Scene and Heard: Keegan-Michael Key

In the past two years, Harvard has welcomed United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Vice President Joseph R. Biden, and billionaire philanthropist Oprah Winfrey to its hallowed campus. But none of those speak- ers gave students the kind of energy, laughs, or celebrity-student make-out sessions that Keegan-Michael Key did during his “Player of the Year” performance with the Immediate Gratification Players, a Harvard improv comedy group, on Feb. 20.
By Sam H. Koppelman

In the past two years, Harvard has welcomed United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Vice President Joseph R. Biden, and billionaire philanthropist Oprah Winfrey to its hallowed campus. But none of those speak- ers gave students the kind of energy, laughs, or celebrity-student make-out sessions that Keegan-Michael Key did during his “Player of the Year” performance with the Immediate Gratification Players, a Harvard improv comedy group, on Feb. 20.

Keegan-Michael Key plays a confused Estonian while Mike A. Skerrett '18 and Aaron I. Henricks '16 explain functions of the brain.
Keegan-Michael Key plays a confused Estonian while Mike A. Skerrett '18 and Aaron I. Henricks '16 explain functions of the brain. By Alana M Steinberg

For hours leading up to the show, hundreds of Harvard students lined the hallways of the Science Center hoping to grab one of Lecture Hall C’s 350 seats. And it’s no wonder. In his Comedy Central show, “Key and Peele,” Key plays some of the funniest characters in sketch comedy, including President Barack Obama’s Anger Translator and substitute teacher Mr. Garvey.

“I’ve been waiting here for two hours, so I now know how it feels to be John Mayer,” I thought I heard one freshman in line say to another, referencing Mayer’s epic ballad, “Waiting on the World to Change.” But I also might have imagined that entire conversation. In the deafeningly loud and paralyzingly crowded corridor outside of the entrance to the performance, there was little opportunity to eavesdrop. This was a Darwinian case of survival of the fittest, and not getting into the show wasn’t an option for me.

When the floodgates (or, more accurately, the blockade set up by police officers) finally opened about 20 minutes before the start of the show, the whole thing turned out to be a rouse. The performance was actually moved to the slightly larger Science Center B, not C, and students had been funneled into the wrong entrance as what felt like a diversion technique, perhaps designed to alleviate the danger of welcoming hundreds of students at once into a lecture hall. The message: Harvard does not put up with Black-Friday-at-Walmart-style lines.

The “plan” worked smoothly, and within minutes, Science Center B, a room traditionally defined by students sleeping in lecture, possessed a level of euphoria generally reserved for a One Direction concert. And the students who didn’t get in? At least they got to watch the Snapchat Stories of those who did, which is basically the same thing, right? (Wrong.)

“I say fire, you say hazard,” one IGP member shouted at the audience, half-jokingly leading a chant on the lack of free space. A fire, however, wasn’t my chief concern; with the number of people packed into that room, I was far more worried about oxygen deprivation.

But when Key walked onstage to a ravenous standing ovation, the only emotion anybody in that room, including neurosis-plagued folks like me, could possibly have felt was jubilation. And for the next 90 minutes, that high-octane, I’m-having-way-too-much-fun-right-now feeling did not dissipate.

Telling stories about Robin Williams and ranting about Kanye West’s baby, imitating food-deprived bodybuilders and at one point literally dropping a microphone, Keegan- Michael Key came to Harvard, and, for lack of a more eloquent expression, lit the place up.

And while he only physically kissed three performers in the show, Key made everyone in the audience feel as though they had experienced something intimate with him.

By the end of the night, with a Harvard diploma and the signature IGP red-and-yellow tie in tow, Key had given hundreds of students an unforgettable evening. The rest? Well, at least they had the Snapchat Stories.

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