2017 was a major year for Jordan Peele. He transitioned from side-splitting comedy on the stage and the small screen, to social horror that has kept the hairs on the backs of audience’s necks firmly at-attention. In the process of it all, he has inspired countless young, burgeoning and aspiring entertainers and filmmakers. But where did he begin? What are his influences, his thoughts on the industry? Why, that’s what this spotlight is for, dear reader.
Jordan Peele was born February 21, 1979, and spent his childhood in New York City, raised by his single mother. Among his peers, Peele was “the quiet kid who [liked] to draw.” Young Peele was also a major fan of fantasy and sci-fi. To this day, he remains a self-proclaimed nerd — an “unabashed fan of [pop culture].” His first encounter with performing came in elementary school, at P.S. 87 in the Upper West Side. He got to spread his wings during his class’ workshop with the Metropolitan Opera, and subsequently discovered a love of being in front of crowds, as he shared to The New Yorker.
Peele went on to attend Sarah Lawrence College, sights set on puppeteering. He dropped out after two years to form comedy duo Two White Guys with college roommate and future Key & Peele writer Rebecca Drysdale. Peele then joined Boom Chicago in Amsterdam, an American improv haven in the Dutch capital. Thanks to a cast swap with The Second City and a mutual friend in the form of one Miss Drysdale, Peele met fellow performer Keegan Michael Key, and a beautiful comedy partnership took root. The two joined the cast of Mad TV in rapid succession, and later went on to create, as well as write and star in, award-winning sketch show Key & Peele.
As friends and comedy partners, the two were quick to find common ground, in both shared adoration of Monty Python and In Living Color (as they mentioned in a video for Made Man), as well as the shared experience of being mixed race — a topic handled from time to time in their show. In an interview with A.V. Club, Peele likened it to “walking on a tightrope […] At certain points, it seems like we’re between two worlds, or we’re a part of two worlds, or we question where our world is.” Jordan had this same question in his mind when creating Get Out, a horror film centered around a young man’s weekend visit to his girlfriend’s family home. During the tense trip, we’re taken on a journey through the spectrum of practically every possible treatment of the protagonist — a treacherous road, paved with microaggressions, leading all the way to the Worst Scenario Imaginable. Before making the film, Peele was nearly thwarted by the dearth of people of color in the director’s chair. He felt “[he] didn’t have enough role models telling [him] this movie could be made,” he told The New York Times. Thankfully, it could, it did, and it soared.
Get Out has met with a massive success in the 12 months since its release. The film has received critical acclaim, has grossed more than any other directorial debut based on an original screenplay, and has been quick to weave itself into the cultural lexicon. Quite thoroughly, an instant classic. Jordan Peele should serve as inspiration to any budding creator in the world — especially those who feel marginalized, unseen, tucked into corners. Your voice has a place, and you have every right to make it heard, be it through humor, horror, or ‘other.’