How Jordan Peele Turned His Fear Into Success

Jordan Peele surprised many people by making his debut feature a horror film. Everyone remembers his success on MadTV and Key & Peele, but then he brought Hollywood to its knees in 2017 with his directorial debut, Get Out.

That one movie would pave the way for the writer-director to earn himself a new wave of projects coming down the pipeline. The Oscar winner will be at the helm for two remakes and voicing a role in a popular Pixar movie. But how exactly did the comedian make the jump to filmmaking?

The former MadTV star has been an insanely busy dude in the last two years, and for good reasons.

He Asked President Clinton A Question As A Teenager

Adam Bettcher/Getty Images for Starkey Hearing Foundation
Adam Bettcher/Getty Images for Starkey Hearing Foundation

In 1993, a young Peele had his first brief moment in the public eye. Not long after Bill Clinton became the president, he hosted a nationally televised Q&A session in which children from all over the country asked him questions.

When it was Peele’s turn, the 14-year-old inquired about how Clinton could help kids whose parents weren’t paying child support. With only 30 seconds to respond, the Democrat explained, “If he’s not able, and the mother is working and taking care of the kids, I think the tax system should actually give the mother money back if necessary.”

Peele’s College Major Was Rather Unusual

Oscar Gonzalez/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Oscar Gonzalez/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Peele wanted more than anything to go to NYU film school and become a director. Instead, he applied early to a New York liberal arts school named Sarah Lawrence and got in with a scholarship.

In an interview with Chris Hadwick, he revealed that he majored in the lucrative field of puppetry. Instead of pursuing his major, he shifted gears, getting deep into improv on campus and dropping out after his sophomore year to move to Chicago. His goal was to be on the Second City comedy scene.

He Was Quickly Recruited For An Improv Troupe

Second City
Second City

After walking away from college, the aspiring comedian was recruited for Boom Chicago, an improv troupe based in Amsterdam. An extensive list of well-known alumni includes late night talk show host Seth Meyers, and comedians Ike Barinholtz, Jason Sudeikis, and Amber Ruffin.

Peele would remain in Europe for the next three years. It took him a while to figure out how to interact with Europeans and how to approach Dutch women, but he eventually made his way back to the Windy City to kick off his career in 2003.

Eventually, Peele and another comedian would hit it big with a successful sketch comedy show.

He Met Another Comedian At Second City Chicago

Greg Shapiro
Greg Shapiro

The polished improv comedian came back to North America to Second City Chicago. During his time at Second City, Peele met Keegan-Michael Key and the two immediately bonded over a hilarious misunderstanding during a comedy routine. On the first night, Key told Peele a hilarious-yet-disturbing story that was related to the comedian’s firefighter friend.

It was about a man who had popped into the fire station with blood squirting from his head. The next night, Peele was doing a vapid Danish supermodel routine, and he incorporated elements from Key’s story into his standup.

Their Partnership Transitioned Into A Sketch Comedy Series

Michael Kovac/WireImage/Getty Images
Michael Kovac/WireImage/Getty Images

While the pair had fallen in comedy love at Second City, they were looking to branch out. Eventually, they would both land roles on Fox’s longest-running sketch comedy series MadTV. Peele could perform a variety of celebrity impressions such as Ja Rule, Montel Williams, and Forest Whitaker.

As for Key, he impersonated rapper Ludacris, filmmaker Tyler Perry, and comedian Eddie Murphy. However, he became known for his famous character, Coach Hines. Peele would remain on the show until 2008 while Key would exit in 2009.

The Duo Credits Barack Obama For One Reason

Kevin Mazur/WireImage/Getty Images
Kevin Mazur/WireImage/Getty Images

After achieving fame on MadTV, their next show, Key & Peele, made both comedians famous for good. During the show, Peele’s perfect impression of the 44th president of the United States was spot on. Key played his angry translator, Luther, and both roles won the favor of the former president himself.

Key told NPR in 2013, “We actually felt like Obama was kind of responsible for us even getting a show in the first place, because there’s this biracial person who might have to ride the divide between two different races.”

What was Peele’s next plan after the show ended? He’s got the answer to that just ahead.

After Their Show, They Bundled Up For An FX Series


The comedy partners did not plan to work together outside of their show. But, they immediately changed their minds when they got the call for Fargo. “The fact that this is a dramatic piece for the most part—or the half part—was absolutely appealing to us,” Peele tells The Hollywood Reporter.

In addition, Fargo was one of their favorite movies as they’re both fans of the Coen Brothers. They didn’t want it to look like they were interested in being a comedy team for the rest of their careers.

One Particular Movie Drove Him To Early Acting Retirement

Dan Istitene/Getty Images
Dan Istitene/Getty Images

Speaking at the Director’s Guild of America Awards, Peele revealed that The Emoji Movie actually helped him quit acting. “I was offered the role of Poop. This is true, I would not make this up.”

It seems as though the comedian initially rejected the offer before mulling it over for a day or two. But, after giving into curiosity, he called his manager to see if the gig would pay. However, he was told that the role had been offered to Sir Patrick Stewart, which became the last straw.

Peele’s Next Idea Had Been Turning Over In His Head For Years


Earlier this decade, when he emerged as a sketch-comedy TV star, he contemplated a bold and unlikely career shift. He’d sit down and tap away at draft after draft of a screenplay he initially called Get Out The House.

This came from the old Eddie Murphy routine about how a black family would react to the events of The Amityville Horror. The idea of making a movie started well before Key & Peele, but his writing career quickly took off.

Read ahead to see what movie genre he loved most as a kid.

His Biggest Fear As A Kid May Have Triggered It All

Kevin Winter/WireImage/Getty Images
Kevin Winter/WireImage/Getty Images

Being afraid of the dark and other things may have helped drive his success as a writer. Eventually, he broke free of it, by telling a story of his own invention. It involved a stalled car, a severed head, and some creepy chanting around a fire on a class trip.

“If all of a sudden if someone like Jason came out of the woods and started stabbing me, at least he wouldn’t scare me. I felt like I was a kid before that story, and a man afterward, in a really profound sort of cathartic moment.”

He’s Been Sensitive About Issues In His Past

Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for Vanity Fair
Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for Vanity Fair

Peele comes from a mixed-race heritage. His father was black, but he was raised solely by his mother, Lucinda Williams, who is white. The effects of a fatherless childhood were hard to pin down.

In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, he touched on it more. “You don’t really notice it until you’re watching some movie where there’s a father-and-son thing that you just start crying for no reason, or a moment of hanging out with my son and sort of imagining if I wasn’t in his life.”

The Comedian Has Always Had A Love For Another Genre

Paramount Pictures/MovieStillsDb
Paramount Pictures/MovieStillsDb

Before the release of Get Out, some filmgoers were a bit skeptical that a comedian was directing a social thriller. It’s been his dream since his childhood to become a director, and his heart has always been with the horror genre.

But, as the former MadTV star revealed in a promotional interview with Forbes, he was quick to cite some of his favorite horror films growing up. Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby and the bizarre 1975 sci-fi/horror mashup of The Stepford Wives was an important influence on the tone of his film.

He’s aware that one character from his movie was never mentioned. Read ahead to see why.

Outside Of The Horror Genre, The 2008 Election Inspired His Movie

Ralf-Finn Hestoft/Corbis via Getty Images
Ralf-Finn Hestoft/Corbis via Getty Images

Obama’s 2008 election victory was taken as a sign that America had finally entered a post-racial phase. Peele not only found this notion to be simple, but dangerous at the same time.

During a seminar at Sundance Film Festival, he said that he felt the United States was “living a post-racial lie,” making him think about how white and black people think about racism differently. He felt as if a monster of racism could illuminate through telling a story of his beloved genre.

His Movie Was A Social Thriller That Tackled Race

Universal Pictures/
Universal Pictures/

Get Out would be the official title of Peele’s directorial debut, and was a social thriller in which every single white character turns out to be evil. The weekend turns into a dramatic escalation where they attempt to remove of part of the main character’s brain.

It pushed audiences of all types to embrace a young black man’s perspective, launching conversations about racism, and the Sunken Place entered the culture as a metaphor, meme, and nightmare. While Peele made the film for less than $5 million, it grossed more than $250 million worldwide.

Peele Is Aware Of The One Get Out Character Who Was Hardly Mentioned

Universal Pictures/
Universal Pictures/

The absent of Chris’ father, played by Daniel Kaluuya, was hardly mentioned in the movie.

“You take the moment when his mother died when she 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.” Peele’s own life was shaped, in part, by that same absence.

After tackling the topic of race, Peele made history at the Academy Awards.

The Original Ending Was Pretty Bleak

Universal Pictures/
Universal Pictures/

The director has been forthcoming about the original ending for Get Out. It’s significantly different from what the final cut turned out to be. While the end finishes on a somewhat hopeful note, the original ending was much darker and more realistic.

The ending shows the cops actually arriving, but Chris gets taken away and is locked up for slaughtering an entire family of white people. Given America’s track record of police brutality, Peele opted to not use the original ending.

The Sunken Place Is A Metaphor For A Specific Reason

Universal Pictures/
Universal Pictures/

The symbolism that has garnered the most attention was the Sunken Place, which was a brainwashing technique used in the movie to steal the bodies of people of color. The director has stated that it represents that paralysis experienced by black Americans who have tried to make their voices heard.

It’s also a metaphor for the marginalization of the black horror movie audiences. While most horror films are almost always revolving around white characters, Peele wanted to change that altogether.

He Made History At The 90th Academy Awards

Kurt Krieger/Corbis via Getty Images
Kurt Krieger/Corbis via Getty Images

It only took one film for the comedian-turned-filmmaker to become an Oscar winner. The first-time filmmaker became the first black person to win an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

The social thriller was up against The Big Sick, Lady Bird, The Shape of Water, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Thanks to its pop culture appeal and astounding social relevance, it was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, and actor Daniel Kaluuya was nominated for Best Actor.

Read ahead to see what classic tv show Peele is bringing back.

Peele Has Felt An Unusual Amount Of Freedom To Determine His Life’s Path

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for DGA
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for DGA

One of the bonuses of not having a father around was Peele not answering to a father. It was clear from early on that he had a variety of ways to showcase his talents. He was a gifted draftsman, attending life-drawing classes, and did amateur theater as a kid, taking an early stab at pursuing acting professionally.

While he had an agent and got sent to auditions, nothing really got off the ground and he had a hard time dealing with rejection. In other words, he was a failed child star.

He Continued To Make Oscar History

Kevin Mazur/Getty Images
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

When Peele was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, he made history. The comedian-turned-director became the first black filmmaker ever to be nominated in those categories in a single year.

Now, he’s back in the running once again as one of the producers of Spike Lee’s BlackKKKlansman. While that brings the total of black nominees for Best Picture to eleven, the former MadTV star is the only repeat contender. Hopefully, this won’t be the last time he’s nominated for those categories.

Peele Will Be An Executive Producer For A Reboot


CBS Access is bringing back The Twilight Zone. The streaming program will reimagine the classic series, which aired from 1959 to 1964. Peele will executive produce the series alongside Simon Kinberg, and the Oscar winner will narrate as well as host the series.

Beyond that, so far, all people have seen are unsettling teasers and casting announcements along the way. With that in mind, here’s what else is available for the reboot.

Ginnifer Goodwin Is The Latest Actress To Journey Into The Twilight Zone

Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Entertainment Weekly
Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Entertainment Weekly

Goodwin has been added to the show and will star in an episode called “Point Of Origin.” Her co-stars will include James Frain and Zabryna Guevara. The other additions to the show are Jessica Williams and DeWanda Wise.

Adam Scott will star in the classic episode that reimagines the “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet.” American Horror Story staple Taissa Farmiga and The Oath writer/director Ike Barinholtz will also travel to The Twilight Zone. While the plot of their episode has yet to be revealed, they’ll be joined by Better Call Saul star Rhea Seehorn.

He’s Producing A New Candyman Movie

Tristar Pictures/
Tristar Pictures/

Now that the Oscar winner has made a name for himself, he’s attached to more projects. He’s been attached to a reboot of the cult horror classic Candyman. Based on the book The Forbidden by Clive Barker, the original film follows a graduate student who is doing a thesis on urban legends and discovers the Candyman, an artist and the son of a slave who had his hand severed before he was murdered.

However, Peele’s version will return to the same Chicago neighborhood setting of the first film. Universal will release the movie in the summer of 2020.

Will Key & Peele ever reunite? There’s some good news about that just ahead!

Key & Peele Are Reunited Once Again


Toy Story continues to add A-listers to its playroom. Two of those celebrities include the comedy duo who got their start at Second City Chicago. Disney released a teaser for the highly anticipated sequel Toy Story 4, and the film’s first glimpse of the pair’s characters are a stuffed bunny and duck.

After the pair express their excitement for the upcoming movie, they turn to riff on Buzz Lightyear’s signature catchphrase “To infinity and your mom!” Eventually, Woody and Buzz show up to set the record straight.

His next movie will be much scarier than Get Out.

He Married A Comedian After More Than Two Years Of Dating

Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

Thanks to the encouragement of Andy Samberg, Peele and comedian Chelsea Peretti began dating in 2013. This came after Andy learned that Jordan expressed interest in Chelsea, and he decided to play matchmaker. After more than two years of being in a relationship, they got engaged in November 2015.

The hilarious thing about the engagement was that the former MadTV star proposed to the Brooklyn Nine-Nine actress during a family talent show. On July 1, 2016, they welcomed their son Beaumont Gino into the world.

As A Ninth Grader, He Attended An Art School

Han Myung-Gu/WireImage/Getty Images
Han Myung-Gu/WireImage/Getty Images

Peele got a scholarship to the private Calhoun School, finding an artsy group of friends. During this time, the teenager had a goth phase, listening to bands such as Tool and Nine Inch Nails, and he always wore black.

Win Rosenfield, one of Peele’s high school friends, explained what they did in school when they made a Jurassic Park-inspired video. “We’re literally smashing a tyrannosaurus rex against a Luke Skywalker, and Jordan could elevate it into something funny and scary and weird and original.”

His Next Movie Will Be Just As Terrifying


To the Oscar winner, Us is going to be like a spill-your-soda type of scary. It tells the story of a family facing off with unsettling doppelgangers of themselves. Peele calls them the Tethered, and means for them to be a “monster mythology.”

He’s rightfully doing that since the movie is being produced by Universal. Peele is keeping with the film studio’s past with the Frankenstein-Dracula-Wolfman tradition, and he’ll be sure to keep that same freighting mindset with his next social thriller.

Read ahead to see the conspiracy theories people have been coming up with for Us.

His Next Movie Stars Winston Duke And Lupita Nyong’o

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Turner
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Turner

The actor and actress will play the father and mother, as well as their corresponding doppelgangers. Duke is best known to moviegoers as M’Baku, the leader of the Jabari Tribe in Black Panther.

He reprised this role in Avengers: Infinity War and will reprise it again in the upcoming Avengers: Endgame. Us will be Duke’s first non-Marvel movie role. Meanwhile, Nyong’o famously won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Patsey in 12 Years a Slave.

It Explores Deeper Themes


A lot of the horror films on Peele’s homework list have a deeper meaning and purpose beyond scaring the audience. The Babadook is about dealing with grief; It Follows is a parable about STDs and their stigma.

Us will follow in the footsteps of these films. Peele revealed in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, “I think the main idea that went into writing this film is that we’re our own worst enemy, and that idea created this monster, The Tethered. I wanted to forge this new mythology that explored our duality and the duality of the characters.”

There’s A Ton Of Conspiracy Theories About The Plot


Some are actually legitimate, including the doppelganger family are clones, suggesting they’re a physical manifestation of a family trauma or tragedy, which must be confronted for the Tethered to go away. One of the other theories behind the movie is that the family is economically well off.

The father owns a boat and they blend into an upper-class society. But to do so, they had to hide anything that the establishment would deem to be “other.” Thus, the Tethered represent what the family has had to repress or change to socially advance.