By Piya Sinha-Roy and Rollo Ross
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Comedians Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele have satirized American culture through playing characters such as valets and President Barack Obama, but when taking on gang culture in feature film "Keanu," the duo recruited the help of an unlikely ally - a tiny tabby kitten.
Out in U.S. theaters on Friday, "Keanu" is the kitten who arrives on the doorstep of stoner Rell (Peele) and he suddenly finds a new lease of life caring for his little pet.
But when Keanu is stolen, Rell recruits his best friend Clarence (Key) - an upstanding married man with a penchant for the music of George Michael - to rescue the kitten.
The duo find themselves in the depths of gang life and drug culture, something both men have to quickly adapt to and be believable in.
"It's about people from the same race who come from different cultures," Key told Reuters.
"There are so many things up and down the spectrum of the African American experience. We just hope we're displaying that to people."
Over five seasons of television sketch series "Key & Peele" on Comedy Central, the duo riffed on racial and social themes about minority communities.
The actors played an array of characters, from Peele's Obama to black Republicans, football players and a gay couple. Their comedy hinges on "a sense of surprise," Key said.
"It's all about zig-zags and the best piece of comedy is when the zag is not what you thought it was going to be but it still relates to what came before," Key said.
"With this movie, it's a lot of juxtaposition, this clash of contexts - cute cuddly kittens being held by superhard gangsters."
Keanu, an adorable kitten who's dressed as a gangster and often steals the show, was played by seven rescue kittens during the filming, and actually helped keep order on set.
"It makes everyone on set care," Peele said. "Everyone would be very respectful, you didn't want to make any sudden noises so it actually helped everyone focus on set."
After closing out "Key & Peele," the comedians are tackling a reboot of classic 1980s comedy "Police Academy."
"A lot of it is actually very similar to this movie," Key said. "It feels very contemporary and there are new subjects to tackle and we're in the midst of all that right now."
(Reporting by Rollo Ross for Reuters TV and Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Marguerita Choy)