Keith Powell is an American television actor, writer, and director who is known for his role as James "Toofer" Spurlock on the NBC sitcom 30 Rock, and for creating and starring in the web series Keith Broke His Leg.
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Hi guys, my name is Keith Powell. Most know me as an actor on the NBC show "30 Rock," but I'm also a filmmaker and created the web series Keith Broke His Leg, which has been getting a good amount of press and I'm super proud of it. I'm here to promote that show (go to
MY PROOF: https://twitter.com/KeithPowell
All right, guys! That's it for me! That has been a 7 hour marathon of answering questions and I'm hungry. Please check out Keith Broke His Leg when you get a chance. I promise it'll be worth it!
Thanks for doing this Keith!
On 30 Rock, there were a lot of jokes about your being a black man exhibiting behavior/culture that is stereotypically white (Harvard grad, comic book nerd). What is your take on these jokes and how they fit into the modern Black American identity? How does this mirror your own experience?
What an amazing question. Thank you for asking. Many many times during the run of the show, I'd get so worked up over how fans took my character and how it played into their own ignorance of cultural identity, that I wanted to write NY Times op-eds about it. But I didn't, because I wanted the show to speak for itself. I'll just say this: there was never anything on the show that said "articulate means white. Inarticulate means black." As a matter of fact, the show challenged that perception. What people walked away with had more to do with their own perceptions about stereotypes rather than the truth. My position for the character as in life is: I'm black. Proudly black. Everything I DO fits the stereotype of a proud black man, because I'M doing it and I'm proudly black. If other people want to interpret it as being a "sellout" or "oreo" or not black, then that says more about them than it does about me. Also, education and social class are not attributed to one race only.
Wow great response. I would think it's a difficult position to represent sometimes as you can be demonized by both blacks and whites alike who resent your success/ education/ etc. for different reasons.
I think your character on 30 Rock was a great complement to the show.
One of my favorite scenes ever is when you meet Tracy and have the exchange:
>Toofer : I'm doing good.
>Tracy : Unh-unh. Superman does good. You're doing well. You need to study your grammar, son.
I think it really humanized your character and set a tone for the rest of the series.
Nuhuh, Superman does good, you're doing well.
We totally nailed it.
how are you ?
I'm doing good.
Mr. Powell, how does it feel being a part of by far the best joke (in my humble opinion) in any episode of 30 Rock?
That warms my heart. I was proud of that joke because it spoke to a clash of education and race in a way that was profound. Thank you.
> Too dark, perhaps?
I don't know, the Civil War era ancestor's political leanings seemed a little darker than that.
That was a great storyline, I thought.
And it led to a second "on set white guy" that the show also promptly forgot and then memory meshed with Josh, which is arguably the best meta gag of all time.
What was your favorite moment on set while filming 30 Rock? Who was the funniest cast member? Any great Toofer storyline that got cut?
Oh so many memories flooding back. Hmmm... The day Al Gore visited set was pretty special. And when Jennifer Aniston guest starred, the ENTIRE production office whipped themselves in a tizzy. It was great to watch. Tracy will always, hands down, be my favorite memory on 30 Rock. Once, when we were filming - IN THE MIDDLE OF FILMING - he breaks character and talks to me about the Emmy Awards and how great he looked. I loved that memory. As far as cut storylines, I believe there was once a backstory for Toofer where he was a surgeon and accidentally killed someone, so he decided to become a comedy writer. Too dark, perhaps?
You got to it before me!
> I'd get so worked up [...] that I wanted to write NY Times op-eds about it.
That's probably the most Toofer reaction possible to getting worked up over something.
That's why I wrote it. :)
What current comedy show would Toofer write for?
Any chance we'll see you do a cameo on Kimmy Schmidt?
Don't know. Those are all my friends and I love them dearly, so never say never.
>If the snitch is worth 150 points, why does anybody bother with the quaffle? - Toofer
This is by far my favourite 30 Rock joke. I think it's because of how passionately you said it! It's like I could hear true frustration in your voice.
With that in mind, do you have a favourite 30 Rock joke of your own?
Thanks Keith, big fan of your work
I forgot about that one, that's a pretty good one. And thank you for singling out my performance for it. I suppose I really questioned that, so it came out naturally. My wife still doesn't get the joke because she's never seen Harry Potter.
How was being on House Hunters? I was really excited to see you on my second favorite show (first being 30 Rock, actually)
It was great. But just know that my wife and I were drunk for about 70% of filming. Shooting took FOREVER.
All at once?!
What is your favorite TV show conspiracy/fan theory?
I really think those kids on Saved By The Bell lost their virginities to each other.
Was there any jockeying for screen time among the TGS writers? You guys had some hilarious secondary plots, but rarely crossed over into Liz or Jack's main plot or got much development. Also, why did Josh disappear?
Great questions. No, there was no jockeying. Maybe at first, but not when we found our rhythm is season one. I always answered this question like this: if you're a wheel (even a small one) in a well-oiled machine, would you complain? Plus, I was a series regular and got paid whether I showed up to work or not, so there are some episodes where I am the highest paid extra in the history of television. Would YOU complain about that? I think, but don't know so don't quote me, Josh disappeared from a purely economical standpoint: when 30 Rock started, it was a much different show. Alec wasn't going to be in every episode. They needed more Jr. cast members to round out storylines. When it became clear what the show was, there were some characters who became superfluous. Josh, unfortunately, was one of them. Lonny's a GREAT guy though and went on to have a good career afterwards.
Do you think people who watched 30 Rock associate Toofer's insufferable personality with you in real life after the show?
Totally. Waiters have posted on message boards how awful a person I am because I ask for "no cheese." Someone said "Jesus, he's just as stuck up as his character." I just have a dairy allergy, guys!!!!
Who did you have the best chemistry with on 30 Rock? What inspired you to start filmmaking?
Jack McBrayer is my brother. So is Tracy Morgan. Those two are some of the best human beings I have been lucky enough to know.
I've been a filmmaker all my life. Even before acting. I remember in high school I would make short films, and "distribute" them: meaning inviting people over to my house and watching on TV. My main inspiration is and always has been: Sidney Lumet. Network is a brilliant, staggering piece of work.
See, I never thought Toofer was stuck up or insufferable. Toofer was a little higher class in his tastes and background, but that really wasn't a big deal.
Keith Broke His Leg will play well on Netflix. How soon will they be picking up this gem? They really ought to have wooed you by now.
TELL THEM! TELL THEM! TELL THEM!!! Please!!!!!!!
When John Lutz played his own mom and disregarded Liz Lemon as a possible partner for her/his son for some reason stands out as one of the funniest moments of 30 Rock.
I was hoping you could comment on the dynamic between the writers of TGS because that was a group I always enjoyed. Also who was the closest/furthest in terms of likeness to their characters on the show?
Ha! I love that bit.
We are all still friends. Judah came to my wedding. Lutz comes over to the house when he visits LA. Katrina is like my little sister. I think that's why we had a good dynamic, we all knew we were a part of something special. I'd say John Lutz was the furthest from his character. John is actually quite poised and mannerly. He's much closer to Toofer than Lutz.
Is it 100% canon that it's spelled "Toofer?" I know you read the scripts and all, but I always pictured it spelled "Twofer."
Yeah, common misperception. The scripts always said Toofer.
Hey Keith! Tell me about your new web series! How has the experience of creating your own show about yourself been?
Thanks for asking this question! Keith Broke His Leg REALLY is a passion project of mine. I guess I wanted to make it because I wanted to show how my life has changed since being on 30 Rock. I was going through a lot of changes in my life - marriage, new house, new city - and I didn't feel like my authentic voice was out there in the world. My work has always mixed humor and thoughtfulness, and I found it hard trying to explain that to people when I talked about my process. So I created a show that shows how my life is changing (or "healing"... LEG METAPHOR!) and propelling me to be more thoughtful - while being SUPER funny (it's funny, guys! It's funny!). I discovered through the process 2 major things: I love to direct. It's what I majored in in college, and I don't get to do it much any more since I've always found work as an actor (knock wood). And I love my talented wife, who plays my wife in Keith Broke His Leg and was very reluctant to do the project at first. One last thing: I have to plug the show:
Except for Dustin Diamond. That's why he was so bitter about the show. Never got to participate in the orgies.
What was your favourite 30 Rock 'in joke' or recurrent gag?
The fact that Kenneth never grows old
I loved your character on 30 rock and always give my friend crap for going to school in Boston. Well not in Boston, but nearby. No, not Tufts. I've always felt a strong connection to your character because I feel like I go through some of the same things. I'm a pretty big nerd. I've been told I have the tendency come off a lot like toofer sometimes in how I act and talk (working on maybe improving that part). I've also been accused of being "white washed" at many times in my life (and they aren't exactly wrong) and I always struggled with finding balance between my heritage/culture and being who I feel like I am as a person. And I think your portrayal of Toofer helped me a lot in my teen years as a sort of role model in that respect, because it helped me see that I can be who I am as a person and still be proud of my heritage. Your portrayal of toofer helped me realize that all that "acting white" or "acting (insert race)" is just a lot of bs most of the time and isn't really what heritage is about. There isn't really a question in here yet, just a lot of statements. So I guess I'd like to know, where did you draw your inspiration from in portraying Toofer? Do you feel that a lot of the character's beliefs and character traits line up with your own? I know it was comedy, but between the laughs I found a lot of deep genuine moments in the show and it's one of the reasons I love it so much. Thank you for doing this AMA, and I'm looking forward to checking out Keith Broke His Leg some time!
Your response has been the closest I've come to crying on this thread. Thank you.
As I answered upthread, I believe that education, class, and race are separate things. They sometimes intersect, but not always, and it's ignorance to believe that one can "act" or "talk" a race. I've dealt with it all my life, and the very people who made fun of me growing up are now championing my success in speaking out about it. Toofer was a role that really helped me put that message out there. I wanted him to be proud and black and unashamed of how smart he is. In his world, EVERYONE acts like him, so he doesn't see it as a division of race. That's what I brought to the character. And I so loved it. You are the perfect example of the person I wanted to reach out to and talk to. You are the reason why I do the work that I do and have the fights and struggles that I have. Keep making your voice heard! God bless. (I talk more about this on my huffington post blogs, check them out)
Favorite episode you shot of 30 Rock?
I had the most fun laughing while shooting "Apollo Apollo." There's one episode in the later seasons, don't remember which one, where I dressed up as Black Jesus and stood on the beach in Coney Island. Something about the apocalypse and the end of the world? Don't remember. But I absolutely loved filming it.
Was it a tough adjustment leaving 30 Rock? I imagine it was a concentrated hive of brilliant, hilarious, interesting people that would be difficult to move on from.
Very difficult. I was in a bit of a depression immediately after, and threw myself into work. I wrote and directed a short film 2 weeks after 30 Rock ended. I will show it to the world some day, because it's good, but I have a very deep emotional connection to it, so I don't want people to shit all over it. I did, however, get a job shortly after on About A Boy (as a recurring character), and I so loved the crew on that show that it made me realize that life was going to be just fine post-30 Rock. Plus, I see those guys a lot still... just last week I was at a wedding where we had a reunion.
In your opinion, who was the funniest person off camera on 30 rock? why?
Tracy. Tracy. Tracy. Tracy. Tracy. Because... Tracy.
What a fantastic response.
You hit the nail on the head for one of the reasons i loved the show: it played around with stereotypes in a fun and thought provoking way. Really enjoyed your character btw!
His character is really interesting to me; Tracy Jordan always seemed like a caricature (and that was certainly intentional) just like how in the show, he was portrayed as having roles that were shallow "easy laughs" (like "black cop white cop") but I am sure he was a much more vital contributor to 30 rock than his role in TGS would indicate.
Do you have any stories that can highlight a way he added something deep to the show while still playing "the black guy foil"?
Tracy would say something to a writer and the writer would laugh. Tracy would walk away, the writer would put the line in a script, and Tracy would look at it and go "How'd you come up with this? You guys are brilliant." And he still wouldn't learn his lines.
But the writers just KNEW Tracy, so a lot of the stuff was from them.
Thanks for answering! I'm a huge 30 Rock fan, so all these little nuggets of gold are awesome!
What is something that once you start noticing it, you cannot stop?
That's a good one. I'm not sure... hmmm... I have a friend of mine who came out as trans. I didn't realize how much struggle that community went through. Now, I see trans citizens almost every where I go. Didn't notice before.
What pop culture reference do you make all the time, yet no one gets?
I love Judge Judy. Just love her. I visited her on set last month. I told my friends about it, and most seemed not to care.
I'm of the understanding that Donald wrote most of the Toofer material, drawing from his own experiences and perspective. Did the two of you ever discuss the role, writing or characterization?
That's not totally true. Donald did write for the character many times, but many writers had a say in Toofer, most notably Tina. We never discussed the character, but Donald's a good guy.
Do you say stuff like "don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining" in real life situations? Please tell me yes, god let it be yes
> Tracy will always, hands down, be my favorite memory on 30 Rock. Once, when we were filming - IN THE MIDDLE OF FILMING - he breaks character and talks to me about the Emmy Awards and how great he looked. I loved that memory.
Holy shit! Please tell me this exists on film. I would pay good money to see it.
-They got along great, from what I saw.
-I like that episode because, at the time, it raised so many more questions that weren't being raised in prime time. Remember, this was RIGHT AFTER Michael Richards used the N word in a comedy club and people went crazy over it. So the episode spoke to a certain time and place, that I like.
-That's a pretty good line. The "Time to end the charade and adjust my schedule to buy a new vase." was always a great line.
Season 6 Episode 1 "Dance Like Nobody's Watching"
That's the one!
Hey Keith, big fan of 30 Rock and your work. I see Judah Friedlander walking around the east village pretty regularly, is he homeless or simply the greatest method actor of our time? If I say hi will he bite me?
He will not bite, but Judah gets pretty focused sometimes, so he may not acknowledge you. Don't take it personally, he's just being brilliant. He moved to the Village a year or two ago.
What makes the difference between a typical sitcom and a classic one? It sort of feels like pathos, but a show like 30 Rock was great and was essentially a live action cartoon - so it isn't that.
I actually will agree and disagree. I do think pathos is a great qualifier, and I think 30 Rock had it in spades. Even though the humor got really weird and broad sometimes, you always felt for the characters and rooted for them, I think. Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy are some of the most deeply human characters in television history. And they have great chemistry.
Over, like a civilized gentleman.
How do you/did you feel about the use of race politics in the current and recent previous presidential elections? Does it make you feel angry? or do you accept it as a means to a functional representative republic.
I accept it. But get a beer in me and I can go OFF on race/politics. So... you buying?
what's your favourite colour?
Blue. Thanks for an easy first question :)
This was going to be my question as well (about House Hunters, not necessarily about being drunk), and I love you for this answer.
Do y'all still live in that house (okay that question sounds kind of creepy in retrospect, but I'm really curious how much of the show is actually practical for the people involved vs. just for the sake of making a TV show)? Was the work they did on the house actually high quality/functional?
We still live in the house, though we renovated more of it, so it looks completely different. The work they did was high quality... for the most part. Our kitchen cabinets need to be repainted.
You can see how the house looks now on Keith Broke His Leg.
How do you feel about criticism directed at Tina Fey and the other writers for ultimately advancing racist paradigms in the US? (blackface, irresponsible black fathers, etc.)
edit: changed commentary of to criticism directed at
Great question. I believe that some of those criticisms should be heard, for sure. They're not wrong. But I also believe that Tina is a brilliant artist who truly has good intentions and wants to present racial stereotypes so as to subvert them. So it's a double-edged sword. We SHOULD talk about stigmas, and we should talk about it openly and honestly and with humor, but we should also be respectful. Respect and humor aren't always a happy marriage.
What's the last good book you read?
I'm still working my way through The Unbearable Lightness Of Being. I LOVE it. I bought it in high school because I heard there was a lot of sex in it, and... you know, hormones. But never read it. Now reading it, I find it such a deep and thoughtful book about life and how we live it.
My college roommate always said she knew you through her brother. I never thought she was lying but also had no way to confirm.
So...was red lying about knowing you?
Wait... red as in Ashley? THAT'S MY LITTLE SISTER!!!!!!!
It was in West Philadelphia that you were born and raised? That has got to be one of the rougher areas I have been to. Every third house was (literally) boarded up. What was it like to grow up in? Did it inspire your imagination and desire to get out of there?
Let me be clear, I was born in West Philadelphia, but not raised. I was raised in a rougher neighborhood of Monterey CA, but it was still California, so there was the beach. I later moved to Delaware. My family never had that much money, but we never knew it growing up. My Grandmother (one of my parents) grew up in the great depression and didn't know it, and she wanted to make sure that we all had an education and opportunities that made us not see the financial strains we were in. It's made me a better person, I think, because I now believe that where you start does not dictate where you end up.
Who got married?
Tracey Wigfield, one of the writers on 30 Rock. She has her own show now coming out: Great News.
Coming next season to ABC... Kinda Black-ish.
Or, just, Black
Where do you draw your comedic writing/Acting inspiration from?
Lately: Louis CK and Chris Rock. But really, they are built on a foundation of Uptown Saturday Night, Crimes And Misdemeanors, Network, Terms Of Endearment, All That Jazz... films that balance thoughtfulness and heart with a lot of weird humor.
What's your favorite Jack Donaghy line?
Never go with a hippie to a second location.
Hey Keith, 30 Rock plays on a near constant loop in my house, we're either actively watching it, or its comforting sounds are lulling us into a sense of security and well being. So, I'm going to ask a few questions!
How much drive did you have to contribute or write for your character did you have as a result of playing a screenwriter? Was there ever a case of life imitating art, or were you just thrilled with the scripts that came out of the writing room?
Tina Fey talks about 30 Rock in her autobiography and mentions that the writing team she put together was amazing, and mirrored the fictional writing room. Are there any stories that she left out of her autobiography but you think should be told about the show?
You have AMAZING questions, but I'm afraid I can't really answer them. Simply because - the actors on that show revered the writers so much we just let them be artists. We said the lines we were given, and asked questions in order to make the script work better. So we don't really have any more stories about the writing process beyond what Tina says publicly. I wonder those things myself!
1) As someone who is actually from West Philadelphia, how do you feel about the fresh prince of bel air song?
2) How often do people mistake you for having gone to Harvard?
3) Would Toofer have been more approving of you having been in Macbeth or in Romeo and Juliet?
1) I'm tired of hearing it every time I tell them I'm from there. But as a song, it's pretty good.
2) ALL. THE. TIME. But that's not so bad.
3) In both, I played princes. So I think Toofer would have approved of me playing royalty.
Thanks for the reply, that's some great insight. No complaints from me! And I'm gonna check out your new webseries!
What you need to do is get the show picked up for half a season by some mediocre network or streaming service, so when it gets prematurely cancelled there will be protests and petitions to save it. I'm pretty sure that's the only way to get attention from the Netflix program director.
Ha! Great strategy
Easily the highlight of my time on Reddit, I can never top this.
YES! (fist pump)
Hahhaah oh shit! We always joked about having you get us into SNL parties
You could have... I went to them every week when Ash was in school
30 Rock reminded me of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Merrie Melodies. Was that freeing to play? Was it tough without a grounded reality to know it was just the right amount of weird absurdity and not too much?
Rocky and Bullwinkle was indeed discussed amongst the writers, so good job for picking up on that.
Our job as actors was just to handle the material honestly and truthfully. We let the writing be absurd. We just said the lines.
What kind of role are you dying to play that you aren't regularly offered?
I'd love to play more serious, thoughtful characters. Being black, articulate, and not British seems to preclude me from getting those offers.
what is your favorite webseries that you had nothing to do with?
High Maintenance. I admit, Katja Blichfeld is my friend, but every time I watch it, I wish I made it.
I saw you at Dead President once, about 2-3 years ago! Well, at the time I had not seen 30 Rock, or else I would have annoyed you with some line from the show!
Ha! Love Dead Presidents
Have you ever done stand up or improv? Any advice for a fledgling humorist?
Stand up has always horrified me. Just horrified me. I don't know why. But I've done improv... in high school, I was part of an imporv troupe, and I was so bad they kicked me out. My advice is to be honest and generous when doing improv... that gets the best laughs, and that creates the best scene partner. I wish someone had told my high school self that.
What was the audition process?
I did a pre-read with the casting director. She brought me in to meet Tina. I met Tina two or three times. Then I read for Lorne. Then Lorne put his hand on my shoulder and said "Good job." I got the part.
He's also a hilarious improviser. Saw him, Scott Adsit (Pete) and one of the 30 Rock writers at Second City once, and Lutz blew them both out of the water.
Adsit, Lutz, and McBrayer are the three best improvisers I've ever seen in my life
Loved you in 30 Rock. What was your inspiration to do the web series?
Thank you! I just answered that question upthread. Take a gander!
Have small space aliens ever landed inside your brain, told you to break inside the zoo, and free all the kangaroos?
Yes. Small caveat... no.
How is Tina Fey in person?
Is she as spunky as her character in 30 Rock?
Yes. Tina is, hands down, a brilliant boss to work for. I wasn't always sure how Tina felt about ME, but I always adored her.
Did you actually go to Harvard? I know from Tina Fey's book that you actually had a Harvard writer for 30Rock. But I never checked if you were that person!
Not me. We had many Harvard writers, actually. But I was never one. I went to NYU.
What challenges did you face whilst making keith broke his leg? And what is next? Season 2 or something new?
There will be a season 2, just as soon as someone gives me money for it :)
I suppose the biggest challenge was directing myself. I'd do multiple takes of something just to make sure I was giving me what I wanted.