Kenan Thompson has been entertaining the masses since he was a kid and has no intentions of stopping anytime soon.
The 44-year-old actor/comedian first arrived on our television screens in 1990 as an original cast member of Nickelodeon’s classic sketch show All That, where he met his friend and co-star Kel Mitchell whom he often collaborated with. That relationship they developed carried over to their comedy sitcom Kenan & Kel from 1996-2000.
The two’s working dynamic transitioned from the small screen to the silver screen when they turned their iconic sketch Good Burger into a successful 1997 box office film. Thompson continued his work in film with a starring role in Fat Albert, plus supporting roles in other movies Heavyweights, D2: The Mighty Ducks, D3: The Mighty Ducks, Love Don’t Cost a Thing, Barbershop 2: Back in Business, My Boss’s Daughter, and Snakes on a Plane.
Kenan Thompson Is Currently On A Historic Run With SNL
Thompson would return to the world of sketch comedy when he joined the cast of Saturday Night Live in 2003, and now he holds the title of the longest-running cast member on the iconic sketch comedy show. Thompson also landed his own comedy sitcom, Kenan, that lasted two seasons before NBC decided not to renew it.
But that sad news isn’t keeping Thompson down. In August, Thompson earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was tapped to host the Primetime Emmys. So his streak of winning instantly returned.
Cassius Life had the opportunity to speak with Thompson about his storied Hollywood career, being SNL’s longest-running cast member, his favorite sketches, the possibility of reviving Kenan & Kel, receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and more.
Cassius Life: SNL is about to celebrate its 20th anniversary, and you’re the longest-running cast member on the show. What does it mean to you personally to hold that title?
Kenan Thompson:”I mean, it’s incredible. I think it’s an awesome thing that a Black man is the longest-running thing. I think it’s an awesome thing. A guy from Atlanta is the longest-running, all kind of things I think is very cool about that. But the coolest thing is that I get to do the job, and I get to be around so many talented people who are now part of a family of so many talented people. And I guess my blood, sweat, and tears are being recognized. And that feels great.
Thompson Talks About His Sketch Work
CL: You have done so many sketches. Personally, our favorite is LaVar Ball. Do you have a personal favorite character you like to get into every now and that you look forward to doing? Or is there a character you haven’t done yet you want to do?
KT: I mean, I’m sure there’s a character that I haven’t nailed down yet that I would really love to figure out. There’s probably a bunch of them. It’s hard to pick favorites when there’s been so many, and really I guess my main favorite thing is when it does go well and it doesn’t get cut. That’s all I can ask for. And then if I can get it out without little mistakes so the live moment is actually as perfect as it can be, that’s the best. There’s nothing worse than having an awesome idea and little things kind of derail it, whether it’s a late audio cue or camera cut to a different angle or something weird that just happens or an edge of the cue card or a shoulder pops in the frame that’s not supposed to be there, little stuff like that.
It’s always like, “Damn, we were so close to getting it perfect, and there’s no second chance at it.” When we do get a chance to run it through smoothly, when Black Jeopardy with Chadwick, I always go back to that week because Black Panther was having such a moment in time. And we had the actual guy playing his actual character in our sketch. It was like, “We can’t drop the ball on this.” And it was tough. We didn’t have it all the way nailed down until the last minute. And then the live version was the best version, and that’s always the ultimate.
I mean, I’m sure there’s a character that I haven’t nailed down yet that I would really love to figure out. There’s probably a bunch of them. It’s hard to pick favorites when there’s been so many, and really I guess my main favorite thing is when it does go well, and it doesn’t get cut.
CL: How hard is it to do those sketches and stay in character? Because we know it’s really funny while y’all doing it. How hard is that, actually?
KT: It’s really hard because I don’t want to feel like I’m at work all the time. I want to enjoy what’s happening. I don’t want to be the only person in the room that’s not allowed to laugh. That sucks, but I do have a job to do so I’ll smirk it out and try not to fully lose it and try to keep it going. But I have a front-row seat to the funniest people walking. More so for me, I’m a fan of people’s God-given talents and blessings and abilities and things like that. And I kind of watch more so in awe than oh my God, that was the funniest thing I’ve ever heard, because at this point I’ve heard a lot of jokes. But performance-wise, man, anybody’s performance on something can kind of send you spiraling a little bit. You got to be on your toes.
CL: Now, recently, you received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. What were the emotions going through on that big day for you?
KT: Yeah, it was heavy, man. I had my babies out there with me, mom, dad, bro, sis. The whole family was surrounding me with love, and that’s always a very verklempt kind of moment, if you will, just trying to avoid that knot in your throat and be able to speak your words. It was just nice to see all these different kind of walks of life come together for that moment. People that I’ve known from over here, people that I’ve known from over there, and they all get to come around and meet each other and talk to each other.
And just watching those roads kind of crisscross like that, it was crazy. It was very, very cool because there were people that I’ve known for 30 years, 40 years. I’m only 44, but people that I’ve known all my life. And then there are people that I’ve recently met in the last couple of years, and they’re all together at one function because of me. Yeah, it was cool to witness, but it was highly emotional at the same time.
Yeah, it was heavy, man. I had my babies out there with me, mom, dad, bro, sis. The whole family was surrounding me with love, and that’s always a very verklempt kind of moment, if you will, just trying to avoid that knot in your throat and be able to speak your words.
CL: Now, as a fan, we have to ask this question. You’ve been a part of our childhood for years with all that Kenan and Kel, Good Burger, D2 with the knuckle puck, and all that good stuff. We have to ask if there was an opportunity to bring back a version of the Kenan and Kel show with a fresh spin on it or a limited movie. Would you be down to do that? Because then a lot of people don’t want to touch old things anymore, but would you be happy? Would you be down to do that?
KT: I mean, I think we living in a different age now. I think this is the age of grabbing beloved things and trying to bring them back. And a lot of the times, it’s just nice to see those people back in that grouping. Everybody, if they’re lucky enough, continues their careers and stuff like that. But when you have the cast of Martin and the ones that are still here are able to gather up, it just brings back… It sends you back to that moment in time that you fell in love with it in the first place, and I think it’s a nice thing to witness. I mean, that’s kind of what the Emmys used to be or The Oscars was. It was those times where you wouldn’t see people that weren’t necessarily on TV all the time once again.
And that’s always very exciting. It’s like, “Oh my God, Marla Gibbs is right there.” You know what I’m saying? She’s still out here kicking, and she looks happy, and it’s a nice window into a room that a lot of us are on the outside of. I think this year I want that peek-in to be a big giant party and be a festive and happy atmosphere. Even if it’s devastating for some people, I want them to see if there’s any kind of positivity to take out of the situation. Look where you’re at. You have been nominated. That’s a feat in itself and stuff like that.
I mean, I think we living in a different age now. I think this is the age of grabbing beloved things and trying to bring them back. And a lot of the times, it’s just nice to see those people back in that grouping.
CL:You touched on the possibility of SNL ending after 50, which is a great number to end it at because the show’s been around forever. I know it’s looking far ahead, but what’s life for Kenan after SNL? Are there more movies or more TV sitcoms? You’ve been working since you were a kid. Is it you just chilling, enjoying life, and just doing nothing?
KT: Yeah. I mean, I don’t know if I’m necessarily the kind of person that is fine doing nothing for a long period of time, but I think as long as I’m healthy enough to get up and go to work and perform, I’ll probably always do that. I’m pivoting more so into the producing side of things and the ownership side of things and all of that kind of stuff.
But, performance, I think, will always be something that I know I can do very well without a lot of super duper effort or panic involved. The only effort is making sure it’s brilliant, and that’s not easy to do. Performing it, as long as my legs work, I should be fine. I should be fine. But really, what’s been exciting me on a day-to-day basis is building this production company, for sure.
You can catch Kenan Thompson hosting the Primetime Emmys Monday at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT, live from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.
Photo: Getty Images
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