chicago appearing with The Second City e.t.c., the troupe's experimental theater company. Since 2001, Key and his wife have slit their time between Los Angeles and Chicago.

Despite his busy schedule working in television as both a performer and program developer, Key can't resist appearing with The 313. Not only is he excited about his upcoming return to Planet Ant - "I love performing there!" - he's also thrilled to make his debut at Improv Inferno where he'll rekindle his friendship with co-owner Dan Izzo. "I can't wait to do it. We used to live down the street from each other in Chicago. He's a really neat guy."

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