For the past twenty years, T’Keyah Crystal Keymáh has been making America laugh. From her starring role in all five seasons of the groundbreaking sketch comedy series “In Living Color” to playing the high-spirited and lovable mother of teen psychic, Raven-Symone, in Disney Channel’s “That’s So Raven”.
After a decade hiatus from the industry to serve as a caretaker for her grandmother, Keymáh is returning to television in the highly anticipated series, “There’s…Johnny” which will air on NBC’s digital platform Seeso. The series also starring Tony Danza, Jane Levy, and Ian Nelson and Paul Reiser, will pull back the curtain on the creative process behind the legendary show, “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” In the midst of production, Keymáh speaks exclusively to the Sentinel about her role as Carson’s secretary and gatekeeper, Roz.
LAS: With “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” spanning thirty years, what are we going to learn about those defining eras in pop culture?
T’Keyah Crystal Keymáh: We’re going back about 25 years. The show starts in the early 70s. I love the idea of the show. I grew up watching Johnny Carson so I love that a new generation will get to know and fall in love with him. From a production standpoint, what they’ve been able to do to recreate Carson’s set is astounding. What the show is a behind-the-scenes look at the engine of the show that made it run from the writers to the producers and the staff. So many people watch TV and think it’s easy but they have no idea what goes into producing a live show where there’s no safety net.
The show is based in truth, they’ve taken some creative license but it’s based on real incidents that happened during that era of time both on the show and in the world.
LAS: Can you give more insight into who Roz was to Carson?
TCK: There wasn’t an African American woman in this position but in an effort to be more inclusive, the creators decided before hand that Roz was going to be a person of color. But I didn’t learn of that until I was on the set when I hadn’t been able to find any information on her through my research. I was told the character is based on a real person and I said ‘I’d like to meet her.’ And the producers said, ‘Sure we’ll get her up here…but she isn’t black.’ It was a shock to me but then I met Helen, one of the women whom Roz is based upon, she’s a 5’8, blonde, Caucasian woman. She was very nice to me and eager to share her insight. When I walked around the set with her I joked, ‘Have you met my twin?’
We’re living in half reality and half colorizing of this narrative but I’m taking ownership of it and saying who would Roz had to have been to be in this role and not be dismissed because of the color of her skin?
My character is the secretary that doesn’t stay at her desk. She watches the show and she’s very much apart of the production team; she’s in the room when other people aren’t. She keeps an eye on things from the top down. She’s not in every scene but the buck stops at Roz.
Follow T’Keyah on Instagram and Twitter @tkeyahcrystal for updates on the “There’s…Johnny”