We met actor and comedian Kenan Thompson recently. Kenan has been on "Saturday Night Live" for 16 years — more than any other actor. He started acting when he was very young; his "Kenan and Kel" show and movies such as "Good Burger" are still so funny today.
What is your favorite thing about entertaining others?
The smiles. You know what I mean? Like being able to bring a smile to people’s faces. It’s a special privilege and I don’t take it lightly, because it’s a lot of responsibility, especially working on SNL. People depend on the show. And that’s a lot of pressure. It’s just like, don’t project your problems onto me, but at the same time, I enjoy telling jokes and I enjoy hearing the jokes work, especially because the writers work so hard. They spend all night trying to come up with good stuff for the show. So, to perform that to the best of my ability and have it go well is always nice.
Were you always the class clown in school or the funny person with your friends?
I’ve been in a lot of dramatic plays growing up, and that’s where I learned my thespianism. Do you know what thespians are? Actor people. But I was always the guy who would be the comic relief in all these plays. I didn’t class-clown it too much just because I was afraid of my mom. But I would definitely tell jokes and have fun with my friends. I definitely used to love comedy and jokes even from an early age. Like watching “Coming to America” and “Trading Places” and Eddie Murphy — even “48 Hours,” which is a little old for you guys and a little mature — but he was always so wonderful in those movies. So I just started an affinity toward people like that, and “The Cosby Show” or “Diff'rent Strokes.” I always lean toward what made me laugh.
What difference do you see between being on set of an animated movie and on the “Saturday Night Live” set?
It’s very different. Movie and television in general are very different because television is a week-by-week process and movies are more in a chunk — you’ll sit on something for two or three months. But here, we run from October to May, basically, with breaks in between. So it’s a much longer commitment. The main difference when you’re doing animation is you’re going more to a recording studio as opposed to a set. And here, we only come here, and then we build whatever we think of. And then they bring it into the studio. So those are the major differences but they’re both tapping into your skills as an actor. We try to bring characters alive. Make sure you try and tell the story in a great way. You know, A-B-C and all that good stuff. First act, second act, third act. The traditional formula of writing, creative writing, basically. "Saturday Night’s" different. It’s a stand-alone, different type of a place. So it’s hard to compare it to stuff. But movies, they are much grander. And there’s so much going on. Big giant trucks. Big giant trailers. It just feels way bigger.
Which actors and actresses would you like to work with?
That’s a long list. Anybody I haven’t worked with — I would love to work with Eddie Murphy, Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise, too. All my buddies that have graduated from here, Maya Rudolph and Tina Fey, they’re all doing everything. They’re doing movies, or they’re doing podcasts or they’re doing TV shows or producing.
So this year the Super Bowl was in your hometown of Atlanta. Did you actually go this year or did you sell the tickets and go to Chili's?
I know, right? This was my one time I actually got to go. I don’t have those money problems anymore. But yeah, I love that story. It was just one of those things, man. It didn’t make sense to me to go to the Super Bowl broke [in 1998]. And we went [to Chili's] and had so many chicken fingers. But yeah, we actually went [to the game this year]. I even found an extra ticket for my dad, at the last minute. So me and my brother and my dad all got to go. We've never been to a game together before, so that kind of stuff was happening. It was great. Boring game, but it was great.
Do you ever write your own skits for "Saturday Night Live," and do you get upset if they get rejected?
Oh, yeah. It’s very emotional here. I usually collaborate with a few people, like Bryan Tucker and Colin Jost and a couple of other people. But whatever I write tends to go in a lot of different directions, so it’s better if I write with somebody else to keep it on track. And yeah, whenever I write on my own it usually hits the floor pretty hard. But you learn those lessons and you learn, OK, what was I trying to say and then what did they hear? And then you figure out, how do I bridge the gap between what I thought was funny and what they’re hearing that’s not funny? So, yeah, it’s tough and it’s very emotional. The good thing about SNL is that there’s always another show. You don’t have to worry this is the end all-be all this one time or whatever. Once you’ve been here for a while you learn that, and you can relax a little bit as far as the weekly pressures are concerned.
Besides comedy, do you have any other hobbies or pastimes?
Yeah. I mean, I’m raising those babies [his two daughters] but I grew up playing sports and stuff like that. I like to drive. I need to get on my social media and I’ve been building my social media. That’s been my main hobby lately. I don’t act.
Who is your favorite character that you have played on "Saturday Night Live"?
I like doing Steve Harvey. He’s my bud. I like David Ortiz. So maybe those two are tied for first because they’re my favorite. But usually whoever I do at the Update Desk is a lot of fun because it’s just speaking silly as opposed to having to create a silly world, like my apartment building or setting up scenery or anything like that. That’s why I like that. And that’s why I like doing David Ortiz, because he just comes out firing, like high energy. Let’s talk about food. Let’s talk about the Lakers. It’s awesome. And then Steve, on the other hand — I’ve known Steve Harvey for so long, so it’s fun to kind of mock him a little bit.
Marytheresa Donohue's seventh-grade class, St. Mary School, East Islip