13 Things Jordan Peele Fans Should Know About His Early Career

In recent years, Jordan Peele has been taking Hollywood by storm. Some may know Peele as the director terrifying and thrilling us through horror movie hits, Get Out (2017), Us (2019), and Nope (2022). Or even before that, some may know him through the hilarious comedy skits of Key & Peele, his Comedy Central show with collaborator and best friend, Keegan-Michael Key. But even more before that, Peele’s life is filled with interesting tidbits and fascinating facts that deepen our appreciation for the comedian, writer, and director even more.

1. On National TV, A Teenage Peele Once Asked President Clinton A Question About Policy

Photo: Key & Peele/Comedy Central

Back in 1993, Peele was part of a nationally televised Q&A session with the newly elected President Bill Clinton. He asked Clinton a question that seemed relevant to his childhood: “How can you help the families where there’s a mom, and she’s taking care of a kid or kids, and the father isn’t willing or isn’t able to pay child support?”

Even commentator Peter Jennings praised Peele for his insightful question. 

2. His Love For Improv Comedy Is What Led Him To Dropping Out Of High School

Photo: Key & Peele/Comedy Central

After discovering his love for improvisation, Peele dropped out of school. He decided to form a comedy duo with his roommate Rebecca Drysdale called Two White Guys. The pair became quite popular in Chicago, marking the beginning of his comedy roots.

Drysdale later became a writer and producer on Key & Peele

3. In 2008, He Almost Landed A Spot On The ‘SNL’ Cast

Photo: Key & Peele/Comedy Central

While Peele was working on MADtv, the 2007–08 Writers Guild of America strike threatened the future of the program. Working on Saturday Night Live was one of Peele’s dreams, so he took the opportunity to audition thanks to a recommendation from his friend Seth Meyers. 

He spent weeks perfecting his Obama impression and was offered the job. Unfortunately, he had to turn it down when MADtv returned to air due to contractual obligations. 

4. The Sweet Origin Story Of How He Met Keegan-Michael Key

Photo: Key & Peele/Comedy Central

Long before Key & Peele became a television sensation, the comedy duo met in 2002 when they both performed at Second City, a popular comedy club in Chicago. They enjoyed each other’s routines so much that Peele referenced something Key told him during his performance. 

Although Key missed the reference, the two bonded over their compatible comedy styles. Their professional relationship eventually evolved into the friendship of a lifetime.

5. Did You Ever Catch Him In Weird Al’s ‘White & Nerdy’ Music Video?

Photo: alyankovic / YouTube

Satirical songwriter Weird Al Yankovic included Peele in his video for “White & Nerdy,” the second single from his 12th studio album, Straight Outta Lynwood. Peele and frequent collaborator Keegan-Michael Key act as counterparts to Weird Al’s “white and nerdy” character in the video.

It was Peele’s first music video, but the duo later starred in the YouTube series Epic Rap Battles of History.

6. He Was Once A Part Of An Amsterdam-Based Improv Group

Photo: Key & Peele/Comedy Central

After finding success with his college roommate, Rebecca Drysdale, Peele decided to take his talents outside of the United States. He joined the Amsterdam-based improv sketch group Boom Chicago and moved to the Netherlands.

Peele performed with the group from 1999 until around 2003. He’s especially proud of the fact that he was paid for his improv as “no one gets paid to do improv.” He told The Hollywood Reporter, “It sort of catered to the tourist audience as well as the local Dutch audience, but it kind of explores Holland from an outsider’s point of view, an American point of view.”

7. He Once Worked In A Toy Store In The Big Apple

Photo: Key & Peele/Comedy Central

Peele’s first real job was in a toy store in New York City called The Enchanted Forest. The store is no longer in business, but Peele told The Hollywood Reporter, “They sold very crafty artisan toys. It was very cool.” 

8. He Has Referred To Himself As A “Failed Child Star”

Photo: Key & Peele/Comedy Central

Peele’s first professional TV appearance was on MADtv in 2003, but he gave acting a shot at a much younger age. When he was 12 years old, Peele dabbled in amateur theater and even went to a few auditions. He was unsuccessful and says he “had a hard time dealing with rejection.” He has since regarded himself as “a failed child star.”

Peele told Rolling Stone he’s thankful to have attempted acting at such a young age. He said, “One of the bonuses of not having a father around was I didn’t have to answer to some dude who had an idea of what I should be putting my time and focus in.” 

9. Have You Ever Seen His Anti-Smoking PSA?

Back in the mid-90s, Peele and a few other kids appeared in a PSA about the dangers of tobacco. Inviting youths to join the “Smoke-Free Class of 2000,” the educational spot features narration by Peele himself, who declares, “Knowledge is powerful!”

10. ‘Puppetry’ Was Originally Going To Be His College Major

Photo: Key & Peele/Comedy Central

Peele majored in puppetry during his short time at Sarah Lawrence College. After taking a course in the art form, he realized he enjoyed the concept of bringing characters to life. He later said, “That really spoke to my soul the most, so I decided to build a curriculum that I considered a puppetry major.” 

His budding career in puppetry was taken off course when he was introduced to improv. He dropped out because he wanted to perform improv. 

11. He Has Credited Having To Code-Switch Growing Up As A Reason He Might Have Become An Actor

Photo: Key & Peele/Comedy Central

Peele comes from a mixed heritage, which has allowed him to fuse two different cultures into his identity. Keegan-Michael Key, Peele’s comedy partner, shares a similar background. The two worked together to create comedy routines that reflected both halves of their lives. 

Peele explained to Terry Gross on Fresh Air how their identities may have even led both himself and Key into acting. He said, “I think the reason both of us became actors is because we did a fair amount of code switching growing up, and still do.” 

12. Elements Of Get Out Were Influenced By His Own Upbringing Without A Father

Photo: Key & Peele/Comedy Central

Peele’s father left when the actor was just 7 years old. The two spoke so little that he did not find out his father had passed in 1999 until a few years later. Growing up without a father has influenced Peele’s career exponentially. He told Rolling Stone

The missing father is in a way the phantom hanging over a lot of [Get Out]. You take the moment when his mother didn’t come home, and he didn’t know whether to call the cops. This was a moment where he was left to do what presumably another parent figure would have figured out.

It haunts Chris, even though he doesn’t quite come to full terms with that.

13. One Of His Favorite Horror Movies Was Filmed Down The Street From Where He Grew Up

Photo: Rosemary’s Baby/Paramount Pictures

Rosemary’s Baby is one of Peele’s favorite horror movies. He even grew up down the street from the infamous apartment complex featured in the film. He admitted to Forbes magazine that the building freaked him out as a kid. 

Rosemary’s Baby has an influence on Peele’s Get Out. He also cited The Stepford Wives as a tonal reference.